January 01, 2012

What is an Animation Producer?

I've been asked this a few times during Q&A sessions at the last few Speaking Events and Seminars I've attended. So I decided to make a short essay on the subject.

An animation producer is someone who takes on the role of producer for an animated series or feature. As the producer, this person will usually act as the main line of communication and filtration of ideas between the executives who run a studio and the creative people who are actually making the animated product. In this capacity, the animation producer must be able to control the costs of an animated production to keep the executives above him or her happy, while also ensuring that the creative staff of animators and artists working under him or her are able to develop and complete the feature or series they are working toward. Ultimately, as the title suggests, it is the producer’s job to ensure that a final product is actually produced.

The animation producer can often be seen as “the bad guy” by the artists working on a production. This is because he or she is usually the highest ranking person on a feature or series who will be readily available and accessible to the rest of the crew. When anything goes wrong on a production, such as supplies not being restocked in a timely manner or disputes in payments or deadlines, the person who is often available to the artists for blame and complaint is the producer.

On the other side of the production, however, the animation producer is also the person who will be discussing any problems or budgetary issues with the executives who run the studio. This means that any issues coming down from those in charge will ultimately end up on the producer. If the feature or series is coming in late or over budget, it is the producer who will be directly blamed for that and whose job will be on the line if the issue is not corrected.

For all these efforts, the animation producer is typically well-paid. He or she usually making an executive’s salary, not an artist’s pay. This higher pay, however, is meant to compensate the producer for the amount of stress and pressure that he or she will usually have to deal with. The title of this position is sometimes substituted for Production Manger, Co-Producer or Line Producer, depending on the company, the size of the project, and the specialties of the individual. The technical differences between all these titles can be very slight. For instance, many Line Producer are only in charge of the budget/finances and scheduling of the production. While sometimes Production Managers are only in charge of equipment/hardware and human resources.

An animation producer’s job is typically more about managing people, time, and money than performing any sort of artistic tasks. The producer might want some knowledge of animation since it may be important to understand certain aspects of the creative process to manage those working in an artistic field. This does not mean that the producer has to learn to be an animator, however, only know enough to properly orchestrate the talent and understand their needs.

In order to become an animation producer, it is recommended that a candidate gain experience in the field of animation for film and television. Becoming a producer right away is not realistic, especially given the entertainment industry's very competitive nature. Completing internships, establishing industry contacts, and staying persistent are necessary for breaking into the field. Formal education programs are difficult to find and do not necessarily give one candidate an advantage over the other.

One of the most important steps that an individual can take to become an animation producer is to secure experience. Many find that working for smaller animation studios in entry-level or internship positions is a necessity. These positions can provide a training ground for those who need to develop their technical and artistic skills. Working on commercials and short films provides more frequent experience and opportunities for instruction than full-length features.

Getting an internship or entry-level position in an animation studio can prove to be difficult. Establishing contact with animation studios and consistently following up on the availability of work can help candidates who wish to become an animation producer. It may be beneficial to find out the names and contact information of hiring managers and re-initiate contact every three to four months. Those wishing to break into the field might also want to consider putting together a portfolio of self-produced animated short films.

In my 12 years of experience in the animation industry I've seen a few animation producers get made by starting off as Production Assistant, granted this is in a non-creative sense. Producers and eventually Executive Producers / Creative Producers or Supervising Producers come from the creative side of the industry, starting off as an artist or writer, and moving up to Head Writer or Director. On the side of budgeting, scheduling, human resources, Production Assitants (threw many years of hard work) can move up to the position Line Producer or Associate Producer.

The Production Assistant's job is often to assist the Executive Producer, Production Manager or Animation Director in their tasks by taking care of shot lists, crew contacts, voice record booking sessions, tracking of retake notes, organizing art asset like model packs & storyboards, file management, FTP, the signing and organizing of staff contracts/non-disclosure agreement, and any other duties to aid producers, directors and studio managers in their daily jobs to keep production moving smoothly.

By being in this role, the PA gains experience in many different areas, s/he gains knowledge of the daily challenges and concerns brought on by the staff of artists and animators, while also gaining valuable experience in the realm of tax credits, cost reports, budgets, schedules and eventually how to draft or manage such documents. The more versatile you are in the role of a PA and the stronger your writing and communication skills are, the more likely you are to eventually advance to an Associate Producer position.

