Finally I’m Going to Make What I Want to Make…So Let’s Get Cracking

CT 401 Final Project is a class designed to be an opportunity for you to make something of your own choosing in the context of a course in which you’ll get support from your peers and instructor. And unlike most classes in which you’re generally told what to do by an instructor week-to-week, you need to tell yourself what to do.

So self what do you think you need to do?

Really what?

Do you know what you want to make? How you should approach picking? How you should prepare? So many decisions to make!

Ok don’t freak out. They don’t all have to be figured out right away. It’s a process, (that’s what people say when you’re told do something that looks daunting) and it starts with discovery. Some of this you’re already doing just by thinking about what you’d like to make. You also could be looking at work that might inspire and inform how you’d like to make something.

But we need to formalize this thinking into a plan.

So I’m going to sketch out a project process that is based on my web design class, which can be modified to other types of projects – documentary, scripted tv, animation, etc. The specific terms and practices used for each type of project will change, but the phases will all be necessary.

So let’s sketch out these phases really quickly:

  1. Discovery Phase
  2. Creative Phase
  3. Development Phase
  4. Launch Phase

These terms are specific to web designers/developers but minor tweaks for video/animation projects could be made. The creative phase becomes production; development is post-production, and the site launch becomes a video premiere. So I’ll try to cover some examples for different types of projects, but you can fill-in a lot with your own research for your own project.

Discovery Phase

During this process you will define the scope of your project. It’s going to require research, conversations with collaborators, and ensuring access to your project’s needs. Examples for particular project types:

  1. Web – domain name, infrastructure (host/platform), and a site architecture. Whether you’re building a client site, creating something on spec, or even something more experimental, you’ll need to define the site’s organization.
  2. Video – for scripted content think script, talent, and locations all nailed down; documentary means treatment, approach, talent, and locations; animation needs story/script, character and background design, and animation approach. From these elements you should be able to define the length of the project.

This part of your project must be accomplished before you’re able to receive permission to register for final project class. It’s important for you and the instructor because without this process completed it’s not going to be clear to either of you what this thing is you actually want to make.

Creative Phase

With primary plans set, you can now start the making process. The look and feel of your project may or may not be already set, so that might involve additional research and planning. But it’s definitely time to start designing, shooting, recording, performing, animating – lot’s of possibilities.

  1. Web – Mood boards are great to define the look and feel of a site. Color palettes, sample images and designs, and textures are assembled on a surface to give an impression of how you’d like the site to “feel.” And from your architecture it’s time to create wireframes for pages, followed by roughs and comps. The actual look with interface designs still using “dummy” content and “lorem ipsum” are created. Also original content will need to be gathered, if not incorporated into some of your comps.
  2. Video – Mood boards aren’t necessarily used in docs, scripted video, and animation but they really can help. Assembling imagery from a variety of sources of inspiration will assist in your thinking about how to determine your “look.” This presents some ideas about composition, style and approach. But this phase is more typical described as the production phase in which you create storyboards, shot lists, location diagrams, etc, with which are then are employed for shooting, recording, and animating.

All of your major decisions will be executed to create all the resources and assets required to take you through the next phase.

Development Phase

It’s now time to get into the mode of doing the grunt work of coding, editing, and animating. The big design/shooting decisions have past and the process of putting the pieces together into the final work happens now.

  1. Web – this is when you take your designs and build them in HTML, CSS, and/or a CMS like WordPress. They’re called mock-ups and they include the final content in a working site. There’s lot’s of troubleshooting and tweaking as well to make sure everything looks great and works in multiple browsers and devices.
  2. Video – radio cuts, assembly cuts, rough cuts, final cuts all are made during this phase. Typically there are many iterations of the work until you finally “lock” the edit.

The mindset for this phase is typically very different than the creative phase. Your tasks are more repetitive (editing, animating, coding) and contemplative as you have to reflect on the decisions of the creative phase and make sense of them by putting them together. But at some point you have to stop because deadlines always loom and you need to get ready for the final phase.

Launch Phase

At some point the thing you’ve been working on, no matter what it looks like and how “finished” it feels, you have to stop and put it to bed. And that’s you who may want to go to sleep and never see this project again – But it’s time to let the work be what it is and stand on it’s own. It’s time to release (or maybe unleash) this thing into the world.

  1. Web – obviously this will mean having the site “go live.” But before you do, it’s good to try and document final tweaks to be completed in a “punch list.” Others call them checklists, but contractors and builders call them punch lists – probably because emotions are so frayed all around at this point someone’s gonna get hit!
  2. Video – whether you’re hosting a premiere or simply releasing the video, it’s time for it to be seen by those who have no idea about how much work you’ve done to make it. But you should also do a punch-list, which typically should include a final sound mix if you haven’t already done so in the post-production phase. Watch the cut real-time outside of the edit-suite or on a screen different than the one used to edit. Take final notes of things you notice while viewing it from the perspective of an audience.

That’s it. You’re done! Project Complete. Bask in the glow of having created something of your own design. You deserve credit for making your way through no matter how good (or eek how bad) the work is. Because the bottom line is that I guarantee you will learn a lot from this process. It may not be always what you intended to learn, but there is always huge value in the experience. Cheers.

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