We recently came head to head with this problem on our own project, Quick Quests. When we started the animation in November last year, we meant it to be a small undertaking: just 12 seconds of limited animation for a fun intro to our Youtube series.
However, Christmas family trips happened, and freelance work came up and I found it increasingly difficult to set aside the time to get it done. Especially as new projects and ideas continued to come up!
Finally, this weekend, we managed to finish it! So here are some tips for when you're feeling overwhelmed by a project to help you push through to the end.
It's my least sexy, but also most important tip! When a project has gone off the rails, looking at the schedule is scary because it shows you exactly how behind you are. It's okay. Take a few deep breaths and then plan your way back on track. Nothing flips the light on like having a battle strategy.
◊ Break it down!
Getting overwhelmed when a project reveals itself to be about a bazillion times more complex and time consuming than you thought it would be can leave you paralysed. Every project is just a lot of little things that add up to a big whole - break down step by step what you have to do. Being able to tick off smaller tasks more frequently keeps motivation high because it makes your own progress more obvious to you!
◊ Done is better than perfect!
My friend Réka once said to me 'all you can do is your best, and your best is good enough!' At some point, holding onto one part so you can get it perfect stops you from making progress on everything else, or means you have to rush the other work. Know that you will grow and improve as an artist with everything that you create - the best you can do today will not be the best you can do tomorrow!
◊ Remind yourself why!
Is there even any point? Does anyone besides me care about this? It wouldn't really matter if I didn't get it done.
When feelings like this emerge, it's important to remember that love and excitement that first sparked off the project. Imagine the feeling of achievement when you finish the project, and are free to move on with other work without it in the back of your mind. If you use social media, sharing a piece of the work can help to remind you that others are excited about it too!
◊ Less is more!
If I've learned anything from watching the amazing artists I follow on the internet, it's that massive projects are possible - but if your project is particularly gigantic, ie: animating a series, writing a graphic novel, storyboarding a movie, be prepared to plan long term for that. In these cases, monthly deadlines and yearly goals are important. Otherwise, consider cutting the project down, switching to a less intensive medium or using time saving shortcuts to get through the workload.
The Girl and the Glim started as an animated series, but I knew there was no way I could complete it alone. That's why I chose to tell the story in comic form. It made it much more manageable for a small team.
Scheduling for a large project
A few months ago, I took you guys through how I schedule my day to day work - I thought as a follow up it might be good to show how I plan timelines for longer projects like Quick Quests and Glim to try and make sure I can complete them on time.
This is the timeline I created for The Girl and the Glim Book 2
When planning for larger projects, I find backwards planning from your project deadline is the best way to go about it!
How do I find my deadline?
If you don't have a project deadline, it's worth choosing one to give yourself something to aim for. With Book 1, Mike and I decided that we would couple the deadline with tabling for the first time at a comic convention - so the deadline was set for us to finish the book in time for Thought Bubble 2017. This year, we've done the same thing with Book 2 and Thought Bubble 2018.
It doesn't have to be an event that dictates your deadline, though that does add an element of accountability if you should fail, which means decisions are often made more thoughtfully.
Maybe you want your deadline to be before you graduate, or to coincide with an anniversary/celebration of some kind? Your life events will dictate when you feel you need the project completed by.
If you don't have any outside factors to help guide you to a suitable deadline, a good practice is to estimate how long you think it will take you to complete the project and then multiply it by three. This will generally give you a fairly accurate number.
If you are unsure how long it will take you to complete a project, I have a solution! Create a test case to see how long it takes you to complete.
The above is a test page I made for Glim Book 1 before I started the project.
I gave myself one page to complete and timed my process to see how long it would take me to get it done. At the end, I knew that each page would generally take 5-8 hours. From there, I could estimate how much time I'd need to complete the book (with a rough page count).
If it's an animation, try doing a second's worth of animation. If it's novel, write a dummy chapter. If it's a series of illustrations, create one piece. Not only will this help you plan the time needed for the larger project, they can expose problems in your approach to the project that you can then tackle before properly beginning!
Creating a simple spreadsheet
Once I have settled on a deadline for myself I create a spreadsheet (usually with google sheets, but use whatever you are most familiar with), using a column for each week, stretching back to the date I want to begin working. This breaks my time down into week long blocks of time, ready to be colour coded!
Each colour represents a step of the process - eg: Thumbnails, Roughs, Inks, Colours, Letters, Printing.
Then I can create rows for each of these steps and drop the coloured blocks into the weeks I will be spending working on that aspect of the project.
The Pincer Planning Technique!
I begin working backwards from the deadline.
When working backwards, the first thing you want to make sure of is that you have a two week or so buffer (longer if you can) in case your project overruns (which it will) and you need the extra time.
For our comic book, we have to allow four weeks at the end of the project for printing. Overestimate this so there is time to back and forth a little with your printer, in case things aren't perfect the first time!
Then I know that our letterer, will need four weeks or so for lettering, so I mark those in as well - again, working backwards from D-Day.
Next, Mike will need time to colour. His work will run mostly alongside my own, but I do need to allow him at least an extra two weeks after completing the inks for him to respond to feedback and complete the last few pages.
Now I need to block in how long it will take me to thumb and ink the story.
This is when I start working forwards from the beginning of my spreadsheet instead!
I know I need at least a month to figure out the thumbnails, but that the bulk of my time will be spent on inking the final pages. Because I am aware I can do one page a day (roughly), I know that 11 weeks of 5 pages a week (5 instead of 7 to take into account sickness, visits, unexpected circumstances) will give me 55 pages, which is equivalent to book 1 and a good estimate.
With Pincer Planning, you take into account the various buffers and deadlines that are already set in the future, and reconcile them with what is practical for you to do now.
The timeline itself can be tweaked and altered depending on the coming weeks - what the result of my thumbnails are in terms of the pagecount of the book, and how much progress I make in general.
Having this timeline planned allows me to contact my letterer early to ask him to set aside time for the work, and most importantly, allows me to see the big picture.
All in all we're happy we got the animated introduction to Quick Quests done, though there are still some things we'd like to change, and we learned a lot to help us improve in the future. We'll share a retrospective on how we made this soon. If you have any particular questions, let us know!
Hey! Remember that super secret project we were going to announce but then didn't but then said we would soon? Well now we will be next week! Keep your peepers peeled for the next Animation update. Thanks very much guys!
~ Doig & Swift