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How to Implement and Perfect Your Animation Clean-up

“Good drawing is not copying the surface. It has to do with understanding and expression. We don’t want to learn to draw just to end up being imprisoned in showing off our knowledge of joints and muscles. We want to get the kind of reality that a camera can’t get.”

Richard Williams, Director & Animator

In creating great animated videos, you will need more than a dedicated team and a powerful story. You’ll need an impressive and charming animation style. I mean, can you imagine watching Disney’s ratatouille – an animated film about a cooking rat – and enjoying it if Remy the rat didn’t look as cute as he did?

The design of an animated video will often make or break it. In some cases, it can purposely drive audiences away or spark controversy. Remember when Paramount Pictures released the first trailer of their CGI animated film Sonic the Hedgehog? 

The beloved character’s “creepy” design immediately sparked controversy online, particularly on how his teeth were too “human” and how dissimilar his features were from his original look in video games. Paramount had to push back its release date and redesign the character to make it look more loveable and appealing to the audience.

That’s how impactful the right animation style can be. However, a key aspect in making charming animation styles and character designs comes in how well an animator can implement and perfect their animation clean up.

The animation clean up is an integral aspect of the animation production pipeline. Without it, your animations would look messy and filled with unnecessary squiggles, lines, and circles. 

In this blog post, we’ll explain what an animation clean up is, why it’s vital you know how to implement and perfect your animation clean up, and how you can do so.

What Is An Animation Clean Up?

an animator and illustrator cleaning up their animation as they finish

GIF by carolineattia via GIPHY

First things first, what exactly is an animation clean up? As previously stated, it’s one of the most important aspects of the animation production pipeline. All animated videos undergo it. 

The animation clean up is also called “tracing,” and it enhances your animated videos by giving them a smooth look that’s consistent with you and your client’s vision. It’s the final step to transform your rough animations into immersive and memorable ones for audiences. In other words, one that’s clean

But why is the animation clean up process so important? 

Look at it this way: Can you imagine watching your favorite animated series with all its circles and rough lines? Can you imagine watching odd shapes move around your laptop screen? While there’s nothing wrong if you do prefer an animation style that’s messier or with more lines, there’s no doubt that it still has to look presentable and consistent. 

After all, clients won’t pay for lines and elements, so you must practice perfecting the animation clean up.

But clean up animation is more than just closing gaps and making fine lines. It’s an entirely new skill of its own. 

The animation clean up will show your animated video’s final look and design –– The one that’s been agreed upon by you and the client beforehand.

Therefore, it takes lots of practice. Some animators may even struggle with it. That’s why major animation studios open applications for a clean up animator; they need someone who can do the animation clean up process perfectly to represent the animated video’s final look.

How To Implement And Perfect Your Animation Clean Up

a 3d character that has gone through an animation clean up perfectly

GIF by amalgia via GIPHY

The animation clean up is only one part of the animation production pipeline, but in order to understand when and how to do the animation clean up, let’s break it into two major parts: The rough drawings and the clean up.

The Rough Drawings 
rough drawing that needs an animation clean up

GIF by dan_bahia_dan via GIPHY

As an animator, you know how important it is to have room for mistakes, adjustments, and tweaks in your animation designs. Your client may suddenly backpedal on a style or you might find an animation style better suited to achieve your client’s goal. 

You might find yourself spending hours on an animated character only for your client to scrap it all the next day and ask for something more creative. 

Needless to say, in the beginning, everything is still up for approval. And because you can’t let yourself spend too much time and energy on one aspect of the animated video, you start out with rough drawings. This is the first part.

Remember that each animated video has its own distinct style and art direction that requires vastly different treatment and affects the final design. Some use rough sketchier lines, others use smoother and finer lines, and others don’t use any lines at all, only colored shapes.

Knowing what kind of art direction you or your client prefers for the animated video is an essential step to perfecting the animation clean up.

When you begin working on an animated video, all you have is your storyboard or your animatic. An animatic is considered to be an animated storyboard. So imagine the images of your storyboard moving in the right order with sound effects or background music. This will help you visualize how your animated video will come to life.  

Your animated story will then be broken down into sequences or frames where you, as an animator, can start working on the roughs. These will be rough details, messy shades, and overlapping lines to give some shape and movement to your animated characters and backgrounds.

This is done on every frame and sequence to leave room for adjustments and redraws because, face it, as you work through your animated video, the design of your animation subjects is bound to change. You wouldn’t want to waste too much time on a character pose that’s still up for approval.

