How to create your first animated short film
We created the 7 Stages of Career Change short film to supplement the 7 Stages of Career Change Roadmap and help professionals figure out where they are on their career change journeys. First pinpointing where you are in your career can be incredibly useful in determining where to take your career next.
If you’ve ever thought about about creating a video or short film to build your personal brand, illustrate a concept, or supplement your marketing materials — or if you’re just curious — I thought I’d give you a little behind-the-scenes glimpse peek into how we developed the concept, the process of creating this animation, and the team behind this film. I sometimes get asked about how I go about creating my brand collateral, so thought this could an interesting glimpse behind the scenes of what I do when I’m not delivering career talks or coaching clients.
ORIGINS OF THE 7 STAGES IDEA
For most of my career, I’ve been interested in the concept of what it takes to relaunch your career, not only because I’ve had to struggle through a couple career changes myself, but also because my work as a career consultant means I spend most of my working hours interacting with, coaching, and listening to people navigating the ups and down of a major career change.
Through the course of my individual coaching work and speaking engagements over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of professionals in a wide range of roles, companies, industries, geographies standing on the cusp of change. Over time, I began hearing the same themes come up again and again. Common inflection points, common struggles, and common emotions amongst those who successfully made career changes. While everyone had a unique career journey, at a higher emotional level, they also shared a lot of common traits that followed a common trajectory.
A FRAMEWORK EMERGED
My educational background prior to my career in business was in psychology. In psychology, as is the case with many subjects, frameworks exist to help conceptualize otherwise complex ideas. A common one that often comes to mind is the 5 Stages of Grief, by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. She illustrated how people go through 5 stages of grief that are well-defined, predictable, sequential, and similar. This framework always stood out to me as one that was very simple, yet powerful. One of the best depictions I ever saw of The 5 Stages of Grieving was done brilliantly and hilariously on The Simpsons.
The image of Homer going through the stages is permanently etched in my memory even after this many years.
I think you see where this is headed 😉
MAPPING OUT THE ROADMAP
Laying out the characteristics of each stage
I began to map out the common career stages I was hearing from people. And the more I spoke with people about the concept, the clearer the stages became. I thought creating this sort of roadmap could really help a lot of people sort out where they are on their career journeys.
THE IDEA OF CREATING AN ANIMATION EMERGED
As we were creating the roadmap, a lot of metaphors came up around the career change journey, of stepping off of one path to explore another. Hiking down a road less travelled, taking a detour off a highway, diverting your flight path in an airplane, running against the wind, sailing against the wind. The idea of rowing or swimming at sea seems to resonate best with the concept. So I went with that.
STEP 1: DEVELOPING THE SCRIPT AND STORYBOARD
After developing the basic concept and outline for the journey, I brought in a content writer to take a fresh look at the idea, help develop the full script, and lay out the storyboard in words. After interviewing many prospects, I eventually partnered with Malek Murison, a content writer & editor based in London. He had already been helping me with some other content, and he seemed to deeply empathize with the idea of a career change.
He created the full storyboard in words, both the voiceover script and the proposed visuals on-screen. Having him on board to develop the idea was really helpful. We wrestled with what the sea vessel should be. A ship? A ferry? A row boat? We ultimately went with an individual rower in a row boat as the metaphor for an employee in a company.
STEP 2: FINDING AN ANIMATOR
Next came the task of hiring an animator to take the script & turn it into a full animation. My work in the marketing world came in handy here as it involved a lot of creative briefing, talent screening, and design feedback.
I turned to the freelancer marketplace and quickly (maybe too quickly) identified a young, freelance animator seemed like she would be able to capture the emotions very well. I selected her after considering animation teams in South Africa, the US, and India. In all honestly, I’d never hired someone to do something like this, so I was flying a bit blind here. I was eager to get started. Perhaps too eager.
STEP 3: DEVELOPING THE CHARACTER
An important task was to create the main character. The only character work I had done before this was way back during my days as a drain opener brand manager on the Liquid-Plumr brand at Clorox when we created an animated plumber running through pipes. Yes, I used to work on stuff like this 😉 Who knew this would come in handy!
The basic Brief for the animator was to create a character who was relatable, professional looking, and human.
I thought it was important to create a character who looked “gender neutral.” I have a fairly evenly split male and female audience, and as much as I’m aware the 1-size-fits-all approach to marketing, rarely works well (as illustrated in this video below) . . . I wanted to attempt to neither alienate males nor females too much.
STEP 4: ILLUSTRATING THE ON-SCREEN VISUALS
The storyboard emerged straight from the script. During this process, it became clear that the character should not be a single rower in a solo canoe, but rather a member of a rowing team to represent the herd mentality in the professional world, the pressures that come with trying to keep up with your peers or external expectations. We also made a few other tweaks to the script, like having the character switch seats to represent the idea of switching roles.
