Animation Pipeline

Pipeline is an approach to creating animation. This post briefly discusses the various processes involved in an animation pipeline.

When starting a new project, one of the most frequently asked question from a client is “How do we go about this animated project?” I believe it’s very important to give the client a good overview of the whole process. In the long run, following a pipeline helps to facilitate realistic schedules. It also gives the client the proximity of the project to the delivery date.

Thus, an animation pipeline can be defined as a structured process flow, listing out all the functions involved and how they interact with each other. Following an animation pipeline helps the various teams/functions to communicate with different processes involved.

Upon receiving a script, one of the first processes is Storyboarding. This can be divided into three types:

  • Thumbnails/Concept Boards
  • Production Boards
  • Rendered Boards

Storyboarding starts with thumbnailing scenes. As the name suggests, thumbnails of the script are created to get a feel for the story, using film theory and determining shots and camera angles. thumbnail storyboardAfter nailing out all the angles and composition shots and rough BG’s for layout, the next step would be getting down to production storyboards. Production boards contain strong poses, details and directions of the camera shot/zooms/pans, slug notes and/or off-screen notes.

Upon approval of the boards, the intermediate step would be a casting call for voice-over artists. (Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have a large talent pool). Hiring a studio helps to get professional quality audio. Doing it remotely with the help of today’s technology has helped bridge the gap quicker between voice-talent and artists.

Once the boards are digitized and the voice-overs are edited to fit the script, these assets are taken to an editing suite (like Adobe After Effects) where the voice-overs are synced with each scene in the storyboard to produce a rough-cut animated storyboard called the Animatic.

pre-production pipeline

Running in parallel, it’s necessary to concentrate on the art direction of the project. Research on color themes to convey mood (eg:, and narrowing down the art style for the intended target audience. It could prove useful to give the client an animation test or demo references to show the fluidity that’s expected from the project.

Design is broken up into Character, BG and Props. Scrutinize the production boards to understand the layout needed and create the needed respective backgrounds. Once all the concept art for the Design Process is complete, we jump into the Cleanup and Coloring process where the characters are prepped to be sent off for rigging. (Rigging is covered in another post.)

production pipeline

The rigged characters, backgrounds and props are imported and dropped into each scene of the animatic. This process is known as the layout in digital production. The layouts are broken into scenes and animation and special effects are created here. I haven’t covered a lot on these specific topics because they vary from a 2D Flash/Toon Boom or a 3D animation pipeline.

post-production pipeline

Once the animation and special effects are completed, the scenes are again brought back to the editing station where the movie is edited to maintain overall continuity of the story. Next, the movie is sent off for compositing where the soundtrack and special effect sounds are added and burned for delivery.

Every studio has their own pipelines and this process matures over time to incorporate new processes or remove redundant ones. Studios also change their pipeline depending on the size of the project and number of team players.

In conclusion, pipeline implementation is a discipline worth sticking with and prepares oneself for real-work experience.

(April 2010)

Disclaimer: every animator has his/her own pipeline that they follow. The pipeline listed here is just one of the many standard approaches.