Animation Workflow

The traditional workflow is a very straight forward pipeline. Many of the steps cannot be done simultaneously, meaning they must be completed before continuing on to the next step in the process.

The Script

All projects start with a script. It is the foundation of the whole project. This comes from either the studio itself or the client requesting the project.

By closely following the script, the design team will begin the character, props and locations and design. The storyboard artist will start working on the storyboard. This process is similar to any other workflow.

Designs

The design team will take charge of the character, prop and location design as soon as the script is locked. They are sketched several times over until the final design is approved, cleaned up, added to the model pack and sent to colour styling.

We recommend that you design the characters, props and locations directly within the animation software to keep everything digital and save time. You can also design them on paper and scan them in, but this requires a bit more work and handling.

Colour Styling

Colour styling can be done before or after the animation. It doesn’t really have an impact on the pipeline. It can be done on paper or directly in an animation software.

If the backgrounds are painted in an external software, it is recommended that you do the locations (key backgrounds) colour styling in that same external software.

Audio Recording, Dialogue and Nat Pause

The dialogue is also recorded from the script. The voices are often recorded outside of the studio. If there is dialogue involved in the project, the final version must be recorded soon enough to import it into the project before the animation. This allows the animator to do the sound breakdown and animate the mouth and expressions, as well as the storyboard that’s required.

Nat pause is a generic audio read-through used by the storyboard artist to hear what the characters are saying and how it is said. In this way, they can draw the correct facial and physical expressions to coincide with the dialogue. It is important to minimize the revision to the visuals during the animation process.

Storyboard

The storyboard is the illustrated script of the film. It can be started in parallel with the design and the audio recording, but some studios may wait until the designs and the audio recording are locked.

Animatic Reel

The animatic reel, or leica, is made from the storyboard. Each scene is timed along with sounds, dialogue and music. Before the animatic can be created, the storyboard must be completed, approved and locked. Only one person is in charge of the animatic production to ensure consistency throughout the whole production.

If the storyboard is done on paper, a person must be added to the team to scan the storyboard and prepare it for the animatic.

Background Layout and Posing

For a traditional production, the layout and posing step is very important to communicate the storyboard information very clearly to the animators. The layout contains all the information needed to complete the animation in the scene: background, overlay, underlay, and key poses (usually referenced from the model pack).

In both small and medium sized studios, background layout and posing is handled by the same person. The background layouts are done by one person or team and the posing by another. For the small studio with a limited amount of resources, the storyboard artist or the animator creates the layout and posing.

Background Painting

The backgrounds can be painted in the animation software or in an external software. On a small team, one person can handle the background painting and on a medium-sized team, there will probably be two people painting the backgrounds.

Animation

Paperless animation is usually one of the first steps done in Harmony. All of the drawings are created digitally, using a pen tablet to optimize work and drawing ability. Other than the digital aspect, the animation principles are not very different from classical animation. The animator will use the same animation styles and methods as would be used on paper–only the medium is changed.

When all of the animation is done and the drawing timing is completed through the exposure sheet or the Timeline view, the scene can proceed to the animation clean-up process.

Animation Clean-Up

The animation clean-up consists of transforming the rough paperless animation into cleaned, tied down and inked drawings. On a new layer, the clean-up artist will trace the animation following the official model pack (document containing all the official character, location/props design and colours). This step must be done very accurately.

When the clean-up is over, the scene is passed along to the colourist for the ink and paint step.

Inking and Painting

At this point in the process, the colour models are ready and the drawings are scanned in and properly exposed. Using Harmony‘s optimized tools, the colourist can clean the scanned artwork and start applying colour to the different drawings. When the drawings are cleaned, as well as inked and painted, they are ready for compositing.

The ink and paint process is probably the longest digital step. It requires cleaning all of the drawings, inking lines and filling all of the colours on all drawings. The length of time this procedure takes depends on the complexity of the drawings; if there are a lot of details and lines to be inked, the colour step will be longer.

Compositing

The compositor imports the coloured background, animatic reference and sound as required. Referring to the exposure sheet, animatic and animation, the compositor assembles all these elements and creates the camera moves and other necessary motions. Finally, the compositor adds any digital effects required by the scene. These can include tones, highlights and shadows. When the compositing is completed, the final step is the rendering.

Export – Render

Once the compositing is completed, the last step is to render the scene as a movie or an image sequence. Generally, the compositor will be the same person doing the render.

Post-production

When all the scenes are rendered out, the user assembles them in an external application and adds sound to the project. The final effects and filter are added. The final step is to render out to the master and distribute it, unless there is dubbing to be done. Very often, the final transfer is done by an external post-production company.