Guide to 4th Year Animation

I’ve seen some other guides to 4th year animation in Sheridan, so I decided to make one too. The point of this article is to show you what to expect so the year feels less stressful.

For Pre-Production

Pick the idea that you ABSOLUTELY want to do.

You’re going to spend the next 8 months on it. I made the subject matter weird enough that I didn’t want to stop working on it. I ignored the fact that most people initially didn’t like it. Although you might consider the following

  • what abilities it highlights (storytelling, animation, layouts…)
  • who the film appeals to (parents, the industry representatives, students…)

if you have a concrete idea on what to do, it should be pursued because you might not be able to pursue the idea with as much time or with the proper equipment. Also, when you choose an idea, it is still being developed, so an initially funny or beautiful idea might stop becoming such when executed. Some of my classmates had ideas we laughed really hard at, but when they executed it, the most they got in the end was a small chuckle. The opposite is also true.

If you must abandon an idea, do it because

  • you found an even better idea that you can craft to how you want the audience to react or feel
  • you tried to modify your film to satisfy other people’s opinion so much that you can no longer see your original intentions for the film
  • your idea is too epic

It’s also recommended to drop unwanted ideas before the end of the pre-production because the production period is even more work. Your new idea also has to catch up with any previous Milestones.

Use other people’s opinion to improve your film.

The people you show your film will discover

  • what needs clarifying
  • how to do a particular effect in the film
  • what to improve

I wanted to make a funny film, but my early reels didn’t make people laugh. So I fixed it using their opinions and reactions.

Start over if your reel needs enough changes.

I made 10 different versions of the story before I reached the final version. This was because the changes I had to do were so large I would actually spend less time making a new version.  Even the final version had some scenes tweaked to make the message clearer.

Try to fix everything before production.

It’s harder to scrap something once you’re in the middle of animating it and realize

  • you didn’t need it in the first place
  • there was a faster, easier or more effective way to do it

The initial storyboards and animatic are expected to look ugly since most of the effort should be put into the cleanup and final backgrounds. This makes scenes easier to fix. It’s also helpful to shorten the reel as much as possible without compromising the story. Most of the people who did more than 1 minute didn’t get their whole film done for the Screenings.

For Production

Set a certain time to do work.

I worked 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. like it was a real job. This was every day, including weekends.  Even at home I kept working. Whenever you do something, the time you expect for it to get done actually doubles or triples.

Set a quota (or a list of goals) to complete every week.

I forced myself to get a certain amount of frames done every week. By frames, I mean completed frames, not just the 1st attempt at a scene. I planned my Milestones around this. Setting these goals forced me to focus on what was important and to fix my problems as quickly and as relentlessly as possible. Here is an article that proves it for a pianist.

Try to get the entire film done.

After a certain point, you should stop listening to other people’s opinion. If you mess around with it too much, it will not get done and you’ll have less to show for your hard work. Only listen if what they suggest

  • can be done in the time you have
  • improves the message you want to impart
  • reduces the amount of work you have to do

Other Things to Note

Stay focused on your work.

I initially listened to music to keep drawing once my wrist hurt. Then I saw this from the Richard Williams book

and this blog article. I tried to apply it to my work, and ended up less stressed and with BETTER work.

Complete the hardest tasks first.

I knew I was not as good as some of my colleagues, so I opted to improve my ability in the fastest way possible by doing all the hard and long scenes first. They left me tired, but I got better and felt more satisfaction completing them. It also left me with enough time to complete the shorter scenes and revise all the hard scenes again.

Remain objective of your work.

When I started this project, almost everyone was against my idea because they couldn’t see what I wanted to do with it. Based on this article, I made it a point to consider

  • what the commenter’s background and experiences were
  • why he/she gave me the comment
  • if the comment applied to my intentions for the film

I treated compliments the same way. Compliments might even be worse because they don’t reveal what parts of the film to fix and threaten to lull you into false self-confidence. If you get insults, at least you know what to fix and why you should fix it.

Your mentors have conservative ideas.

This statement means that if your subject matter is too different or unique, it might earn the disapproval of the mentors. When I proposed my idea, some treated it as a metaphor for a boy’s first time using the toilet by himself. It’s kind of understandable since they want your work to appeal to a lot of people. Also, North American media tends to explore relatively safe subjects. According to one animation student, European and Asian animation have more liberal subject matter. They are brave enough to explore things North Americans would not even consider.

Live day to day.

I can only live one day at a time. Goals are important to gauge progress, but if I tried to live more than one day, I’d just start crying.


I needed all the help I could get. I’m so grateful to it that I even added some of their names to the credits.

For People Intending to Enter 4th Year

Expose yourself to a lot of media before 4th year.

You lose a lot of time looking for a good idea and trying to realize the reel with it. Different media gives you ideas. It can also be for studying

  • storytelling techniques
  • aesthetics
  • subject matter and execution
  • animation style
  • production shortcuts
  • colour
  • light source

This step can be done in 4th year too, since I watched a few films to help me do my own. However, I already knew how I wanted to do my idea because of the amount of media I knew about.

Take electives during the summer. Don’t fail them.

I’ll state this right now and incur the wrath of teachers: Electives were a waste of time. I only learned that

  • most North American fiction sucks (especially Canadian ones)
  • enlightenment is impossible to find in a classroom, so why try
  • most authors try to be deep and depressing but come off as unoriginal due to market saturation

With that in mind, it’s better to pass them so you don’t waste your time retaking them. That time is better spent doing your film. If you fail your electives, you can’t graduate and do something more meaningful. It’s sad knowing that your film could be the most memorable thing in the world and not be able to graduate yet someone who barely makes the film requirements can graduate because he/she passed his/her electives.

Learn the program you intend to use for the film.

You can spend more time refining the film. Also, learning the program in advance helps you see what problems you might encounter when doing your film and find ways to deal with them early.

Here is More Helpful Reading

Study Hacks-The blog, run by a computer scientist, tries to take apart what makes successful people so successful. The practice that applies to skill-based work, like animation, is called deliberate practice.

Ruthless Focus & the Art of Saying No-An article by Scott H. Young that shows another way to view productivity.

Good And Bad Procrastination-An essay by Paul Graham for prioritizing your goals.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Please email me if you feel the article needs to be better explained or happens to skip something.

About Katrina

I graduated from Sheridan College with a Bachelor's in Animation.
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