The 2D Animation Process
Every animation studio has a slightly different animation process, but the steps for going from a simple idea to a fully animated film are pretty much the same anywhere you go. The animation process differs slightly depending on the scale of the project, the type of animation used and the size of the team creating it. Most animators have adopted Walt Disney’s animation process as the standard approach to creating an animated film. It is by no means the only way to do it, but as a new animator it will be useful to learn the steps that are still in use by major animation studios today.
Step 1: Storyboards
The first step for the inspired animator is creating a storyboard. Be it an adaptation of a script or an original idea, drawing out a storyboard is an important first step to creating your final product. Originally developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s, storyboards as graphic organizers to pre-visualize their work and pitch their idea to movie directors and other animators who want to work on the project, think of them sort of like a visual script or stage directions for animated characters.
Creating an animated feature is an expensive and time consuming process and can take anywhere from a few weeks to entire years to create, and a storyboard is the best way of editing the story before its been animated. An animated film will of course be edited throughout the creation process, but scraping an entire animated sequence is costly in terms of both time and money, so editing at the storyboard stage is doubly important for studios on a budget.
Step 2: Audio Production
After the story has been laid out with a storyboard and pitched to a team of animators, directors, and producers, it’s time to start recording the dialog. At this point, if they haven’t already, the writers and director will adapt their storyboard into a written script, complete with an outline of what each character is doing during each scene. This process is meant to further expand on the ideas presented in step 1, as storyboards are generally only rough, fragmented outlines of what the final product will look like.
After the script has been finalized, it is provided to the voice talent for the film, who works closely with the director to nail down each character’s individual personality. Though it may not be apparent to the audience, voice actors play a huge role in fleshing out their characters’ on-screen personality. Often times, scripts are used mostly as loose guidelines for the actors, who ad lib the character to life, giving them an even more appealing personality than originally intended and even affecting the artistic style or final cut of the film.
Robin Williams’ performance as Genie in the Disney classic Aladdin is a perfect example of how a voice actor can influence the personality of a character and the direction of the film as a whole. The directors of Aladdin allowed Williams to ad-lib most of his lines, only sticking to the script when it was absolutely necessary. They even let him add his own jokes and gags to the script. Animators used the personality that Williams created to come up with the final look for Genie, including how he moves and how he interacts with the other characters. The result was one of the most memorable and lovable characters in the history of animated film.
Step 3: Visual Development
The process of visual development has evolved considerably since the 1930s. Originally, artists and animators would draw thousands of sketches of characters, scenes and objects to perfect the aesthetic of the film. These sketches would only be slightly more detailed than the original storyboard and serve as sort of a halfway point between the extremely rough storyboard and the actual animation of the film.
During this phase artists strive to perfect the appeal of each character, taking into account any personality quirks or changes incorporated by the voice actor. Some characters receive massive makeovers over countless iterations, while others are sketched, inked and ready to be animated.
Today, visual development requires much less manual labor, but is no less an important step in the creation of an animated film. Artists use specialized tools to digitally draw and refine the characters and scenes, saving them hundreds of hours of sketching, inking and painting. After the designs of each character and scene have been finalized, the production process can begin.
Step 4: Production
During the golden age of animation, the production process was an extremely labor affair. Every shot in an animated film will have anywhere between ten to twenty drawings, which all must be inked and painted by artists before the filming process could begin. The top animators at each studio would only have time to draw the most important frames in the animation, called keyframes. The frames between the keyframes, known as tweens, would be filled in by junior animators, then all the frames are put together and photographed to create an animation sequence. This process would be repeated for every shot in the film, often making for hundreds of thousands of final drawings, each one requiring a sketch, coloring, inking and photography.
The modern production process is a whole lot easier and requires much less manpower than the classic method. Thanks to advances in 2D animation technology artists can draw, ink, paint and animate a scene all by themselves without ever having to leave their desk.
Massive digital drawing tablets enable animators to draw their keyframes digitally and create the tweens automatically using 2D animation software. Characters and backgrounds are drawn separately using this method, then transposed on each other and saved as a video file, saving the studio both time and money over traditional methods and allowing for more flexibility during the last step of the animation process.
Step 5: Post Production
The characters have been colored, animated, and set on their backgrounds. Each scene has been painstakingly composed and optimized. Every key is colored, every tween in place, and the animation is essentially complete! All that remains is to edit and polish the final product with special effects, sound effects and visuals to perfect the animator’s artistic vision. Post-production is usually when the entire team sits down to review their work and make whatever tweaks are necessary to call the film complete.
So there you have it, everything a fledgling animator needs to begin their foray into the world of 2D animation. Will you become the next animation legend like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki? Or will you bring something new to the table and revolutionize animation once again? Check out Academy Award winning animator Tony White’s 2D Animation Masterclass to further hone your animation skills and learn how to create the next classic animated film!
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