Modern Feature Animation

Animation Facts

Animated features go through several stages before they are ready for the big screen. The following is a basic outline of the animation process.
Every film is individually styled and designed to fit the mood, time period, location and overall handling of the picture. Stylists, knowledgeable in animation production, do "inspirational" sketches that will start off the treatment to be used for a film.

Story and Story Sketch
Because animated films are visual storytelling medium, the "writing" of the film is done with sketches of each scene pushpinned to large storyboards, similar to a comic strip. The basic animation, staging, layout and background handling in the picture are depicted in these sketches.

Recording Dialogue
All dialogue is recorded before any scenes are animated, so that the voice characterization can be broken down into the single frame language of animation.

Story Reel
The story sketches are photographed on motion picture film or video at the approximate length they will be as animated scenes. The dialogue is cut together with the picture using temporary music and sound effects. This will show, for the first time, how the picture may look in its final form. Seeing the story on film will also point out the changes that will have to be made in scene length and continuity; some scenes, or even sequences, may be cut out or redone.

Art Director
The Art Director works closely with the Director to establish the production "look" of the film, both in terms of color styling for backgrounds and approach to layout.

The Layout person takes the story sketch and works out the final staging and dramatic angles for each scene. Layout artists design the background in pencil, later to be rendered in color for final production by the background artists. The Layout person suggests patterns of action for the animator and indicated camera positions and moves such as close-ups, long shots, trucks (moving in or out) and pans (moving side to side).

Experimental animation is done at the start of the animation stage of a production to refine the design and acting of the character. Rough model sheets are developed at this time to show the characters' basic design and proportion. The animators get pencil layouts, dialogue tracks and an exposure sheet ( list of frames, dialogue animation drawings and camera instructions for each scene) from the Director for the scenes that he or she will be working on. Animators do their animation in a rough sketch style and shoot one or several pencil tests of a scene until the final timing is worked out and the director has approved it. First, the animator shoots a Key-Pose test, in which each key drawing is held for the number of frames that will be required for the inbetween drawings. Later, a Rough Inbetween test is completed, with all drawings necessary to complete the entire action, but still in a rough drawing style.

The Work Reel
The Story Reel becomes the Work Reel when the rough pencil test scenes are cut into it, replacing the corresponding story sketch. The Director will wait unitl there are a number of rough test scenes cut into the reel before reviewing and okaying them for clean-up. The director needs to make sure that the individual scenes are working in continuity.

The okayed rough scenes are redrawn by the Assistants and inbetweeners, putting details on the characters and making minor drawing and animation changes in the scene. The drawings are thus being prepared for final production, Xeroxing, and painting. Another pencil test is shot of the cleaned-up scene for the Director to okay for Xerox.

Animation Check
Animation Check reviews each animation drawing of the scene against the exposure sheet and approves is as "OK for Xerox".

Effects Animation
Any elements other than character animation, usually fall into the area of Effects. These animators' work ranges from drawing natural phenomenon (water, lightning, fire), to props and three dimensional objects (brooms, cars, roller coasters), to anything that enhances the mood or believability of a scene.

Computer Assisted Animation
When a scene calls for using complicated three dimensional objects or backgrounds, and animator can use computer technology as a tool to help create these objects and environments.

Background Painting
The pencil layout is sent to the Background Artist, where the background is painted. Using color, it is their job to depict the locale, interiors, exteriors and detail of a scene. They must also establish the mood and atmosphere of the entire sequence.

Color Model
Establishes the exact colors need for each character and animated object so that they relate to the color styling of each background.,br>
Traditionally, the cleaned up scene is sent to the Xerox Camera to be transferred, in perfect registration onto cels - thin, transparent sheets of plastic that will carry each movement of the animated character.

Xerox Check
Each Xeroxed cel is checked against the corresponding drawing to make sure all lines have been transferred. Also any hand inked lines will be applied at this stage.

After Xeroxing, the cels are sent to the Paint Department where they are painted on the reverse of the inked or Xeroxed line(so that the outline is retained) in the colors that have been decided upon by Color Models.

Final Check
All production elements are reviewed in the way they will appear for the camera, one step at a time against the exposure sheet, to make sure that everything is in order before sending to camera for final photography.

The painted cels and corresponding backgrounds are photographed in color, one frame at a time, onto motion picture film.

Final Production
When the entire picture has been shot, processed and color balanced, the music score along with the dialogue and sound affects tracks are assembled together (the final mix) and combined with the photographic image to form the finished film.