This guest post was brought to you by Lauren Freeman, writer/developer of Laloo the Red Panda , a book app created for iPad. This article is about the Pros and Cons of working with an independent contractor vs. an outsource studio when creating a new iPad book app.
For those of you in the preliminary stages of building your app, and wondering how to find artists/animators to contribute, you’ve come to the right place! This blog will discuss the pros and cons of working with contractors vs. outsource studios, and the bare minimum legal forms you should be prepared to have signed.
Please note, I am a firm believer in paying creatives for the work you are requesting, so if you’re looking for advice on how to get an artist to work for free, this isn’t the right blog. If you are looking for a paid artist, but not sure how to find one or if you should work with a studio then read on!
As the writer and independent developer of Laloo the Red Panda (iPad), a storybook app which is art/animation heavy, one of the first decisions I had to make when it came to building the app was how I would go about finding an art team.
I started out as a game writer, but later in my career I transitioned into an Art Producer. In this role, I managed a team of writers and artists/animators who worked full-time on-site. Later, I was hired as an External Producer and was the main point of contact for all outsourcing and contractors, and managed the budgets and contracts for multiple game projects.
These experiences taught me to work with both individual artists and animators, as well as entire studios. I also learned about budgets, negotiations, and the legalities required in either scenario. Below is a list of pros and cons for working with a contractor/individual and/or working with a studio. Please note, as a writer, this post refers mostly to working with artists. However, if you are looking for a writer, a lot of this is applicable.
HIRING AN INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR
Keep work local!
I am a sucker for keeping work local. Fortunately, I live and work in San Francisco, which is one of the most creative cities in the world. However, regardless of where you live, I’m willing to bet there are amazing artists/animators residing there who are looking for work. Finding work as a creative is really hard. As an Art Producer, for every thousand portfolios reviewed for a full-time job, maybe one artist is interviewed. The odds are stacked against creatives, and as a writer who has, likewise, struggled to get paid for my creative work, my heart goes out to the local artist!
Unlike studios, who will generally work with some level of anonymity, when hiring an individual, you can find an artist portfolio with a style you love and ask the artist to replicate this style.
More hands on.
Creative good karma and community relations aside, a benefit of working with local talent is that it may afford you the opportunity to be more hands on. You can meet up at a local coffee shop to discuss work in-person and alleviate hours of back and forth over email. Also, since independent contractors are more or less in charge of their own schedules, you may find they are willing to iterate on ideas more so than a studio.
No offense to my artist friends, but creative contractors aren’t always the best at managing our time! The reality is, we often bite off more than we can chew because we need to pay our bills, and we also have passion projects that we’re working on because we’ll lead a miserable existence if we don’t! Independent contractors who don’t know when the next pay day may arrive, are almost always juggling multiple projects. You can avoid this pitfall by asking how many projects the creative is managing. Also, get a good referral instead of hiring a stranger.
If the artist isn’t managing their time wisely, it’s on you to manage them. If you aren’t naturally a manager-type, this may prove difficult. Also, you may not be an artist, but you’re going to need to know how to talk to one if you expect to work with one. Please check out my blog, which covers this topic extensively. Point is, if you need help providing notes when a contractor’s artwork isn’t quite what you expected, you may need to hire an art director or project manager to assist you. This will add to your overall cost.
Cost for multiple artists.
Do you need more than just one artist? Chances are you might! Does your project require both artwork and animation? Does it require buttons, logos, and other user interface items? If so, you may need more than just one artist and then the cost may become more than working with a studio. Furthermore, if you are hiring three or four independent artists, it requires more oversight to manage.
How to find an individual artist?
- Word of mouth referrals!
- Artist sites like Carbonmade or Deviant Art
- Local art schools/academies! They’re in practically every city.
- Ask for an online portfolio – digital artists should have an online portfolio unless they are very junior. If they don’t provide an online portfolio, be wary.
WORKING WITH A STUDIO
This point comes with a large caveat. Outsourcing is not always the cheaper route, and buyer beware if this is the only reason you choose to outsource. Cost savings largely depend on where you are located and where the studio you choose to work with is located. For example, as a citizen of USA, it’s actually going to cost me a pretty penny to work with a UK based company. However, if I work with a company in China or India, I may be able to expand the value of a dollar a bit.
