Best Tools For Animation Project Organization

Posted Nov 26th, 2016 in Process & Development, Working with Clients, Freelance Tips

Best Tools For Animation Project Organization A huge part of creating a successful animated video is project organization. This involves building systems, schedules and regular communication with clients.

For most animators (myself included), the idea of staying organized can send us into a panic. We like to keep things loose and free and let the inspiration guide us. But lesson number one when running your own business is don’t rely on inspiration to get things done.

The good news is there are many tools out there to help us stay organized and in touch.  Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time (and money) trying out various apps, systems and tools. All in the effort to keep my project management in check.

Below are my top picks - the tools that I’m currently using the most to keep my projects on track and successful.

Asana & Toggl

What does it do? Project organization and time tracking

How much does it cost? Asana offers free plan for teams up to 15 and Toggl offers free plans for teams up to 5. Monthly or annual upgrade is available for teams and further customization.

Asana is a simple way to organize, categorize and schedule all your project tasks.

Asana Interface - example project

A couple key features of Asana is the ability to share the task list with clients and assign tasks for feedback or delivery of content. The app will send email reminders directly to client and other team collaborators.

Why is this so great? Asana takes care of the reminder instead of you having to email the client or collaborator repeatedly. In turn, it reduces your email time and clients will always be up to date on progress. The best part is you won't feel like you're hounding your team members - Asana will send out the reminders for you.

Toggl is a solid and streamlined time tracking tool. You can install the chrome extension and have it accessible on your browser tool.  It also integrates with Asana so you can start tracking your time from each task. Just hit the record time button in any task window in Asana, and start working. 

On it's own, Toggl features a beautiful report interface. check it out:

Toggle Dashboard - example

This is a screengrab from one of my work weeks last summer. Note how clear and simple this report is delivered. 

Now the only trick here is to remember to stop recording when you complete each task. Which brings me to my next recommended tool…

Rescue Time

What does it do? Rescue Time runs securely in the background of your computer. It keeps track of your time on various apps and websites and sends a report of your daily productivity based on this data.

How much does it cost? Free Forever basic plan is always available. The paid monthly/annual plans offers additional productivity tools and customization. 

If you are like me and often forget to hit start and stop on your time tracking app, consider using Rescue time as a back up system.

For example, you hit start record when working on Photoshop task. You take a lunch break and start checking out cat videos your cousin sent you, but the distraction has caused you to forget to hit stop in Toggl.

After lunch you pop into Illustrator to clean up some puppet artwork.   Then you're in After Effects animating for the rest of the day.  It isn't until later that evening when you realize you forgot to stop recording your time at lunch and start again for the afternoon. Oops!

Not a problem. Rescue time provides daily reports. Just click on the extension or go to the dashboard and find the exact times you stopped and started in each app. Then you can enter these times into Toggl.

Bonus: You can set up goals for productivity in Rescue time too! Assign Photoshop and After Effects as productive activities. Assign distracting websites and and social media as time wasters. Then, determine the amount of hours or percentage of time on each as a goal.

Each week the app will send you an email report letting you know if you’ve achieved this goal or not. It’s great motivation and keeps you on track for productivity.



A screengrab of my browser report - I can check this anytime with the chrome extension

Boords.com

What does it do? A simple online storyboard app. Upload images, fill in dialogue/description and output the storyboard as a pdf for sharing.

How much does it cost? Free for basic plan. Monthly subscription of $12 for additional projects and version control for your storyboards.

Ah, storyboards! For years I’ve been trying to perfect the best way to streamline this process. But even after creating several templates in photoshop it was still a slog to incorporate client feedback. 

Last year, a London Studio named Animade, came up with a fantastic solution: Boords.com 

boords screengrab
here is an example of a storyboard I created for a recent project - simple, well organized storyboard templates!

I am still using the free version but will upgrade soon. Extra features include unlimited projects and storyboards along with title page customization and watermarks.

If you are struggling to get your storyboard process under control, Boords is a fantastic solution. I highly recommend giving it a try.

The team at Boords also shares their dev roadmap with everyone which is fantastic! If you have suggestions for new features, they want to know! And you can vote on which feature you’d like to see developed next. 

Frame.io

What does it do? Frame.io allows you to privately upload, review and share video with team members anywhere at anytime. All you need is an internet connection.

How much does it cost? Free for basic plan intended to help new users get started. This includes 2GB of space, One project and up to 5 collabarators. There are several paid subscription options available ranging from $15 - $150 per month. The premium options more advanced collaborating options for Teams and Businesses.

I used to be a dedicated wipster.io subscriber. They also have a solid product to share video and collaborate with clients. But, Frame.io has a distinct advantage which allows team members to draw annotations straight onto the frame. This is a great benefit for more visual feedback.

From a client's perspective, this is a simple and quick way to add comments directly onto the video. They can pause the video and start typing a comment or even drawing right on the frame.  The comment will be associated with that timestamp and then listed in the comments column on the right.

Client comment screen

Another crazy awesome feature is they’ve integrated frame.io with After Effects. This means you can preview feedback from frame.io straight onto your comp! Annotations will import into your comp on a separate shape layer.  

And it doesn’t stop there! You can make changes, queue the next render and upload it back to frame.io all in one click. If you are an animator, you will understand how much of a massive time saver they’ve created! Definitely take advantage of this.

Frame.io integration screen grab

Screen grab from Frame.io walk-through video of After Effect Integration

Conclusion

Finding the right tools to make your animation production work takes time to figure out. You may need to try out a few different apps or systems before you find the right one. But I hope this list will give you a head start and allow you to jump right into your project organization.

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