Every once in a while, I end up on a job where we sort of "re-invent" the wheel. People ask that you move forward without approved character designs and try to "figure out" designs in 3D space. Then they want animation tests before the rig is even developed? Fuck that. I say Respect the Process. There is a reason for doing things in an organized fashion and if you follow the process, your job will run smoother and your work will look better.
Design and Plan
The most important stage. Not that everything needs to be figured out ahead of time, but the animatic and edit should be 95% approved before moving forward. You have to know what your characters are gonna do. Also, characters should be fully explored and agreed on by director, agency and client.
Model and Rig
Modeling Texturing and rigging should come next. Animators should be brought in for discussions, testing and rig development.
Animate and simulate
Animators should be working on animation while the TD is either dealing with simulations, water, fire, particles, or working on lighting setup. A TD can get a lot done while the client and director on working on animation. Get your lighting done in this stage.
Render and Composite
Beg for time to render and use it to render again and again. Flush out all the glitches and make sure your lighting looks great. Start your render settings low, and turn them up to slowly to get final results. Work closely with composite to make sure they are treating your images correctly, and give them what they need to finesse the end in post.
Final Color Correct and Delivery
Don't bail on it now. Make sure you see your work before it's posted. In the end, it's your responsibility to make sure it looks good as it goes out the door. At this point you might even want to create more passes for someone to use during the final color correct.
We go through these stages for a reason. Walking through these stages makes the whole process smoother, which in turn allows you to make your work look better. Isn't great looking CG what everyone is looking for?