Animated Movies: Steps in Pre-Production

Creating a full-length animated movie could be as complicated and as expensive as creating a live action film. Sometimes, it is actually more expensive to create an animated film than a live action film. An army of graphic artists, animators, writers, voice talents, and cinematographer is necessary to accomplish a movie project. Many people are involved in creating just one animated character. Even live actors might be necessary for the motion-capture characters. Realistic movements and emotions of animated characters in many 3D movies are made possible by motion capture. The physical movements like walking and facial expressions are digitized and manipulated to create realistic characters that could be humans, aliens or monsters.


Before the making of an animated film could actually be started, the initial pre-production steps must be initiated. Regardless of the length and complexity of an animated film, it undergoes the basic preproduction steps that can be summarized in the general steps enumerated below.


Step 1: Concept Design – This is the initial step that will serve as the impetus for creating an animated film. Whether it is a short film, a full-length animated film or part of live action-shots it all begins with the concept design. It simply refers to the general unifying idea or theme that provides the general direction. It include considering the purpose of the animated movie such as for advertisement or for a full-length feature film. The concept design could be inspired by anything such as classic literature, current events, mundane objects or by original ideas. For instance, the concept design of the movie Toy Story is based on mundane or ordinary objects, i.e., toys in a boy’s room. The storyline, script and animation all proceeded from that basic concept design. Concept design also typically includes the initial sketches of characters and settings. Various brainstorming sessions from among the writers and artists could produce concept designs.


Step 2: Storyboarding – Once the concept design is established, the storyline is finalized using storyboards. Just like in concept design, series of brainstorming activities might be conducted to come out with a storyboard. Sometimes a group of artists would independently write and illustrate their storyboards for later approval and synthesis of ideas. Basically, a storyboard is like a comic strip that is complete with dialogs. It follows a storyline and includes major scenes. This would become the basis of the script and movie sequences. Storyboards are particularly useful as guide for interdependent teams.


Step 3: Layouts – The approved storyboards are sent to the layout department. The artistic team of the layout department is the one that collaborate closely with the director in finalizing the scenes, costumes and appearance of the characters.


Step 4: Creating Model Sheets – Model sheets are precisely drawn for consistency of the characters. These are groups of pictures that depict the range of possible facial expressions and body movements that a character can make. The finished model sheets are then sent to the modeling department to create the final models. These could be clay models, puppets or digital models of the characters.


Step 5: Animatics – This is the final stage of pre-production in which the complex animation sequences and VFX-heavy scenes are visualized in simplified forms or mock-ups known as animatics. A better grasp of the motion and timing is established in this process. It helps the director refine the scenes and visual effects.