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An In-Depth Guide to the 3D Animation Process

the 3D animation process

The 3D animation process involves a detailed series of intricate steps. Different animation studios may have their own process, and the number of steps can vary depending on the intended output.

However, for a 3D animation project to be successful, it requires a checklist of tasks to be done by skilled people; a process. This process needs to be organized well, and this organized structure is known as the 3D Animation Pipeline.

The 3D animation process uses a combination of tools, technology, and people. It follows a specific order to ensure tasks are done at the right time, leading to high-quality 3D animation.

The product of the process includes things like movies, short films, advertising commercials, TV shows, video games, or anything else you can imagine.

If you’re curious about what 3D animation is and are interested to learn how the process works, keep reading to learn more.

What is 3D Animation?

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3D Animation is a computer-generated technique that brings objects, environments and characters to life, giving them the illusion of movement in a three-dimensional space.

Unlike 2D animation, which is flat and relies on two-dimensional drawings or images, 3D animation allows for the creation of objects and characters that have depth and volume.

The 3 Key Parts of the 3D Animation Process

There are three key parts of the 3D animation process, each playing a crucial role in the creation of stunning and immersive imagery. They include:


Let’s look at them in more detail.

The Pre-Production Process

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The pre-production process in 3D animation is where the ideas and concepts for the project are developed and refined. There are 5 stages:

1. Conceptualize and write your story

To kickstart pre-production of the 3D animation process, the first step is to conceive and create a compelling story that will captivate the audience.

This crucial stage sets the foundation for the entire animation project. The story should be innovative, accessible, and tailored to the audience’s taste, ensuring their engagement and enjoyment.

During this phase, the design team focuses on creating the idea, story, and design concepts, while the management team develops the production plan, including budgets, teams, and time frames.

2. Put your story in a script

The animation script serves as a detailed formal writing that outlines the story, dialogue, and technical aspects of the animation. It can be considered as the blueprint for the entire animation production process.

The script can be divided into two types: the first draft and the technical script.

The first draft focuses on telling the story, while the technical script includes technical details such as camera angles, character movements, and scene transitions.

Once the first draft is green-lighted for production, the director or scriptwriter will turn it into a technical script, which will guide the animators, voice actors, and other members of the production team.

3. Visualize through storyboards

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Storyboards provide a visual representation of the script. They help the production team understand how each shot will be composed and how the story will unfold.

They serve as a blueprint for the animation, showcasing the camera angles, character poses, and event scenes.

Through storyboards, the team can identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments before moving into production. This process enhances efficiency and reduces risks, ensuring that the final animation aligns with the initial vision.

4. Produce an animatic

An animatic is essentially a rough version of the final animation, created by combining the storyboard images with temporary audio and timing. It serves as a blueprint for the animation, helping the team to visualize how the story will flow and how the shots will be framed.

By watching the animatic, the team can identify any pacing issues, inconsistencies, or areas that need improvement. This allows for adjustments to be made early on, saving time and resources in the production phase.

The animatic also helps in estimating the overall duration of the animation and determining the length of each shot. Overall, producing an animatic essential to the 3D animation process, ensuring that the final product meets the desired vision and quality standards.

5. Decide on the final concept design

This involves making important decisions about the overall look, feel, and style of the animation.

The design team works closely with the management team to ensure that the concept aligns with the project’s goals and objectives.

The final concept design is the final marker for the entire production process, providing a clear vision for the animators, modelers, and other artists involved.

The 3D Animation Production Pipeline

The 3D Animation Production Pipeline involves several key stages that contribute to the creation of a high-quality animation.

These stages include:

1. Set up the 3D Layout

To initiate the 3D layout process in the animation production pipeline, the design team strategically positions and arranges the virtual elements within the three-dimensional space.

This phase involves determining the layout of each scene based on the storyboard and animatic created in pre-production.

At first, the 3D layout might seem simple, but it becomes really important as the work progresses.

