Should You Work With An Overseas Supplier?

In areas where creative industries are supported by government, the number of viable overseas studios is swelling worldwide, making it mighty tempting to outsource your animation or VFX to these lower cost production options. However, it’s not always about where you can save the most money, read on to discover some of the risks and issues you may run up against should you choose to take your project overseas.

Language & cultural challenges

Most of us have been in a country where we don’t speak a word of the local language – it’s a pretty embarrassing cultural trait of us Brits, isn’t it? In these situations you can probably find out where the train station is or how to order a coffee; now imagine trying to communicate the nuances of a scene, a character or a concept in one of your projects. This lack of shared understanding suddenly becomes a major roadblock. The only solution would be to hire a high-quality translator – a challenge and additional cost in itself.

When you throw a difference in time zones into the mix too, production coordination can become a full-time position for a client when it really shouldn’t be. I can’t stress the importance of sitting down and having meetings face-to-face. When this would involve hopping on a plane, it doesn’t bode well for the health of the project and the working relationship. If you’re a European company outsourcing to east Asia, the sheer difference in time can cause delays too: mission critical information or assets might get held up and the whole project lags even further.

Cultural challenges aren’t usually so crippling to a project but they can still be a source of stress and delay. Your preferred modes of communication, visual styles and work ethics can and do vary wildly depending on which country you decide to outsource to. Some cultural references could go entirely over their heads, leading to a difference in creative vision and more back and forth between you and the studio.

Insufficient business and process structures

As the ability of the international animation community increases, this will become less of an issue, but whilst there’s fast money to made from companies outsourcing cheaper projects overseas, the insufficiency of some of the newer studios are a real risk.

Experienced production managers and assistants are in short supply in some regions, and training is needed in some industry-standard software packages. Some studios have a long way to go in terms of processes and management of resources as well, certain key technologies are still exotic in some regions due to lack of skilled, specialist personnel.

This can lead to inconsistencies, missed deadlines and most commonly, a lack of quality. If you’re outsourcing your VFX for a TV production, for example, you likely have a fixed budget and schedule to keep. You can’t afford any delays caused by the less sophisticated production process commonly found at cheaper, outsourced animation studios.

Piracy issues and IP laws

This isn’t a new or particularly rare phenomenon, especially in the video gaming industry. Large publishers often outsource portions of the animation in their games to various studios around the world with the aim of saving money. Unfortunately, this does end up causing copycat claims because some of these studios either don’t consider stealing the intellectual property of others an issue, illegal or they think they can get away with it.

Back in 2014, former Ubisoft developer Charles Randall accused Monolith and Warner Bros. of using animation and code from Assassin’s Creed II in the upcoming Shadow of Mordor video game. More recently, Marvel and Capcom have been embroiled in some controversy of their own, whole sequences apparently being lifted from one game and used in another. Lack of sufficient quality control on the part of the publisher is definitely at fault in these situations too, but occurrences like this that stem from outsourcing animation cause great embarrassment as well as monetary and legal repercussions on occasion.

You get what you pay for

This phrase is an over-simplification and often a bit of a myth but it rings true pretty consistently here. Yes, in the short-term you’re saving yourself a few bob by outsourcing, yet if any of the above risks become issues then projects miss deadlines, increase their budgets and present danger of cancellation.

Or, as you wrestle with project management and quality control issues, your team members will have to deal with unforeseen costs mounting up as they find themselves having to get the derailed train back on the tracks, or provide repeatedly detailed (or simplified!) art, design, and animation critiques because the studio hasn’t got a director on staff or is struggling with the interpretation or ability to deliver on the brief.

Suddenly, that low bill that you were bragging to your boss about a few months ago starts growing faster than bamboo.

I don’t mean to keep banging on about cost because it really isn’t the only, bottom-line factor that demands your consideration. Whilst the hourly rate is lower overseas than in the UK, here the work gets done faster with fewer revisions and in our experience, when the final project is delivered, it often far exceeds the expectations of the client. This service then leads to development of a long-term, trusted creative partnership that you know you can rely on for future projects.