The term "associate producer" is used in two different ways. The first is to describe a person who works under the direct supervision of the producer, performing whatever duties the producer asks of him or her. The second is for if two production companies are involved in a project, the head of the smaller company may be given the title of associate producer, and the head of the larger company is called the producer or executive producer. In this case, the associate producer is not so much an assistant as a junior associate.

Either way, associate producer's job lies in the arranging for supplies, helping in hiring the critical staff and talent, and (most importantly) helping the producers in finding the funding your film or series will need. Once you've been a successful Associate Producer, you're just one step away from "Animation Producer".

Formal education can be one of the avenues in which potential animation producers establish a network of industry contacts. Some universities and colleges provide film production and animation courses where an individual can gain some experience, feedback, and network with others interested in the craft. Most often the teachers and instructors of these animation and film courses are well connected with the local film and television industry. Internship opportunities might also be advertised through the educational institutions and its instructors.

Once an internship or entry-level position is obtained (usually as a PA, as mentioned earlier), the next step to become an animation producer involves taking on positions with greater responsibility. It is important that individuals prove themselves through the quality of their work. While there isn't a clear path for those who wish to become an animation producer, taking the time to develop in lower level positions and refine talent seems to be one of the ways. As individuals gain experience and contacts, additional opportunities should become available.

Other ways to gain industry contacts are by attending film festivals, conferences and workshops dedicated to animation production. Taking on additional part-time opportunities in the industry might help individuals further their professional network and gain related experience. A candidate really needs to immerse himself in the industry and demonstrate dedication and talent, in addition to expertise. Learn all about the technology used, the pros and cons of different types of software and hardware used in the the 2D/3D animation field and learn all the lingo associated with it.

In conclusion, to become an Animation Producer, you must be persistent and be present. Consistency, tenacity, and strong organizational skills will get you recognized and get you a job as a Production Assistant, and then eventually an Associate Producer, and with hard work and determination, you're not far away from the full blown Animation Producer title.

They must possess an in-depth knowledge of scheduling and budgeting, and of all the physical and technical processes of animation production. They need excellent industry contacts, and must command the respect of the production crew. Exceptional communication skills are required, as well as the diplomacy to balance the creative expectations of the director, artists and creative personnel with the financial resources available.

I hope this helps out anyone that wondered how to become a producer in the animation industry and what the job entails. I found this nice little blurb by Dave Redl, that offers you a nice take about what makes a good animation producer.


MattyD said...

You mean "Line Producer." A Creative/Exec Producer or "Showrunner" is higher up than a Line Producer who, at least in Hollywood, doesn't make as much as some of the artists on the crew. A Creative/Exec Producer, although directly in touch with execs and budgets, are more involved with the overall vision of the show.

Ron said...

"Line Producer" in what sense? for which part specifically? Line Producers take care of budgets/scheduling, as I mentioned they are below in rank to the executives, but usually equal to production managers and associate producers, taking care of managing and acquiring the resources, keeping everything under budget, helping to find the right people, etc. who are all under the Executives.

MattyD said...

Hey man! Huge fan of your site!

Here's what I meant: "In my 12 years of experience in the animation industry I've seen many animation producers get made by starting off as Production Assistant." -- This would only qualify someone to be a line producer. To be a Producer in any creative sense, one would need to be either a writer or director first. Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Craig McCrakken, and others are the creative head of the ship working with a Line Producer to deliver the product. The Exec/ Supervising/ Creative Producer has say over the creative direction of the show and where the budget is allocated. They would also be the direct contact between the execs and the artists. One would need actual talent in some respect to attain this job, not just production experience.

It sounded like you meant that an Animation Producer only needs production experience to captain the ship, which is not true in my experience. If a production person captained the ship you would find yourself with a streamlined project that comes in on or under budget with no creative vision at all.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting. :)

Ron said...

I see your point now. I agree, I guess I did word it inaccurately, because you are correct.

I guess from what I've seen, Line Producers are seperate from 'Animation Producers' AND separate from the role of executive/creative/supervising producer.

I meant the role of "producer" - above the associate producer and production manager; but below the executives/show runners... and in the non-creative sense.

Thanks, I'll probably adjust my article to make it clearer.

MattyD said...

No worries, man! I'm sorry I got into it with you. It was all for love! Like I said... BIG FAN! Keep up the great posts. I visit every day!


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