When creating a 2D animatic, you can sometimes adjust things like the size of characters, perspective, or distance easily. However, doing the same adjustments in a 3D layout is not as simple. This is why the 3D animation layout is a very important part of making 3D animations.

Layout artists make decisions on what will be visible on the screen and how the objects and characters will be positioned. They establish the spatial relationships and composition of the elements to ensure an appealing and coherent scene.

The layout team can prepare several versions of each scene to give the director and editorial team options when putting the final product together.

The 3D layout serves as a foundation for the subsequent stages of 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, and animation.

Here’s an example of what the layout looks like before animation:

And here it is after animation:

2. 3D Modeling

After strategically setting up the 3D layout, the animation production pipeline moves forward to a very important process: 3D modeling.

3D modeling involves building geometric surfaces to represent objects and characters. It is done through the use of several specialized software like Autodesk’s Maya, 3ds Max, Z-Brush and Blender.

Modeling techniques are used to add intricate details and textures to the 3D models. This process can vary in terms of cost and time, depending on the complexity of the models.

Once the models are created, they are ready for the next stage of the animation production pipeline: texturing.

3. 3D Texturing

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3D texturing is the application of realistic textures to characters, objects and locations, adding depth and visual appeal to the 3D model.

It involves wrapping 2D images around 3D objects, providing color, clothing, hair, and surface properties. Implementing textures on color keys helps in implementing them in 3D environments and models.

4. Ready, Set Rig: The Rigging and Skinning Process

Rigging and skinning are important aspects of the 3D animation process.

Rigging involves creating a skeleton structure within the 3D character or object, allowing animators to manipulate different parts efficiently. Each character has a unique way of rigging, and the number of bones in the model depends on the character’s needs. This process plays a crucial role in creating realistic movements and poses.

Skinning, on the other hand, involves attaching the character’s skin or mesh to the rig. This ensures that it moves and deforms correctly with the rig’s movements. Skinning is an important step in the process as it gives the character or object a realistic appearance and allows for natural movements.

5. The Actual Process of Animation

With the rigging and skinning process complete, the 3D animation production pipeline moves into the actual process of animation, where characters and objects come to life and interact believably in the 3D world.

This stage involves creating movements, positions, and rotations for the characters, giving them the feel of motion. Animators can also add accessories such as hats, shoes, or glasses to enhance the characters’ appearance. Additionally, objects can be designed to easily switch between different states.

6. Lighting

Lighting is responsible for depicting the location, time of day, and weather convincingly, enhancing the realism of the animation.

The lighting in 3D animation is based on the pre-production phase, where decisions about the mood and tone of the animation are made. Proper lighting design can evoke emotions, guide the viewer’s attention, and enhance the storytelling.

7. Setting the Cameras

Setting the cameras within the animation is essential if you want to get the desired shots and perspectives. It involves determining the placement, angle, and movement of the virtual camera within the 3D environment.

This step requires careful consideration of the story and artistic vision, as well as technical expertise to achieve the desired effects.

Innovative camera techniques are important because they help enhance the storytelling and create a visually captivating experience for the audience.

8. Finally, Rendering

Rendering is the process of generating the final images or frames of the animation. It involves the computation of the lighting, shadows, textures, and other visual effects to create a realistic and visually appealing output.

Rendering takes each scene and breaks it down into multiple layers, including the background, colors, foreground, highlights, shadows, and objects. These layers are then combined to give the animation a three-dimensional look.

Rendering is an important step in the animation pipeline, contributing to the overall quality of the animation. It adds depth and realism to the animation, bringing all the elements together for the final output.


In the post-production phase of the 3D animation process, several important tasks are carried out to add the final touches and polish the animation.


The process of compositing brings together all the rendered layers to create a cohesive and visually stunning final output.

Compositing combines different elements such as characters, background, foreground, objects, and visual effects to create a seamless integration. It involves layering and blending these elements, adjusting their transparency, and applying various effects to achieve the desired result.

