Profile: Hannah Collins – Bold Content Video’s Animation Producer
I caught up with Hannah Collins, our Animation Producer here at Bold Content, on her experiences working in animation.
How did you get started in the world of animation?
It actually started when I was really young. Some of my earliest memories involve animation. I remember being 3 years old and my Dad taking me to see The Lion King in the cinema, and I had a poster on my wall which was a screen-grab from Wallace and Gromit’s A Grand Day Out.
I also used to draw cartoons from TV and film. When I went to school and studied Art in its very basic form – from Primary School up through to Secondary School – it was always about drawing. Every opportunity to draw, I would! I took Fine Art at GCSE and A-Level, around the time when all the old Disney films were being re-released as DVDs. I stocked up and bought all of them and was watching The Aristocats one day, when I realised that the traditional illustrative ‘pen and ink’ style it uses was exactly how I was drawing at the time. It was like a penny dropping, realising that people actually make a living by creating animated films – whether they’re designing concept art or sketching out character designs – there’s a whole team of people making those films. This was a moment of realisation that I could use my art in a career towards something I’ve always been passionate about! So everything I’ve done from that point has been gravitating towards animation and that’s how I found myself here. It wasn’t a straight line, I don’t think it ever is when you work in a creative field! You meander through different disciplines and you pick things up along the way. I was a freelance illustrator for a while, and went into graphic design because I wanted to learn more about the technical programmes to get into animation, and so I dipped into graphic design to learn those tools before finding a Masters Degree in Illustration and Animation. When I found that degree, I thought this is perfect! This is my window into animation! So I did that and, a few years later, I’m thrilled to be working as a Producer. So animation has always been at the forefront of what I wanted to do.
Do you still illustrate and make your own animations?
I don’t draw as much as I should, or would want, to! It is definitely one of those things that you have to make time to do. But I’ve made my own animations, everything from stop motion, 2D and 3D animation. During my Masters I explored mixing different styles of animation, which I really loved. For example I did some stop motion and dropped it into a 3D animation. So I do have experience as both an illustrator and an animator, yes. Although there’s something very different about drawing and animation – suddenly seeing your drawings come to life is a very bizarre but exciting process!
With programmes like ProCreate, and even Photoshop which has some fantastic animation tools, there is a strong crossover between illustration and animation nowadays. That’s why my postgrad came to be in recent years, with the dawn of digital animation it means that the disciplines can cross over even more. But typically, you tend to either focus on one of the disciplines and when I’m producing an animation I typically work with a different illustrator and animator.
What does your job at Bold Content entail?
My main responsibility is managing the projects from start to finish. I am the go-between the clients and the creative team, ensuring that everything is delivered on time, on budget and that the client is happy.
When a client comes to us for an animation, I’ll start off by talking to them about what they’re after, what their goals are, where it’s going to be used, what they want it to include, and the style they’re after. I’ll then work with our team of animators to establish which animator would be well suited to not only the style, but can work within the client budget as well. The selected animator will then create the style frames and storyboards, and I’ll feed everything back to the client. I’ll get any of their feedback, and keep the animator in the loop about any changes or tweaks that the client wants. So really my job is about liaising between the client and the creative team and having an overview of the entire project, to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Hannah has been heavily involved in producing the Tech We Can animations for the charity Tech She Can:
What advice would you give to a client considering an animation?
It’s always useful to have a reference of the kind of animation you like. That can be really vague, such as “I like the tone of this animation”, or “I really love this style and how this animation looks”. Having a reference point is really helpful for us. YouTube is a good place to start when looking for references.
The second piece of advice I have for clients is, be as honest as possible in feedback – both good and bad! Some people are afraid to say that they don’t like something – but it helps us in the long run. Communication is key throughout the entire process so we can understand what a client likes and doesn’t like.
Finally, appreciate that animation does take time. I think a lot of people have a misconception that because it’s digital it can happen really quickly, But creating animation is very different to creating graphic design, because there are so many different components to it. So having an appreciation that it can’t be done overnight (or at least not to a good quality!) is useful, especially if you’re working to a tight deadline. I think this is helpful for expectation management and making sure that there is enough time to create the desired outcome.
Here’s an animation that Bold Content recently produced for The Kidney Cancer Association:
How is a 2D animation put together?
The process from illustration to animation is very time consuming, but it’s a labour of love! Animators use software to add joints and pivot points to characters, which can then be adjusted to create movement. Each gesture is broken down into a series of small movements that happen within a timeframe. Good timing is essential in animation, as you don’t want to have a character blinking really slowly, or having a jolty arm gesture which is meant to be smooth.
