"How much time is typically devoted to the story making/boarding/animatic phase of a movie? How well can you tell if the film will work when it’s in animatic form? . . . do stories come out weakly because they didn’t have enough time to keep tightening them, or because you can’t get a good enough idea of the final product from just the boards?"
The entire process is actually a series of overlapping processes, and while the goal may seem to be to satisfactorily complete one phase before moving on, that never happens.
Inevitably, more story and character changes ensue during the animation process, when the folks in charge figure out the real heart and soul of the film, so that much of the animatic is revised or thrown out as scenes and sequences are reboarded, redesigned, reanimated. The story department is usually still hard at work on a film up right up until shortly before animation finishes.
So how well can you tell if the film will work from the animatic? I’m not sure the animatic is the thing anyone should be judging. The typical animatic, despite how detailed these things have become in just the last ten years, still lacks any acting. In CG features, they’re far less expressive than the storyboards. And the animatic production values (lighting, cloth, effects, score, etc., etc.) are crude at best. So animatics can be deceptive.
What I tell myself everyday.
To all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and this is.. I'm asking this particularily of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism - for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." - Conan 'O'Brien