Time to reflect on what responsibility feels like…


So as pretty much all of you are aware, at the beginning of the trimester our class of three different studio teams was presented with a monstrous task: make a 1 hour animation for the performance of ‘Cave In The Sky’.
To be honest, everyone had mixed opinions about this task from the beginning. Many of us were incredibly inspired by the music, and immediately jumped on board to pitch their animation ideas, whereas others were more focused on working on personal projects instead.

For myself, I was apprehensive. This kind of project is something that will be excellent for your portfolio as a student. To make a real, substantial animation project for an actual client before you’ve graduated? Awesome. I was excited about the prospect of improving my resume and portfolio, but with our studio 3 class only just coming out of a big, and rather unimpressive group project (Creature Menagerie), I was incredibly scared.

However, over the holidays prior to this trimester, I brushed up on management methods, tips, articles, problem solving, etc., and thought that ‘Hey, surely with this many new people on the team, it can’t go too badly.’ And you know what?

I was right.

When I was appointed Project Manager, I was ecstatic. I’d worked unnecessarily hard on my application to the facilitators, and it was a dream come true to be trusted with the responsibility of managing a team and project of this size. I dove into the work for it, documentation, scheduling, team lead meetings, all of it. I loved every second of it, and even now I still do. Want to know why? Because in the end, things turned out exactly how I thought they would.

During my research over the holidays, I’d come to realise that being a Project Manager (PM) / Producer was hard work. Projects rarely go how you expect them to, how you plan them to, how you want them to. And that’s okay. Another thing that happens is that you tend to become one of the least favourite members on your team, because you simply can’t please everyone. The best you can do is get everything planned out in as much detail as you can, create all the required documentation early, help your team if any problems should arise and keep everyone informed of changes/decisions made.

In the early stages of the project, we had a few people elected as concept artists. As soon as we gave them a vision, they started working hard to produce pieces that we could use. I’ll admit it was hard, the team lead at this point had some serious health issues, which resulted in a fairly substantial setback in our schedule. The artists came to me for critique and direction, to which I gave it happily. Unfortunately what my vision for the project was ended up being different to the Art Lead’s. However, this isn’t anyone’s fault in particular, I’d say that this was just a way for us to realise that our initial conceptualisation and design needed to be more clearly defined to everyone on the team, especially the Leads.

Regardless of this, the Art Bible, Story Plan, Team Roles/Schedule, Technical Specifications and Client Approval were completed during those weeks to a good standard.
As soon as the Art Lead returned, they explained the overall vision to the whole team, and that was an immediate morale boost and help for the rest of the project. From there we created and are continuing to create great scenes.

From there it was a matter of re-organising the team as a whole, re-assigning positions, and re-scheduling to provide efficient workflows for everyone.

Due to time restraints and pressure to complete other projects, the team starting becoming less driven to complete CITS work during the middle of the tri. I was personally in the same boat, having pressure from my CIU project to complete assets/concepts, as well as my specialisation tasks.

I think this era for any student is the most stressful, because once you hit that mid-point and realise you’re not as on top of your schedule as you’d like to be, you start to panic. Myself and multiple others hit this point, and I’m sad to say that we collectively didn’t handle it well. I know that for myself, I hit a point where I was visibly shaken, and for that I apologise to everyone on my team. As a PM it’s my job to be the motivator and support system for others. I’m meant to be the one who reassures my team members that progress is progress, no matter how little. By showing the team that I was worried, I worried them too, hindering their work.

After some time to relax and take some time to unwind, I was able to gather myself and resume being a dedicated leader. (I hope :P)
From the midpoint to now, we’ve actually managed to do rather well. We’ve hit some bumps along the road, we’ve had some disagreements, but overall we’re on track to create something amazing for the band’s performance. I’m pleased with the efforts of my team, and I hope that we can all learn things from this experience for any similar projects in the future.

Once I’d recovered after my stressful period, I researched more into management tips, and wrote this blog: Project Managing all up in dis biz . This helped me clarify what I should focus on, how to solve potential new problems, etc.

Now, more of a negative nancy part here, the ‘what didn’t quite go to plan’:

  • We needed a better risk management plan, so that problems such as absences didn’t affect us as much as they did.
  • We needed to properly gauge every team member’s commitment to the project, so we could accurately distribute the bigger tasks to those who proritised CITS over their other projects.
  • Even though we scheduled for meetings, we rarely had them. This needs to be addressed early on, and shouldn’t happen again.
  • We need to inform team members to drill us with questions until they are 100% sure about what their task is, and the vision they should be striving towards.
  • The lack of program specifications and limitations affected us to collaborate with each other. Some scene compositors were using program plug-ins outside of what the university had, which meant that work on those scenes could only be done on their respective computers at home.
  • Lack of requests for feedback on some assets and animations meant that a fair amount of work had to be re-made. This resulted in slower progress overall.
  • Lack of communication between the Leads meant we had more trouble creating cohesive work, until we met together in class.
  • The project itself should not have been made mandatory for the first 5 weeks of the trimester, this meant disbanding of the team at a crucial point of production. It also meant that the Leads had to find work for those who had no commitment to the project whatsoever.

SO! After all this, I’ve researched more into Project Management and come up with these articles to keep bookmarked for the future. They’re helpful to me, and they’re helpful to others who don’t quite understand things from the PM’s point of view. 🙂

10 things you didn’t know about Producers

Production Fundamentals

“Negativity and bad habits spread quicker than positivity and good habits…Work and lead how you want others to work and lead.”

“If something isn’t going well, or simply needs revisiting, come at this problem from an enthusiastic and upbeat manner – sure it isn’t going well, but let’s figure out HOW to make it better, not focus on why it’s awful and everything is doom and gloom.”

Managing Large Scale Game Content Production

I feel like overall, I wasn’t meant to be producing assets for this project. Documentation and leading the team was my main role, but I was too caught up in my own work for the project that I ended up neglecting others who needed my help and advice. With that being said, I found it interesting to be on both sides of the spectrum, giving and receiving feedback according to the brief was interesting for sure.

What I’ve created for this project so far:

Various CITS Assets : Backgrounds, Model, Animations, Visual Effects

Model Sheets : Self-explanatory

Documentation, so much documentation.

If I were to be a Producer/Project Manager in the future, I’d try to ensure that I knew what my boundaries were. It’s not expected for someone in this role to make assets, so I shouldn’t have pushed myself to do that. Leading a whole team is a big task, I didn’t need to add the extra work on top of that just to help them out. I should have trusted more in the abilities of everyone else rather than assuming that any shortcomings or unassigned tasks were up to me to take on. Silly mistake.

From this , I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a Producer, and what my role should and shouldn’t involve in the production of a project. It’s been an absolutely eye-opening experience, and to be honest, I still aspire to be a better Producer. Maybe I’m crazy, or maybe I just love the stress of an entire team relying on me, who knows 😛

Hopefully you don’t all hate me by now, I promise you I tried my absolute best in this role! Please don’t burn me. Hahaha…


2 thoughts on “Time to reflect on what responsibility feels like…

  1. Just want to say Dakota, that we definitely don’t hate you!! (Well I definitely don’t :3). You kicked everyone;s butts without being an ass about it (pun intended), and there’s no way this project would have made it to the stage it’s at without your supreme guidance :))))))


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