Once everything in the animation sequence has been finalized and approved by your team and/or your client, then you can start adding more details. 

The Animation Clean Up
a walk cycle animation that has some of the parts cleaned up

GIF by dan_bahia_dan via GIPHY

When all the roughs in your animation sequence have been completed and finalized, you can start the clean up process. 

If you’re working traditionally, you’ll need the following equipment in your animation setup for a smoother clean up process: Your animation desk, a backlit animation disk or a lightbox, a peg bar, punched animation bond paper, or your standard copy paper if your budget is running tight.

Animation clean up artists typically start the clean up process with the roughs on each keyframe –– these are the most prominent animation poses in the sequence. Place a rough drawing down on your peg bar and a blank animation sheet on top of it. Don’t forget to accurately mark the blank sheet and trace the timing chart in.

The most important thing to remember during the clean up is to keep your pencil sharp. Then, using your wrists, begin tracing your roughs in short and swift motions. Taper your lines and keep the edges thin to create the effect of a smooth single line in each of your animated characters or backgrounds.

But what’s the animation disk for? 

In some elements of rough drawings, curves may require your wrist to move in an unnatural or uncomfortable way. The animation disk helps turn your drawings around to prevent you from making any mistakes from uncomfortable movements.

A common animation clean up line is a simple line with a consistent thickness. If you’re still practicing, this is an easy kind of animation clean up you can do as it comes without much flourishes or complexities. Plus, it’s pretty common among outsourced animation content.

You may also consider the different ways you can hold your animation pen or stylus while implementing your animation clean up. 

Adjust your grip or how you position your pen to improve your animation clean up process. For instance, the farther away your hand is from the pen’s tip, the more comfortable you’ll be in making bigger and more organic shapes and forms, which is great for cleaning up the hair in your animated characters.

Meanwhile, holding your pen closer to its tip will help you make more intimate details in your animations.

As you perfect your animation clean up, it helps to have a good grasp of the elements and principles of design and the 12 principles of animation. You must understand why your rough drawings work as it is and instill those good aspects into the cleaned-up version.

Through this, you won’t simply be tracing lines and closing gaps because doing so will put your animation clean ups at risk of looking dull and lifeless as compared to the rough drawings. This means your animation clean up can be done much more accurately, and you’ll be able to feel your character’s energy, movement, and form. 

Another thing you must have is confidence in drawing your animations’ lines. This would entail you making a neat line in a confident and consistent single stroke rather than in rough scratches. 

cleaner lines mean easier animation clean ups

GIF by hoppip via GIPHY

You must also have a good knowledge of line weight and pressure. The pressure you add on a line will depict its weight, the lighting surrounding it, and its depth and intensity in relation to the scene. 

And finally, the last tip in implementing your animation clean up is that you have to take advantage of your digital tools.

We’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by so much technology that can streamline tedious tasks, so why not make the most out of it? Animation software has tools like line stabilizers that can aid you in making consistent lines throughout your animation clean up process.

All that considered, the one thing you must always do is to keep practicing. As mentioned earlier, the animation clean up is more than just another aspect of animation. It’s a whole new skill. So you have to put in the effort of practicing if you want to improve and perfect it for your animation studio.

How Can You Implement And Perfect Your Animation Clean Up?

the process of stylizing and finishing an animation clean up

GIF by yaliherbet via GIPHY

Animation styles and designs are a big part of the charm of your animated videos. But in order for the final video to reflect it, you must implement and perfect the animation clean up. The animation clean up is one of the last and most important stages in the animation production pipeline. But if you think that it’s the same as making rough drawings, think again. 

For one, there is a level of perfection you have to maintain as you do the clean up. Fortunately, we’ve provided a couple of tips to help you do so.

First is the equipment. If you’re working with a pen and paper, you’ll need your animation desk, a backlit animation disk or a lightbox, a peg bar, punched animation bond paper or your standard copy paper if your budget is running tight.

Second, start the animation clean up process with the roughs on the keyframe. Third, consider the different ways you can hold your animation pen so you can implement the animation clean up more smoothly.

Fourth, master the design principles along with the 12 principles of animation. Fifth, work on your confidence in drawing your clean lines and develop a good understanding of line weight and pressure. And sixth, if you’re working digitally, take advantage of the different digital animation tools and software.

Keep those tips and techniques in mind as you practice your animation clean up. That way, you can master the skill in no time and avoid finding yourself in unfortunate mishaps with your animation style.

For more tips on developing your business skills as a freelance animator or animation studio owner, you can join our informative free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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