Most quality studios will provide your project with a project manager to oversee the schedules/workload of the artists assigned to you. Some studios will also provide you with an Art Director to quality control and evaluate the work prior to delivery.
If your artist is sick, the studio is responsible to replace him/her at no cost to you, and often, without your even noticing it happened. If your artist is not providing you with the quality of work you expected, the same applies. Also, most studios offer other production services. If you are looking for development, animation, user interface design, or even app design services, many studios can handle all of these all under one roof.
Bait and switch.
Any reputable studio will not even think about doing this age old outsourcing trick… but it’s worth being on the lookout for nonetheless. Sometimes during the early phases of a negotiation, a studio will have a senior artist work on one of your illustrations only to later replace him/her by a junior artist. They want to woo you with the best, but when another high profile contract comes along, they will pull their best and give you Joe Smo the intern. If you see the quality of art degrade over the course of your project, be wary and immediately ask what is going on.
Company vs. Individual.
Most studios will assign you a project manager to interact with, so you will not have any direct interaction with the artist working on your project. With international studios, this set-up is often due to a language barrier. This can sometimes result in loss of details when it comes to your feedback, and can prove frustrating. This is why it’s important to document your feedback in a concise way. See my blog for more on this topic.
Let’s face it, at the end of the day, a studio is a company and has to look out for its bottom line. A good studio will do everything it can to please its client, including on occasion, losing some money. But more often then not, the frustrations you may encounter by working with a studio verses an individual, are due to the cost of doing business in a competitive global economy.
How to find a studio?
- Do a web-search for art/animation outsource studios and find one with examples of an art style that is similar to what you’re looking for. If you’re impressed by a portfolio, but don’t see these examples, write to the studio and ask them if they have more than what is visible online.
- Please note, if you don’t know what style art you’re looking for, sit down and figure it out before you even think about contacting a studio. This will save you and the studio tons of time.
- Ask for referrals from friends/co-workers in the industry.
- Go to industry events/conferences such as MipCom, Game Developer’s Conference, or even Comic Con! Any art/animation-related conference will be host to a ton of art studios.
- Especially for application development, look for a studio with experience providing art for mobile projects. Working with a team with this expertise, will likely save you time trying to figure out exactly what file types/formats your developers may need.
Please note, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. If you are concerned about the contract process the best thing for you to do is to hire your own entertainment lawyer. But here are some basics that will help you get started:
- Protect your work. Story app developers who live in USA, copyright your story prior to producing as an app. It’s easy – you can do it online. Once your code is written, you can also copyright the entire application. However, you may want to do this after the art is complete, as depending on what type of copyright you go for, you will likely submit screens of your art with your code eventually.
- Send independent contractors or studios that you are engaging a non-disclosure agreement prior to sending your material to review. I used Rocket Lawyer and revised the contract for my purposes. Sending an NDA is a free way to further protect yourself from intellectual property infringement.
- Once you have sent your proposal to the artist or studio to review ask for a bid/estimate. The estimate should include an idea of the cost for production AND the time it will take to complete your project.
- Use the estimate above to compose a Work for Hire contract/Independent Contractor agreement or a Consulting Agreement (for studios), which you can also find on Rocket Lawyer. This document protects you from contractors claiming that they were a full-time employee and should have been paid benefits, etc. This scenario may be rare, but it does happen. Better to do things the right way first to avoid pitfalls later, right? It also outlines the contractor’s responsibilities, delivery dates and other areas where clarity may be necessary prior to work commencing.
- If you’re based in the USA send Independent Contractors a W9 to keep on record for tax time. You can find these at IRS.gov
Did I hire contractors or a studio for Laloo the Red Panda?
I actually used a combo of both local independent contractors and an outsource studio. The contractors helped me create a style guide, design the main characters, and created examples of background designs. Then I sent all of these documents to a reliable studio whom I have a good working relationship with, Game Vision.
I hope the information provided above is useful to my fellow app developers! The most important thing is to enjoy the app building process. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your ideas realized by talented artists and animators. If you’re lucky and work with the right creatives, you’ll find that they bring more to the project than you could have imagined at the start.
Lauren Freeman is the writer/developer of Laloo the Red Panda, a book app created for iPad.
This article was about the Pros and Cons of working with an independent contractor vs. an outsource studio when creating a new iPad book app.
Please feel free to email her any detailed follow-up questions at Laloo@laloo.us or leave a comment below: