I've been freelancing for just over a year now -- which means I have a year's worth of mistakes I can learn from! Though I'm still very much a newcomer, I feel like I have grown a lot during the short time I've been working this way.
Therefore, I've compiled a list of me best tips! Hopefully they will help you to avoid some of the pitfalls I've encountered.
Schedule Schedule SCHEDULE
Working a 9-5 job during the week is tough, however one of the advantages is that it schedules out your day for you. When you know you only have a few hours after work to fit your personal projects in, it makes focusing on those projects much easier. You have had all day to think about them and plan what you need to do over the weekend or when you get home from work. That gives you some distance and perspective on the work.
When freelancing, there is often no schedule being imposed onto your day. It is up to you to get yourself up, sit in that chair and focus on your work. It can become hard to avoid distractions such as twitter and messaging services. Once you do get working, it's difficult to justify taking a break, without it being officially given to you. Without stepping away and giving your brain space to reconsider you approach or get fresh eyes on it, you can end up making poor choices that make work slower than usual.
My advice is make a schedule with plenty of breaks, and make sure when you are working you turn off the distractions. Block them from your computer or use your computer timer to keep you honest. If you want me to break this down some more, I wrote about using a timer here and made a video on scheduling here.
This is why I originally started streaming animation on our Youtube Channel each weekday morning. The streams make sure I'm up and at my computer when the weekdays start.
Keep in Touch!
When freelancing for the first time, it's natural to feel nervous about contacting the client or others working on the project. Imposter syndrome is strong during this time, and it is easy to worry that you are hassling people.
Bite the bullet!
The absolute worst thing you can do when freelancing is to go quiet and stop touching base. Unless your client specifically tells you to stop sending them updates on the work, update them on the work regularly!
It's unfortunate how frequently artists will either just phase out of existence and become impossible to contact, or are quiet for months, only to send the finished work on the day of the deadline. If the client doesn't like the result then they never got a chance to ask for corrections, and there is no time left to fix it.
Keeping in contact with a client ensures that they can ask for changes early. It also allows you to build a rapport and actually make friends with this person - you guys may want to work together again in the future! Best of all, it's just good professional practice.
On the subject of being scared to talk to your client, if something is unclear to you then be sure to ask. Don't worry about looking stupid. Is it better to look stupid and get an answer back or to work for weeks on something only to then find out you weren't supposed to animate the FX, animated it at the wrong FPS or are animating in the wrong aspect ratio?
Our clients are just human the same as us, and sometimes they simply forget to add something into a message or email.
For animation be sure to check: deadline, length, file format, dimensions, fps, software and level of polish needed! Checking if you are expected to handle camera moves, FX etc is also a good shout, as is finding out if there is a storyboard or animatic you can use.
For illustration: deadline, file format, dimensions, RGB or CMYK are all good things to check.
One reason some people shy away from asking questions is that they start working later than they should and only then realise they don't have all of the information. Contacting the client means exposing that you are not as far along as you should be. That is why you should always....
Begin work ASAP!
Even if you don't have time to focus on the work properly, getting a file open and putting something down can be a good way to expose gaps in your understanding of the work. It's also just a good feeling to get right on something! Not starting something until the last minute is a good way to cheat yourself out of the freelancing experience, as you miss out on the chance to have a dialog about the project with others on board and turn it into a big ol' lump of stress, where you feel you didn't do anything to the best of your ability.
Don't wait until it's done!
This is really just a reiteration of the previous point. Show your client before it is finished! If possible show them the boards/roughs/tie downs before sending on the final thing.
Allowing clients to see the work so it's possible for them to make changes is a good practice, and most of the time you will work with clients who will give you a guiding hand but who won't interfere in a way that hampers the project. Occasionally though, you may work for someone who is trigger happy with changes and unsure what they want. If this is the case, a good way to work is to set out that you allow, say, two large changes to be made at the rough/boarding phase, and only small tweaks to be made after tie downs.
