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The world has seen a ton of impressive animated videos across multiple platforms. With the help of animation industries, different professional fields and brands have produced either animated promotional materials, infomercials, or short films.
The impact of animation has spread and is consistently expanding with the acceleration of technology and the innovation of various unique animation styles. With that, you can’t deny that animation has indeed become more popular and accessible.
But creating an excellent animated video that satisfies your client can involve a number of tedious and complex steps, especially if you’re still starting out.
So how exactly have animation freelancers or studios been able to produce their own animations? Through following a thoroughly structured animation production pipeline.
What is an Animation Production Pipeline?
A production pipeline is an animation industry term referring to a detailed production plan followed to efficiently convert ideas and concepts into a finished product. It also involves the people, equipment, and software used in sequential order, starting from pre-production to post-production.
Freelance animators and even those with major animation studios follow an animation production pipeline (also known as a production workflow) in producing their animated videos and other animation materials. Doing so will optimize the structure and strategies employed by your animation studio.
More specifically, it will help you manage your time and budget, improve team organization especially in a big studio, and produce animations with the highest quality. Overall, an animation production pipeline will result in more satisfied clients and earn you a respectable reputation as a freelance animator.
In this blog post, we’ll present the steps in making an animation production pipeline.
Pre-Production in an Animation Production Pipeline
Image by Patrick Perkins via Unsplash
The animation pre-production stage sets the stage for the rest of your animation project and shapes how the final animations will appear.
When starting out any animation project, a good pre-production stage is crucial in order to produce excellent animated videos that fulfill your client’s brief. It will also help move the subsequent stages in the animation pipeline more smoothly.
During pre-production, you can establish a definite understanding of what you and/or your team will do, strategize how to best execute your client brief, and plan out the budget and duration for each step.
You will also most likely encounter some modifications and feedback from your client regarding your script and storyboard.
This stage is especially helpful as it will better align your project with that of the vision of your animation client, so don’t freak out if they point out some flaws. That’s totally normal!
Simply put, the steps of animation pre-production consist of strategizing, story conceptualization, scriptwriting, art direction, character design, storyboarding, and animatics.
1) Animation Project Strategizing
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Before you can actually do anything with your client brief, you must strategize an optimized process to achieve this. This step consists of important activities:
First, if you’re working with a team, you must determine the people who will work on the project. You may have to assign your account executives, project coordinators, creative directors, illustrators, scriptwriters, storyboard artists, voiceover artists, and the animators themselves.
On the other hand, if you’re working alone, then you’ll have to fill these roles yourself.
Second, you must evaluate your studio’s budget and assign the appropriate amount of time per step. You can also define the limits of your animation team, such as the number of revisions you’re willing to entertain.
Third, define the animation narrative style and the equipment to be used for the animation project. With tons of animation styles, there are many ways you can express your client brief. You can opt for 2D animation, 3D animation, stop motion animation, rotoscope animation, and typography animation, among many others.
That being said, it’s also important for you to eventually establish your own animation style if you haven’t done so.
Finally, you must establish internal deadlines within your animation team. Setting internal deadlines will allow you to meet up with your team and approve their progress before submitting it for feedback from your client.
An example of an internal deadline can be setting the deadline for the script two or three days before your client’s own deadline.
However, this may not always be necessary especially if you’ve only been given a couple of weeks to complete the task, but doing so will still help you double-check and monitor the progress of your animation team.
Overall, strategizing will ensure organized and efficient animation pre-production. By the end, you must have established with your team your client’s objectives, audience, theme, and message. Throughout pre-production, you can always come back to reiterate those four points.
2) Animation Story Conceptualization
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Once you’ve planned everything out, you can start brainstorming and generating stories, ideas, or concepts that will best capture your client’s brief.
This step may also be called ‘Idea Generation’ or ‘Ideation’, which refers to the creative process of crafting, developing, and communicating different abstract thoughts and concepts. It serves as the basis of your animation studio’s innovation strategy.
If you’re working with a team, make sure you hear everyone out and consider their pitches. Show each member that they’re a valuable part of your team.
You may sometimes encounter creative roadblocks during this step. It’s normal to feel frustrated especially if you find you can’t agree on anything with your team, but don’t worry, there are different techniques and methods you can use to overcome your creative block.
3) Animation Scriptwriting
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Now, it’s time to make the script or screenplay for your animated video. This step in pre-production is about turning your animation concepts and your chosen narrative style into written form.
Your script consists of the specific contents of your animated video, like the different scenes, stage actions, character dialogues, expressions, and the other objects and movements that are needed to come together.
In simplest terms, scriptwriting refers to writing down every single thing that’s happening in your animated video. Every animated project needs a well-formed script, whether you’re creating a video game, an animated web series, or even a brand’s promotional video.
