The Creative Process of Animation

By Jamie Cartwright

The animation process can be a long and sometimes even tedious thing!

For every 1 second you see, 24 drawings are flashing before your eyes, and when you consider that they all need colouring and quality controlling, that’s a lot going on in the blink of an eye!

That’s just the drawings that get the go ahead, too. Sometimes ideas can be thought up, brought to life through sketching, but then thrown away before they get anywhere near being put on screen. Nightmare!

Thankfully, there are tools to help streamline the animation process and to make it more palatable and time friendly for us animators.

All animation begins with the brief and the idea. It can start looking like this:

 

Creative process of animation sketch
 

The idea can be written, sketched, or even filmed – any way you can get the thought out of your head and turned into something to review. This can be something incredibly simple. Imagine it as the blurb from the back of your favourite book – it isn’t too detailed, but it gives you the hook.

From there come the words. The idea needs some words for directions and this will come down to a script, visual direction notes or research.

creative process of animation storyboard
 

As animators, we don’t tend to play well with words and so like to add visuals wherever we can.

In the image above, the drawings accompanying the words are what we would call ‘thumbnails’. It’s the process of taking those words and creating visual ideas from them in handy bite size forms.

From there we dive into the more nitty gritty – the detail. The process starts gaining a look and style. This stage is what we’d call the concept or ‘mood board’. With a lot of help from research materials and inspiration, your idea and sketches can become something like this:
 

creative process of animation
creative process of animation

The next step is called a ‘storyboard’. This is where the animator takes all those thumbnails and fleshes them out into video form to create a sense of rough animation:

 

This particular process is all about understanding the timing and flow of the animation. How do the characters look on screen? How long does the animation play for? Are there parts that work and don’t work and, finally, do the words work on screen?

Speaking of which, it is at this stage that getting a voice-over starts to become important for animators. A voice-over and music can really help drive an animation from being ‘good’ to ‘great’, and having a voice-over before the animation even happens is important as it helps the animator understand the pacing of the video.

With everything agreed and all parties “cushty” the main course starts being prepared – the animation. This process will take the most time, and can take anywhere from several days to several weeks – maybe even months!

So, what does this involve? Well, the animator needs to create and design characters, build backgrounds, plan shots, and make everything move.

There are ways to help reduce time during this process. The animator can create duplicating characters, be aware of what will or won’t move in the scene, and re-cycle animation such as walks and runs.

There are also tools in modern software that help aid the animator – tools that are like a second pair of hands when compared to ye’ old times when the process was only drawings on paper!

Another thing that changes the overall production time of animation is down to the budget and quality of the style. The simpler the style, the easier it is to create. The more complex, the longer.

It’s like preparing a delicious sandwich. The more ingredients you have in it, the longer it takes before you can eat it!

It also depends on what style of animation the brief wants to pursue. For example, a 3D project can take longer than a 2D one. A hand drawn animation can take longer than a digital animation. There are many factors to consider.

Here is a look at what an animator, or more specifically, a 2D digital animator is looking at during this step:

 

creative process of an animation software
 

As you can see, there is a lot going on here! But it’s an animator’s job to bring a story to life.

With the animation done and many hours of sleep lost, there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s a final hurdle – the edit and polish aka ‘Post Production’.

There may be areas where the animator has made a mistake, or perhaps some colours don’t work on review, so this is the time to go through the animation with a fine toothcomb and iron out the problem areas.

Music is applied, and visual effects such as lights and shadow are added.

We are at the end of the road now and a review is submitted. Should the animation be a success, it is released into the wild and begins its journey of views, shares and critique and the animator moves on to their next job – or more likely, their bed.

Of course, it is important to note that during this whole process the customer is always involved. Getting feedback is incredibly important for animation as the further along the process goes, the harder it becomes to make changes. Even a simple character change could amount to a couple of days of work.

The customer providing feedback helps make sure the animation is on track, and all the milestones that an animation needs to go through helps make sure that any changes that are necessary happen as soon as possible.

And that is the animation process. Now, please, let me go back to my man cave and resume drawing. I have a deadline looming. Ciao for now!

 

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