This way if a client asks for a large change towards the end of the project (such as extending the duration, adding actions to a scene, substantially changing a costume etc), you can let them know that making that change would mean redoing a lot of the work, (which may push the deadline) and that you would need extra payment to cover that work.
Making sure you lay these rules out clearly to begin with is very important. Always be polite and above board about everything as much as possible. Being above board about everything is a good way to lead into....
This is important! Tell your clients as early as possible if you foresee a problem on the horizon! I know the feeling that hopefully the problem will resolve itself and you might not need to tell them at all - I have definitely been there! It is much much better to let the client know the possibility of something so they are prepared than to suddenly contact them last minute to tell them that you aren't going to be able to make that deadline after all. I know it's hard, but it's crucial! Give them as much notice as possible. They might even be able to help you out by easing the workload or giving you some extra days.
Assertive vs Aggressive!
This is just a quickie that will make you more pleasant to work with. If you disagree with an artistic choice being made by the client, feel free to voice your concerns and let them know why it might be an issue. My favourite example of this is yellow text on a white background. However, if the client hears your reasoning and decides to go with this choice anyway, remember that they are employing you to bring their vision to life. Respect their choice and don't get into a squabble over it, just make it the best you can.
Nothing kills my work faster than nerves! On my first freelancing job, I was so worried about being rough and off model that I overcompensated and ended up turning in animation that felt lifeless and stiff. I'm much more relaxed about my animation now and I think I'm doing better work as a result. My favourite scenes from other animators always have this element of fun and enjoyment to them that comes through in the motion. This is what I want for my work - but I think you can't get that unless you loosen up and trust yourself.
Above (and heading this post) is work from the first freelance job I took after leaving Boulder Media. The game it's from, Extinction, just came out recently so I can finally share them (It's worth checking out the 2d cutscenes in full as a lot of skilled animators absolutely crushed it on this project)! I think you can see here how scared I was to go off model in these clips. If I were to take this job again, I would loosen up and worry less - and probably end up with more lively work. Enjoy yourself!
Learn to say no
Declan Shalvey says there are three main reasons to take on a job.
1) The project is something you really want to work on and the team are people you really want to work with!
2) It's great exposure for you!
3) It pays well!
His golden rule is that if a job has two of these, you should do it, three of these and you have to do it. I shouldn't have to tell you what you should do if it has none of these.
When we are first offered work, it's tempting to jump and and take the first thing that comes along. It's an amazing feeling for people to want to hire you for your skills! It's what you have worked so hard for! However, make sure you assess the situation properly and take on the jobs that are beneficial to you. There is nothing worse than taking on a job which ends up being a bad experience, especially if you get offered more suitable work you end up having to turn down because you still have the first contract to fulfill.
Of course, there are cases where we have very little option as we need the funds and therefore must take work where we can find it. Keep your eyes peeled for employers trying to take advantage of students and young artists by underpaying them or offering 'exposure' instead. These are rarely good situations and can really impact an artist's self worth well into later life. Look for clients who value the work enough to pay fairly (at least minimum wage) for it.
Either way, it's important to know that not every job is going to be something that you are super passionate about, and you need to be able to put your heart into it and do a good job anyway. Don't let an unenjoyable job give you an excuse to do bad work, you're only cheating yourself.
In the end, this is the best advice I can give you!
Thanks very much for reading, guys. Things are going well with Mike and I, we're working away on NDA stuff but I'm hoping I'll be able to share some exciting work over the next couple of days!
I hope this helps out anyone considering going into freelance or new to the scene! It's a steep learning curve, but a lot of fun. I've made my fair share of misteps, so don't worry if you screw up once or twice :)
We'll share more work with you - my Game Grumps animatic is nearly done, as is the BomBARDed animatic so we can show you those! I'll also be sharing some thoughts on creating Storyboards, something I've been doing a lot of recently!
If you have any specific questions about Storyboarding, drop them below and I'll try and address them next time!
Doig & Swift