Here are a couple of valuable tips you can consider in making your script. First, gather all the necessary materials and information. This refers to your client’s creative brief, but other resources include websites and conducting interviews with your animation client.
Second, if you’re working with a scriptwriter, send them all the guidelines, like the objectives, client brief, and other mandatory elements.
Third, establish a template that you and/or your scriptwriter can follow. Having a template or format can make writing the draft easier. It will save up tons of time and ensure your scriptwriter follows the writing style of your animation studio.
Fourth, remember to be as detailed as possible while maintaining the word count. Encourage your writer to let their imagination run wild. The more descriptive your scenes and characters are, the better your team will be able to understand your writer’s vision for the client brief.
Fifth, keep in close communication with your animation client. This refers to asking for feedback once you complete the first draft of your script.
4) Animation Direction and Character Design
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Aside from your chosen animation style, you or your design team may have different ideas for how to design your actual animated video. While your script details everything in written form, finalizing the design will turn all your locations, characters, and objects into visual elements.
This step includes drafting and finalizing how the sets and characters will look, the typography of your text, the dimensions of your objects, and the color palette you’ll employ throughout the animated video.
Completing this step will shape the animation storyboard and visually align your story to your client’s creative brief.
5.) Animation Storyboarding
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Crafting your storyboard is an essential step in the animation production pipeline that will allow you to produce a coherent animated video for your client.
Storyboarding is about creating or inserting a series of sequential images in a comic book-like strip to illustrate the shot composition, flow, look, and feel of your animated video. It may be done either traditionally (hand-drawn) or digitally (through storyboarding software).
The value of this step in the animation production pipeline is to ensure you direct your audience’s attention to important events and messages. There are a few steps to effectively create a storyboard for your animated videos.
First, identify the important elements in your animation script. This is done in a process known as “shot breakdown” where you identify your shots and their contents and categorize everything into their respective scenes.
Second, craft the first few animation storyboard frames. The first few frames typically refer to the first three to five storyboard frames. Here, you must begin illustrating your characters and their backgrounds and adding motion to each scene.
Third, insert other animation ideas and illustrations into your storyboard. This refers to the other non-visual cues, like adding character dialogue, voiceover narration, and other animation ideas to the different frames in your storyboard.
Fourth, neatly compile and organize your first few storyboard frames and submit them to your animation client for feedback and/or approval.
Fifth, once your frames have been approved, you can finally begin completing the rest of the storyboard for the animation video.
As you move to your production, your storyboard will serve as a valuable tool for directing, animating, and adding visual effects.
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An animatic is basically an animated storyboard. It shows you a series of timed low-resolution storyboard images played in order to illustrate how your animated video will flow.
The very essence of having animatics is to set the pacing of each scene. They would also let you make quick changes in your animated video and serve as a good reference point when working on your animations.
Viewing an animatic of your storyboard will allow you to see the raw version of your animated video. Other than timed images, animatics typically consist of subtitles and the audio or soundtrack that will be used.
This is the last step before moving on to creating a rough animation.
Animation Production Pipeline Proper
Image by Jakob Owens via Unsplash
Once everything has been planned out, you can finally start animating. There are different applications and software that you can consider when animating, like Saola Animate, Adobe Character Animator, Adobe After Effects, and Pencil2D.
During this stage, everything you’ve prepared during pre-production will come together, like your script, storyboard, and character designs.
This stage consists of key animation, animation background layout, lighting, sound design, dialogue recording, animation color correction, and color grading.
7) Key Animation
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A key animation may also be called “keyframing”. This refers to a character or object’s simplest position before its set in motion – also known as its key form. Every other transformation, action, or expression will then be coming from this key form.
Basically, this step involves making the skeleton of your animation or a rough sketch of your character’s actions. The step may also be considered a ‘rough animation’.
Thanks to its rough nature, this step saves you time and effort by creating the motions and expressions of your character and giving you the ability to easily apply any changes without worrying over little details.
Here, you can also add the rough dialogue, if there’s any, to serve as the basis for your character’s facial expressions and movements.
This step may take a little back and forth before reaching the final poses and movements as you’ll have to ensure both your team and your client are satisfied with what’s been done.
8) Animation Background Layout
You will also have to sketch the layout of your animated scenes’ backgrounds, especially because they’re often affected by your animated character’s movements.
If you’re making the backgrounds of your animated video, you must have a high level of technical animation skills and possess a keen eye for detail.
Certain objects and movements may also change the composition of your background as a particular scene or event unfolds, so you must have a strong understanding of shape, form, texture, and color, and how all these elements come together in a scene.
