The Animation Pipeline

Pipeline is an approach to creating animation…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.

Film production is broken down to three production phases. Pre-production, Production, and Post Production. And of course, what follows is distribution and exhibition. Like film, I believe Animation does the same. But because an animation production doesn’t take place in a live setting, I’m curious as to how it’s structured, when it comes to the substructures of the three phase production. In this case, my question is: how does an animation pipline look like?

1. Concept and Storyboards2. 3D Modeling (if 3D)
3. Texturing
4. Rigging
5. Animation
6. Lighting
7. Camera Setting
8. Rendering
9. Compositing and Special VFX
10. Music and Foley
11. Editing and Final Output

Like in anything, story comes first. It should be embodied as a script. Then it’s storyboarded. I’m thinking that layouts and several models are created along with the storyboard. As part of the pre-visualization process, this gives us a visual idea of how and where this is going. What’s unique about the animation phase is how it takes pre-viz a bit further by creating animatics.

“Animatics: In order to give a better idea of the motion and timing of complex animation sequences and VFX-heavy scenes, the pre-visualization department within the VFX studio creates simplified mock-ups called “Animatics” shortly after the storyboarding process. These help the Director plan how they will go about staging the above sequences, as well as how visual effects will be integrated into the final shot.”

Usually animatics are storyboards with motion, temp music, and scratch audio and dialogue. This is in essence, the first proof and rough idea of how the animation plays and flows. It helps a lot for staging, theme, art direction, and story. It’s rumored that Pixar remains in the stage for a while. Giving them the visual opportunity to perfect their next Oscar winning movie . It’s also said, and it’s funny, how their animators become so accustomed to the voices in the animatics that it’s totally weird and out of place when the “real” voices for the animated characters are recorded towards the end.



I assume when all is approved, the animation studio begins with texturing, rigging, animation, and the rest of the duties listed above.

It’s impressive how everything is divided and delegated to specific types of animators. You’ll think that one animator does it all. Perhaps, in an indie production yes. But even then, it’s too much to handle. Each stage in the pipeline is handled by a department just for that — lighting, background, compositing, visual effects, sound effects and picture editing.


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