I believe there's an often overlooked element of successful downtime projects. It's something we happened upon with Lernz, one of our first studio projects at Animade, and it's become something of a secret sauce for us in the years since.
Made by the nifty hands of our creative director Ed Barrett, Lernz is a six-episode, tongue-in-cheek take on animation tutorials.
In other words, it's a 'mini-series'.
Of course, mini-series projects aren't the only worthwhile way of spending your downtime. But more often than not the format of producing a series of pieces on a theme, rather than one-offs, has been very effective for us.
So to dig a little deeper, we've spoken to a few folks from the motion graphics and animation community to get their take on mini-series projects and what they've learned from them.
It’s let us connect with more of our fellow designers and mographers
36 Days of Type invites creatives to express their view on the letters and numbers of the western alphabet. Motion Designers Marta Azaña and Meghan Spurlock took on the project together, and found it a great way of connecting with the wider creative community:
"Doing this project has definitely increased our following on Instagram, if you're keen on those internet points, and led to a little potential work. Mainly however it's let us connect with more of our fellow designers and mographers."
Letters A-L from Meghan and Marta's contribution to 36 Days of Type
It's been fun to throw 'curveballs' at people to force them out of their comfort zone
Animation community Mixed Parts publishes semi-monthly creative briefs to their community of animators. The Briefs take the form of some creative restrictions (square format, three seconds long and using only the three colours assigned that month), and a broad theme (e.g. "Advance").
Mixed Parts founder Daniel Savage has found the Briefs a fun way of getting people to try new things:
"It's been fun to throw 'curveballs' at people to force them out of their comfort zone. For example, the recent curveball requirement was to use a gradient, which could include a halftone gradient. After exploring this, participant Dan Root said 'I hadn't used colour halftones before, but I think I'll use them in everything now.'"
Lana Simanenkova's submission for Mixed Parts Brief 001
It's amazing to see how many other people have picked up the idea and run with it
In 2004, Animade co-founder Tom Judd started his first Everyday sketchbook. The premise was simple. He would draw a page in his sketchbook, every day, for 365 days straight. It's a brilliantly clear structure, and has inspired a whole host of other artists to undertake similar projects since. While it started as an opportunity to develop and hone his skills, seeing the idea spread has been the most rewarding part of the project for Tom:
"It's amazing to see how many other people have picked up the idea and run with it. There's a whole Everyday movement now in all sorts of creative fields, which is incredible to see."
A page from one of Tom's sketchbooks. See the whole thing on Vimeo
I'd definitely tell myself to be more focused on how conceptual each one was from the off
Setting rules for your project goes a long way towards limiting decision paralysis when you sit down to start a new piece. Having said that, it pays to take a little time before beginning each piece to make your plan. This is something Chris Lloyd, creator of Silly Robots, found with the benefit of hindsight:
"If I was to do it all again now, I'd definitely tell myself to be more focused on how conceptual each one was from the off. I personally think the later robots are more interesting and engaging, but everyone views the project differently."
Chris has also published an insightful write-up of the process behind the project.
A still of some Silly Robots
One thing we’d definitely do differently is start sooner
If you set an expectation that you'll be posting every week, you give yourself social pressure to follow through and do it. You'll need to make time in your calendar to get the work done.
Similarly, if you're taking part in a community project, make time in your schedule to make something you're proud to share. Meghan Spurlock found that the content she and Marta were producing for 36 Days of Type went out faster than they'd thought it would:
"One thing we'd definitely do differently is start sooner. When the 36days project kicked off, we only had a few letters done in advance, and that buffer disappeared pretty quickly."
O is for Orienteering
Whether self-initiated or community led, leaning on the structure of a mini-series project to guide your work can ease the panic brought on by staring at a white page. Yes, it's more work up front, but that's paid back in less creative friction down the stretch. You need edges to work against, and having pre-defined restrictions can provide that.
For all the good that mini-series projects can offer, there are pitfalls to be aware of. In particular, if you're considering contributing to a project which is already underway, take time to understand the motivations of those who are organising it.
A project which brings the community together is a wonderful thing. Companies asking creatives to produce work for free is not. Know who is behind a project, what they're getting out of it, and stand up for your value as a creative.
Time and again, we've found the mini-series format one of the best ways to engage with the community and develop our skills. It gives structure to downtime projects and has led to a number of the most interesting project enquiries we've had.
What are your experiences with mini-series or community projects? What are your favourites that we've missed? Let us know in the comments.