You may also hire a background designer with prior experience to help animate your background. With that, you or your background designer must also add color to your animation backgrounds.
While your backgrounds are dependent on the art style you aim to achieve, one thing you can try when coloring your animated videos in a matte painting style.
Using Adobe Photoshop, matte painting adds a more realistic layer to the backgrounds of your animated videos. This step combines both the elements of art and live-action to create such an effect.
9.) Animation Lighting
GIF by motionaddicts via GIPHY
Good scenes are also dependent on good lighting, especially with certain kinds of animation styles like 2D, 3D, stop motion, and claymation.
This means more than simply adding shadows to your subjects or illuminating the entire scene; lighting offers stylistic freedom and the ability for you to explore with your animated scenes or videos.
This is a practical and realistic step in the production pipeline because the right lighting in every scene will effectively convey its mood, adding power and impact in character dialogues and movements.
Additionally, lighting improves the cinematography in an animated video and helps you highlight significant objects or events.
As written by the creative software and production industry website, Foundry, “Lighting in animation has become an art form in itself, not bound by physics or reality in the same way traditional filmmaking is”.
10) Animation Sound Design and Dialogue Recording
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Next up in the animation production pipeline is to add the audio of your animated video. This step consists of the musical score, the sound effects, and the voiceover narrations.
If you’ve recorded a draft voiceover narration earlier, now is the time for you to finalize the narration. You may hire a voiceover artist for this step or do it yourself, as long as the voice fits the video’s tone and clearly conveys the message of your client’s brief.
Regarding music, finding the right music for your animated videos can be tricky. To help you effectively choose the best music and sound effects, here are a few tips.
One, check the client brief or coordinate with your client on the music they want. Two, define the role of your music in the animated video. For example, if you’re creating explainer videos, your music should not distract the audience. It must be subtle and simply meant to clear any dead air.
Three, go back to your budget. Select the music that would stay within your budget or opt for royalty-free music. This will help by automatically crossing out those audio files that are too expensive for licensing.
Four, consider the genre that would best suit your animated video. Five, go back to your script or storyboard and try to imagine what kind of music would suit its scenes. You can also go through a music library and test some samples as you read your script.
Remember, the right music complements the mood of your scenes and the message of your animated video. It must enhance the experience of viewing the animated video and elicit a physical and/or emotional reaction in its intended audience. That way, you can satisfy your client’s intent for the animated video.
11) Animation Color Correction and Color Grading
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Like adding music, color correction and color grading create and/or maintain the overall atmosphere of your animated video to ensure it captures the objectives and the message of your client brief.
This step in the animation production pipeline adds to making a visually coherent story while improving the entire mood of your animated video. It involves manipulating the sharpness of colors, contrast, blackness depth, white balance, and the color overlays in the animated video’s every scene.
Color correction smoothes out the colors in every shot, allowing the audience to become more immersed and focused on the story while preventing any distracting and jarring aspects.
Meanwhile, color grading is more often used aesthetically. For instance, you may want a particular scene to be more emotional, so you apply dark blue hues.
Post-Production in an Animation Production Pipeline
Image by Matthew Kwong via Unsplash
By now, almost everything has been accomplished. Therefore, this stage in the animation production pipeline consists of making the final tweaks in your animated video and exporting the finished video.
12) Compositing and Final Revisions for your Animated Video
This step will merge all the animation elements you and/or your team has worked on into one video. If you created your characters, backgrounds, and scenes separately, then you will be compositing them together into one final animated video.
Also, don’t forget to render a low-resolution copy and send it to your animation client to see if there are any other revisions you’ll have to perform.
13) Run-through and Render the Animated Video
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Finally, it’s time for all the steps to come together in a rendered version of the animated video.
In this step, you must also check for any continuity errors in sound, dialogue, and editing and remedy any minor flaw for the final animation video to come out seamlessly. Remember to carefully go through every scene and shot in your animated video.
And that caps off the animation production pipeline.
Remember, the value of a production pipeline is that it will optimize your process in creating animated videos for your clients. Whether you're working alone or with a team, following these 13 steps will save you tons of energy and lead you to produce high-quality animations to satisfy your clients.
What are the Steps in Making An Animation Production Pipeline?
The 13 steps in the animation production pipeline are as follows:
- Animation project strategizing
- Story conceptualization
- Animation scriptwriting
- Art direction and character design
- Key animation
- Animation background layout
- Animation Lighting
- Sound design and dialogue recording
- Animation color correction and color grading
- Compositing and final revisions
- Run-through and render the animated video
While this article has shared all 13 steps of the animation production pipelines, check out more tips on animated videos and developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, take part in our informative free masterclass and download a copy of our free marketing handbook.