The work that goes into making an animation

Whether it is 2D animation or 3D works that feature sequences and flashbacks, it all starts from the drawing board.

In the past animators would stack multiple translucent drawings over a back-light to evaluate motion. This technique known as ‘onion skinning’ is now carried out digitally on drawing tablets.

Onion skinning

Drawn renderings of the characters are the first crucial step.

The 2005 animation movie Madagascar, is in a combination of classic animation techniques supported by state of the art CGI. The running technique in the movie is ‘squash and stretch’ animation style where the characters are deformed and then snapped back into shape – all to convey extreme motion and impact.

Whats interesting is that the four main characters in the Madagascar series, have intentionally distinctive body shapes that compliment each other. Alex, the proud pampered lion is an inverted triangle; Marty, the streetwise zebra is a cylinder ; Gloria, the sassy hippopotamus is a circle; and Melman, the hypochondriac giraffe is a tall skinny stick. Their shapes are all vastly different, but they are based on the same design aesthetic of exaggerated proportions with sharp graphic details.

Magagascar characters

A lot of detailing and iterations go into making the characters look just right :



The next step is the development of character maquettes. These are hand crafted, clay or molded plaster sculptures made during the production phase of the animation. Sometimes maquettes are produced during the character development process to help find a characters look. Maquettes are important as they give filmmakers a clearer idea of how a particular character would look in 3D space. They help provide a common reference point for different animators working on the same character, allowing artists to study a character’s proportions from different views or illustrating the way a certain feature may cast a shadow.

clau 3

clay 2


Once the character design is in place, animators get to defining the full spectrum of motion.

One aspect which requires most detail is the development of a range of facial expressions. Character animators bring the director’s vision to life by posing the characters one frame at a time. Every nuance of emotion needed to tell a story is carefully developed to give each character life.

emotion range 2 emotion range

Creating an animated movie requires immaculate coordination between the many teams involved. The intense storymaking involes writers, storyboard artists, directors, producers, sound engineers, dubbing/voice over attists, animators, sound technicians, maquette designers, light corordinators etc.

The 2001 movie Shrek had in total 45,000 storyboards :

shrek storyboards - Copy

An integral part of storyboarding is “the pitch”, once a sequence is storyboarded the artist pitches it to the film directors, producers, writers and editors using voice and action to bring their drawing’s to life.

Here is a sample storyboard pitch:

Apart from the character animators, there are effects artists who make animations for animation that moves but isn’t a character.


Here is a great set of videos explaining this process:

Animated movies make for spectacular entertainment. Possibly the only genre in which storytellers, artists, animators, producers , directors, writers .. everyone comes together to  tweak and stretch the world into fantastic dimensions, and yet no one in the audience calls bullshit 🙂  .


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