A BIT OF A HIRING HICCUP
At this stage, the project unfortunately came off the rails a bit. The animator I originally hired did a great job with the character development and storyboarding above, but she struggled to complete the actual animation at the level of quality I was seeking. We also had a few other project issues come up. I won’t go into more detail here, but in a nutshell, it became clear to me that she would not be able to complete this work successfully. If you’re interested in what happens when you hire the wrong freelancer, check out my post on When to Walk Away From Freelancers you Hire.
I knew this wouldn’t exactly be like Pixar Animations for the budget I had carved out for this, but I also have a quality standard I won’t go below. Calling it quits with someone mid-project is not my style, but in this case, I found it necessary because the process just wasn’t working and the quality wasn’t there. You’ll notice I haven’t identified the name of my original animator here. Doing so really wouldn’t accomplish anything positive for anyone.
I only mention this hiccup because it’s worth noting the creative process has its ups and downs. Sometimes, on the outside looking in, things seem smooth. However, having been involved with many of these projects in my marketing days and as a business owner, the matter how much you try to plan things out, unexpected bumps are part for the course. Yes, frustrating for the people who confess to being extreme planners. Yes, I’m one of them. And yes, this still frustrates me.
In hindsight, I was just a bit too hasty during the first round to hire someone. I also favored the animator based in the US. Probably more of a subconscious decision, but something I try to be more cognizant of now. One lesson for me was that taking the extra time to hire the right freelancer almost always saves you time later.
REGROUPING WITH ANOTHER ANIMATOR (BACK TO STEP 3)
I quickly turned to another animation team whom I should have gone with from the start– Magic Spangle Studios, based in India. I had been impressed by their portfolio, and they were also excited to work on this. They created a new character very quickly, and we were off to the races.
In case you’re wondering how we selected the top character, well, it wasn’t an easy choice. I actually put a poll out on social media, and we had a completely split jury. I also did a bit of straw polling amongst career professionals, sharing options whenever I could. In the end, we decided to go with the one that looked realistic, relatable, an office type, and mid-career. And yes, gender neutral 😉
STEP 5: NARRATING THE VOICE OVER
I had considered to hire someone to do the voiceover, but I decided to simply go ahead and record this myself. I decided to get back into my radio days as a news anchor for Hawaii Public Radio. So yes, the voiceover you hear is me.
I plugged in a basic dynamic mic (I use the Samson Q2U, a brand originally recommended to me by Scott Britton, a podcaster I respect) and recorded it straight into Adobe Audition in my little make-shift recording studio at home — AKA a corner in our second bedroom 😉
STEP 6: ADDING THE MUSIC
Music always seemed like a necessary addition to prevent the final film from feeling too “naked.” I learned my lesson on this from a former campaign we ran when I worked on Gü, where this video fell a bit flat.
I tried to find someone who could create an original song to mirror the emotional arc of the seven stages of career change. Starting off neutral, becoming negative, a bit more positive, extremely negative, then finish off very positive. To have the duration exactly match the animation at 3 minutes and 35 seconds. Oh, and to also have a melody that connoted the passage of time. Yeah, all that. Not exactly the easiest task. So finding the right person for this was a challenge.
I decided to find an acoustic guitarist. The timbre of an acoustic guitar always seems to capture the passage of time so naturally. So when I heard the music of Zack David, a guitarist based in San Diego, his style immediately seemed to be an ideal match. Zack works on a variety of custom-tailored music projects worldwide. He composed and performed an original piece for this, which he impressively managed to nail in the first cut he shared with me!
STEP 7: THE FINAL EDIT
I just use iMovie for all my movie editing right now. The final step in this process was dubbing in Zack’s soundtrack, adding in my logo following Alex Beadon’s simple tutorial. I then uploaded it to my YouTube Channel, creating the clickable link at the end, and posted it here at JOSEPHPLIU.COM.
CHECK OUT THE FINAL VIDEO
Here’s how everything came together:
THERE YOU HAVE IT!
I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes glimpse into how I created my first animation from start to finish. This film was the first I’ve ever produced for my business, and I’ve definitely learned a ton through the process.
One more thing. If you’re thinking about creating an animation, you can absolutely do this without breaking the bank. The process from start to finish for me was about 2 months, but it can be done even faster if you manage to avoid some of the hiccups I experienced. If you create a clear brief throughout the process, effectively manage the creative development, and efficiently coordinate amongst your various Creatives, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the journey!
If you enjoyed this video, I’d love you help in helping others find it by giving it a “thumbs-up,” leaving a positive YouTube comment, or sharing it with whomever you think would find it useful to their career.
Joseph Liu is a Career & Personal Branding Strategist and host of the Career Relaunch Podcast based in London with a passion for helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands at josephpliu.com. His unique approach is informed by 10 years of blue-chip marketing experience in the US & UK managing brands including Glad, Liquid-Plumr, Gü Desserts, and Häagen-Dazs combined with 500+ hours of professional career consulting. Check out Joseph’s TEDx Talk on Reshaping the Story of Your Career.