The 2D animation is still being drawn by hand

This is how an animated film is produced today

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Animated film as an art form goes back to the 19th century. Back then, the zoetrop (miracle drum) and flip books (flip books) were very popular. This technique was later refined by Walt Disney, the pioneer of animated films. With the advance of computer technology, 3D animations became possible in addition to 2D animations.

The individual steps to an animated film

  • Script: The idea for the animation film is first defined in the form of a written script that serves as the basis for the storyboard.
  • The X-Sheet: Once the script is ready, the dialogue for each character is usually recorded. Special software transfers them sound by sound into the so-called X-Sheets (exposure sheets, dope sheets). The X-Sheet is an individual frame script for each individual shot (scene) that is binding for the animator (draftsman) and the cameraman. It contains a line for each individual image, in which it is entered which sound is currently being heard and which drawings are to be placed under the camera. In addition, all camera movements are recorded.
  • Storyboard: The linguistic form of the script is then translated into the language of the images in the storyboard. At least one sketch is made for each shot, from which the positions of the characters involved, the camera setting and the type of background can be recognized. This defines the basic setting for each scene.
  • Layout: Based on the storyboard, layouts are drawn that serve both animators and background artists as a basis.
  • characters: A model sheet (character design) including a figurine (example template for a character) is created for each figure, which is binding for all draftsmen.
  • Rough animation: The (key) animator now receives the storyboard, the necessary model sheets, a copy of the layout and the X-sheet. He now designs a first, rough cartoon animation that is used to test a movement. With the rough animation, fundamental errors are to be recognized and eliminated before all the necessary individual images for the animation are properly created. For this purpose, the key frames are sketched for certain parts of a movement, which are then filmed and analyzed as a film. Incidentally, in larger productions such as Walt Disney Films, at least 30 animators work in parallel on an animated film. A director coordinates and supervises the work.
  • Cleanups: If the animator and the director are satisfied with the scene, the "rough animation" goes to the animator's assistant. He now draws the "cleanups" (final artwork of the key images) true to the specifications of the model sheet. He may also add “breakdowns”. These are drawings between the key frames that define the movement even more precisely.
  • Inbetweener: After the cleanup, the drawings go to the inbetweener or intermediate phase draftsman, who inserts the missing drawings between the existing ones.
  • Coloring: As soon as all drawings are available and tested several times, they can be colored. In the past, the drawings were transferred to foil or copied and then colored in by hand. Nowadays, colorists are working more and more on the screen on the scanned drawings. A lot can be automated with the appropriate animation software. For example, only the first image of a scene is colored by hand, then the computer colors all further phases, and finally only possible errors are corrected by hand.
  • Compositing: The backgrounds have already been painted parallel to the scenes. In the past, the backgrounds were put together with the painted foils in front of the camera, today they are also scanned in or painted entirely on the computer. The various parts of the animation are now put together over the background (compositing), and special effects are also added. Once all the individual parts have been inserted, the scene is rendered and either saved digitally or exposed on film.
  • Soundtrack and Music: The final step to the finished animation film is the soundtrack with music and voices.

Special techniques

Basically, 12 drawings per second of film are sufficient for normal movements. With very fast movements, or movements across the picture, you need about 24 drawings so that the distances between the positions do not become so large and the illusion of movement can be maintained. At studios like Disney, the average is around 18 drawings per second. TV series sometimes get by with 6 drawings per second.

In order to save drawings and thus costs, a wide variety of techniques have been developed over the years. With production costs for an animated film of around 50 million dollars upwards in Western countries, this is quite understandable. Japanese anime, however, are comparatively cheap to produce at a cost of less than one million dollars. Here are some examples of special cost-saving techniques:

  • Image details & Co: For example, anime studios in particular often use image sections, clever cuts or simply still images in combination with camera movements instead of movements that have to be drawn in a complex manner. Drawings are also often reused.
  • Levels: By dividing the drawings into different levels, for example, only the mouth movement is animated in dialogue scenes, but the body hardly. This division into layers is usually done by the key animator. Therefore the X-Sheet has one row per exposure, but several columns for the different levels.
  • Endless loops: Infinite loops or animation cycles are created for repetitive movements or processes. Examples of this are flowing water, running or flying animals or moving vehicles. In the case of a striding forward movement, the figure is animated to take a step with one foot, then a step with the other foot. These movements are then put into a loop cycle so that they line up seamlessly.

Differences between 2D and 3D animated films

While 3D animations can only be created on a computer with special programs, 2D animation can also be produced with individual hand drawings on a piece of paper.

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