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To create 3D animation, studios and animators go through a complex process. This process has a varied number of steps that depend on the animation studio and the project itself.

Generally speaking, an extensive checklist of tasks needs to be completed by various people with the correct skill-set to bring your 3D animation to life. 3D animation studios need to have a solid structure in place to drive the complicated process forward, called the 3D Animation Pipeline.

Combining hardware, software and people, this animation process follows a specific sequence that pre-determines the tasks and timeframes to produce the best quality 3D animation.

This process creates feature films, short films, TV shows, video games or whatever it is that you envision (there’s so much creative freedom with 3D animation).

Continue reading to find out what 3D animation is and the process involved within the animation process…

What is 3D Animation?

3D animation gives computer-generated objects the appearance of moving through a three-dimensional space. In 3D animation, you will see objects move and rotate just like they do in real life. Using a two-dimensional picture, the 3D computer graphics depict three-dimensional moving images. You can find 3D animation used in all industries from gaming and entertainment to architecture, medicine and even marketing.

What Does The 3D Animation Process Involve?

The 3D animation process simulates motion and makes the mind believe that what it’s seeing is movement. This perception of motion only happens because the sequence of images passes through quickly and correctly.

There are three categories that the 3D animation process gets broken down into:

  • Pre-Production
  • Production
  • Post-Production

Let’s take a deeper look into what fits into each category and how it works.

The Pre-Production Phase

Pre-production includes the research, designing, and planning of the entire project. There are two primary teams involved in pre-production; the design team and the management team.

The design team will create the idea, story and design concepts. At the same time, the management team will make the production plan, including budgets, teams, and time frames. If you get the pre-production phase completed properly, the easier it is to get through the production phase.

Here’s what the pre-production phase includes:

Create The Concept

The entire project begins by creating the concept. To do this, everyone involved throughout the process will brainstorm different ideas to inform the script set-up. Understanding the project scope and limitations should be considered during this phase to ensure that the project remains realistic.

Write The Story

Continuing to develop and improve the ideas, the whole story takes shape. The story is the basic version of what the animation is about (it’s the big picture) and includes possible locations, characters, story arc, conflict, resolution, etc.

Complete The Script And Storyboard

The script is the backbone of the 3D animation – without it, nothing else can be done. The script is the formerly written details that everyone will work from and include the story, character movements, the environments, actions, dialogue and time.

The script is then transformed into storyboards. Storyboards are illustrations of the most significant scenes and include captions that describe the story outline. Storyboards include the camera angles and timing of the animation.

Storyboards help the team visualise the 3D animation, which ultimately helps speed up the decision-making process – figuring out what works and what doesn’t. You can use the storyboard to pique the interest of actors and producers, boosting the project further.

Produce An Animatic

Animatics determine the timing for the moving image. This is a fundamental part of the pre-production process and will save time later as the movement is mapped out before committing to expensive and time-consuming rendering processes.

Decide On The Animation Style

The animation style is essential for the overall feel of the project. To have the wrong animation style can completely throw off the look, feel, and branding of the project. The style can be as realistic or artistic as you like, as long as it fits in with your vision.

The Production Phase

This is the phase where all of your planning and foundation-setting pays off. Now is when the 3D animation really comes to life, and the designated teams and artists work together.

Here’s what the production phase in the 3D animation process includes:

3D Modelling

Modelling is when the animators build the geometric surfaces to represent the objects and characters within a scene.

3D Layout

The 3D layout involves positioning the 3D objects in a way that will build each scene required.

3D Texturing

Texturing involves taking a two-dimensional image and “wrapping” it around the 3D object. From here, the animators will consider how light will affect it and start the process of bringing the image into a three-dimensional world. Up to this point, the models are usually in a flat block colour, so this is where shading, reflectivity and sub-surface scattering techniques are applied to add depth.


Rigging gives bone structure to a 3D character model and is used to manipulate the 3D model like a puppet. Rigging only really applies to characters, although it can be used for mechanical objects where elements move with hinges and different parts of an object will affect each others movement.

The technique is used within games and movies and allows the character to move in the correct way relative to each body part – speeding up the production process.

3D Animation

This stage is where the movements are created and gives the animation the feel of motion. Animation can be an almost endlessly complex task to get exactly right, and is often the most time-consuming element in production.

Visual Effects (VFX)

3D animators will animate almost every element, but the small details – hair, water, fire, clothes, dust, etc. would be too difficult and intricate to animate manually. Using things like particle simulations in the VFX process will help to create a world that is interactive and gives a rich and real quality to animation.


Much like in real life, 3D scenes use lighting based on the pre-production phase to create the mood of the 3D animation.


Rendering is the building of each layer of the scene to computer generated images. To do this, each scene is separated and layered with the background, foreground, highlights, shadows, colours, characters, objects etc., to allow post-production the chance to bring it all together and make the animated world seem more real.


Now that the animation has been completed and put together, post-production allows those final touches to be added and polished so that the 3D animation meets the requirements outlined in pre-production.

There are several tools that post-production artists can use to make the project look fantastic.

Here’s what the post-production phase in the 3D animation process includes:


This is where the rendered layers are put together again. The layers can be as complex as matching hundreds of layers and adjusting them to fit properly or simply layering two frames together.


Some of the effects are more easily added in two-dimensions and help to add even more depth and impact without sacrificing quality. To achieve a 3D effect, the 2D VFX is usually mixed within the layers from compositing. Some 2D VFX include sparks, dust/smoke, raindrops and so on.

Colour Correction

Also known as colour grading, colour correction is the last adjustment in the 3D animation process. Making every frame and shot for the whole project consistent and polishing the entire project to perfection.

Exporting And Encoding

This is how the animation is stored and watched. To maximise compatibility with most digital devices, the most common is digital video.

3D animation creation is a complicated process with a huge checklist and often involves many people, heavyweight hardware, and complex software. The people that work in each area of the process have very different skills, and it’s combining these skills that make 3D animation so effective.

To execute an effective process, it’s essential that communication at each stage is open and that you set solid foundations to make the process flow smoothly. This helps keep the efficiency and affordability of the project in line with the best quality outcome.


To discuss starting a CGI Animation project, get in touch with Frantic today.