Written by: Lead Animator, Southwest Environmental Finance Center at the University of New Mexico

The Concept

The idea for the Importance of a Standard Operating Procedure animation arose from the need to explain complex subjects in an accessible way. Our team decided the process of taking drinking water samples would be a great example to express the importance of following a standard operating procedure. All drinking water systems must take water samples and not following proper procedure can have some negative consequences to public health. The initial concept was to show our hero collecting samples incorrectly, and then correctly, and showing the possible chain reaction of events each path might cause. Basically, Goofus and Gallant meets It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Process

Because I am not an expert in the fields of water and wastewater, the process of creating an animation always begins with absorbing as much information as I can and distilling that knowledge into simple language and visuals. I believe being a non-expert in water and wastewater is a benefit because I can represent the audience. I often have the same questions and confusion a general audience might have when being taught a complex subject. This perspective helps guide us in making our animations easy to understand. The process of creating an animation is similar to painting or sculpting. You begin very broad and rough, and then begin to refine until the final form is readable. For animations, we always start with storyboards, pre-visualization, and a script, but the fun details always arise somewhere in the process. In this animation, the cardboard box being shipped is a great example of a fun detail that was added late in the process. Having the cardboard box start off looking like a fresh new box and then ending up as a dingy beaten-up box was an idea that came late in the process. It’s a fun moment that was too good to not include, so the day before the video was set to release the shot was re-modeled and re-rendered. A lot of nuances and small but important details are added during each phase of the animation. The final product can often look very different from the initial concept. Adding little details is the most engaging and fun part of the process because that’s where the animator’s creativity can shine through.
Storyboard from the SOP animation.

Storyboard from the SOP animation.

New Techniques

This animation also differed from our last animation because of some new techniques used. For this animation I was able to use some custom image-based materials that look like posters, whiteboards, shipping labels, etc. These were created in Adobe Illustrator and Clip Studio Paint and add a lot of character to the sets. To create these visuals in the past, I would 3D model a graphic or text that would appear on an object like the side of a shipping truck or a sandwich board. This new technique was more efficient and the end result was more polished. Another new technique applied to this animation involved sound design. For previous animations I would scour free sound effects sites for all our sound. While that method worked for us, often you can only get close to the sound you’re trying to achieve, and never exactly what you want. For this animation I did some of my own sound recording and design. You can hear this in the closing of the cardboard box, the cooler, the lid to the sample container, and some other places. Recording our own sound lets us not only time it to the animation better, but also lets us better control the quality and fidelity of the sound. The animation has been a great success with over 1,800 views and we anticipate expanding upon this concept by creating a series of SOP animations. Click the video below to watch!