Special FX

During the compositing phase of 3D animation, as all the rendered layers are brought together to create a cohesive final output, special effects are applied to enhance the visual impact and add an extra layer of excitement to the animation.

Special effects, also known as VFX (Visual Effects), are used to create elements that are difficult or impossible to capture in real life. These effects can range from explosions, smoke and fire to magical spells and fantastical creatures.

Color Correction

Color correction is a crucial step in the post-production phase of 3D animation.

It enhances the overall look and feel of the animation by making adjustments to color, contrast, light, highlight, sharpness, and temperature.

Through color correction, animators have the ability to create a more realistic and visually appealing final output. This process is important for maintaining consistency and visual coherence throughout the animation.

Music and Foley

After perfecting the color correction process, the next step is the integration of music and Foley to enhance the overall auditory experience.

Music sets the mood, evokes emotions, and complements the visuals, while Foley adds realistic and organic sounds to enhance the authenticity of the animation.


This stage is where the animation comes together, and the individual shots are edited to create a cohesive narrative or sequence.

The editor works closely with the director and other members of the production team to ensure that the pacing, timing, and transitions are smooth and effective. They may also add sound effects, music, and dialogue to enhance the overall experience.

The goal of the editing process is to create a polished and professional animation that enthralls and impresses the audience.

Exporting, Encoding and Final Output

After the animation has been edited and finalized, it needs to be exported into a suitable file format. This involves encoding the animation into a digital file that can be easily played back on various devices and platforms.

The choice of file format and encoding settings can greatly impact the quality and compatibility of the final output. It is important to consider the target audience and the intended distribution platform when selecting the appropriate settings.

Why We Use a Pipeline for the 3D Animation Process

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A well-structured pipeline is crucial for the successful execution of the 3D animation process, ensuring efficiency, quality, and timely completion of the project.

By using a pipeline, teams can effectively manage the various stages of production, allowing for better time and financial management.

The pipeline helps in organizing and dividing project members into teams, ensuring that each stage has a specific time allocation and preventing delays.

It also maintains balance and consistency in the animation production process, which is essential for delivering a high-quality final output.

With a well-defined pipeline, teams can work in a systematic and streamlined manner, optimizing resources and maximizing creativity.

Ultimately, the pipeline serves as a guiding framework, enabling smooth collaboration and guaranteeing the successful completion of 3D animation projects.


In conclusion, the 3D animation process is a multi-faceted and intricate journey. It involves meticulous planning, skilled execution, and attention to detail throughout the pre-production, production, and post-production phases.

The cumulation of each phase is called the 3D animation pipeline, and it is essential to ensure that all stages of the 3D animation process are run tightly, efficiently and on time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Software is Commonly Used in the 3D Animation Process?

In the 3D animation process, commonly used software includes Autodesk Maya, Blender, and Cinema 4D. These software provide a wide range of tools for modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, and post-production, ensuring high-quality and visually appealing animations.

How Long Does It Typically Take to Complete a 3D Animation Project?

The time required to complete a 3D animation project varies depending on factors such as complexity, team size, and resources. However, a typical project can take several weeks to several months to reach completion.

Read more on this here.

What Skills Are Necessary to Work in the Field of 3D Animation?

To work in the field of 3D animation, necessary skills include proficiency in 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, VFX, lighting, rendering, and post-production techniques. Strong creativity, attention to detail, and a passion for innovation are also essential.

Can You Provide Examples of Industries That Commonly Use 3D Animation?

Industries that commonly use 3D animation include gaming, entertainment, architecture, medicine, and marketing. 3D animation brings virtual worlds to life, enhances visual communication, and facilitates realistic simulations for various applications in these industries.

Are There Any Specific Challenges or Difficulties That Arise During the 3D Animation Process?

Specific challenges and difficulties that arise during the 3D animation process include complex rigging for realistic movements, integrating 2D pictures on 3D objects, achieving convincing lighting, and ensuring efficient time and financial management throughout the pipeline.