The first time you see a character move is like magic. You’ve been working on all the individual movements then when you hit play and you see it happening in one fluid motion you suddenly see all these static movements bring a character to life, which is really exciting.
When it comes down to the animated backgrounds it is almost like layering up a set. If you imagine a theatre set would have a series of painted flats that are placed to indicate different locations, animation backgrounds work similarly.
2D animation uses 2D set pieces which have been designed to create the illusion of a 3D space. You layer them to create your environment. You’ll then have to light it and add shadow, to make sure the scene is lit properly and feels realistic.
There are so many types of animation, what are the different price points?
We primarily work on 2D animations, with the odd 3D animation project in there.
The starting point of a 2D animation is around £2,500 upwards really. Some of the more complex 2D animations can cost £10,000 for 3 minutes because there is a lot of work involved in terms of doing the style frames, storyboard, set design, character design and additional characters, and hiring actors for voice overs etc. So it does vary based on the project and what is required to bring the animation to life.
3D is more expensive because the asset creation takes much longer. With a flat character for example, you’ll have a very basic skeleton of pivot places of where things move, but it’s all on a flat plane. Whereas the moment you add an extra dimension to it, you have different joints that move in different directions and it takes a lot longer to model a character, then rig a character to give it a skeleton, before even starting to animate. Plus, when you work in 3D animation, rather than having a one flat view panel in which to create a 2D animation, you now have an entire 3D environment to utilise – to fill with individual 3D assets each with their own textures and surfaces, for the character to interact with and move through, and a whole ‘set’ to navigate your camera around.
Is this a good time for the animation industry?
Looking across the animation industry as a whole, and certainly at Bold Content, now is a really great time for animation! We’ve certainly seen that animation has gained more of an interest commercially in recent years, which may be in part due to the pandemic as people were initially turning to animation as an alternative to live shoots. But animation has always been fantastic for storytelling. It’s a very visual form of communication – you can use striking aesthetics and symbolism to convey difficult messages, which may be a little more difficult to accomplish in film without the help of expensive post-production. It’s been used to highlight awareness of climate change in various campaigns like for WWF, it’s being used to explain how people who suffer with mental health might be feeling by using interpretive visuals. It’s a really fantastic tool for explaining processes or how things work. A large portion of people are visual learners, so demonstrating how a product works, or showing invisible and complex processes in a visual way can be far more effective than explaining it verbally and is often more memorable. So it’s a great time to consider animation for a variety of purposes as the application of animation is endless – it’s not just used to entertain youngsters!
Here’s an animation Bold Content produced for the Commonwealth Secretariat:
What’s the best thing about working in animation?
The best thing about being in animation is being able to work with unbelievably talented, innovative, creative people. I feel really lucky because I’m part of a tree of people who create these amazing animations, like the one we recently created for Tech She Can. They’ve just won awards, but it’s down to a team of really talented creatives who are fantastic at what they do. You’ve got the voice over actors, the sound designer, the animators… it’s a big collaboration of like-minded people and that’s a great part of what I do. I’m fortunate to be the link between them all whilst they do what they do best, in order to create something amazing at the end of it.
Do you have an animation you always go back to?
There are a couple in terms of the different styles of animation.
Firstly, I love stop motion animation and there are a couple of films by Wes Anderson which I love. ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ uses beautiful stop motion puppetry, and it’s been one of my all-time favourite stories since I was a child, but I just adore the overall aesthetic and humour of the film. And there is a lesser known Wes Anderson film called ‘Isle of Dogs’ which is puppeteering again featuring some incredible actors and is a fantastic reference for stop motion. Plus it has quite a dark but poignant undertone to the narrative regarding animal testing, something I feel very strongly about.
Then, for something more contemporary, I recently watched ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ on Netflix – which was actually Adam’s recommendation to me. It’s so good because it blends so many different styles of animation in one film. You’ll have these 3D characters and their thoughts or emotions are shown in a comic-book style thought bubble but using flat 2D animation. So that’s very cool to show how different styles can work together, and it had me in hysterics!
And of course, just your classic ‘Golden Age’ Disneys – they’ll always hold a place in my heart!
If you had to pick one…
The original Disney ‘Robin Hood’ is one of my favourites. There are some scenes where Robin Hood is running and getting changed and the way that it’s drawn is so well done and well-observed. You can see the stretch as he’s pulling his arm through the jumper all while running and hopping. It’s so technically brilliant but really comical.