How to Become Great Animation Designer

how to become a great animation designer

How to Become Great Animation Designer. Short and compelling animated videos can easily explain concepts, products, and services by breaking them down into simple and attractive motion visuals. Animation are also particularly useful for sharing ideas in a world with short attention spans and a craving for flashy images and content.

In this massive guide I try to cover (almost) everything you might need to know about animation if you’re trying to get into the animation industry.

I’ll cover some of the basic concepts of animation, vocabulary, principles, software, hardware, books, courses as well as some of the options for people who want to get into the animation industry, but are overwhelmed or intimidated.

I’ll go over what is animation, what it takes to make animated movies (2D or 3D), and even how to start looking for a job in the industry.

Easy to learn, hard to Master- How to become a good animation designer

It’s easier to get into animation today than ever before.

Software’s getting cheaper (or even free), and most modern computers can handle the

the more simple animation tasks (mostly 2D).

The catch is that although anyone can start animating right now, the art of animation still takes time to master.

The good news is…

You don’t need to be a Disney-grade animator to create really cool animations.

You can start small and simple and slowly develop your skills and unique style. You don’t even need to know how to draw well.

Got an idea? Our animated video company got the video for you.

Here we’ll talk about the animation production process and how we put all the pieces together to make animation.

What is Animation?

Animation is the art of bringing life to an otherwise inanimate objects, or illustrated / 3D generated characters.

It is created by projecting sequenced images quickly, one after another, to create the illusion of life.

But that’s not really the first thing you imagine when you hear the word Animation, isn’t it?

That’s just technical stuff…

You’re probably thinking of DisneyPixar, or Ghibli. We’ll get there…

The most important part of all of that is the word life. Bringing life is the true essence of the animator’s job. And there are many ways of doing that.

It could be by drawing.

It could be by moving character rigs on a 3D software.

It could be with puppetscut-out characters, or lego figures.

So what does being an animator mean?

Before we jump it, you can watch this video where I explain the differences between animating in 2D and 3D. This will give you an idea of what an animator actually does.

It might also give you a clue about what direction you might want to pursue.

Animation Vocabulary

Now that we covered the basic idea of what animation is, it’s important to understand the vocabulary and specialized terms used in the animation and filmmaking industry.

These terms will come up often, so let’s take a few minutes to go over them:


The timeline is the part of the animation software that represents the animation’s progress over time.

Depending on the software, we might use the timeline to make changes to the timing of the animation, as well as the position of the elements.

Frame Rate

The frame rate of an animation is the number of individual images (or frames) that are being displayed over the span of one second. How to become great animation designer. It is a setting you can adjust in the animation software.

Animation is usually done in 24 frames per second (FPS).

Working on One’s & Two’s

Working on One’s or Two’s is a term used in hand drawn animation.

Working on one’s would mean doing a new drawing over every single frame of the animation.

Working on twos means holding each drawing for two frames, so one second of animation at 24 frames per second would only be 12 drawings, not 24.

In 2D animation working on two’s looks fine in most instances, and there are even cases where drawings can be held longer. In 3D, though, working on one’s is the standard.

Keyframes | Breakdowns | Inbetweens

Key frames, breakdowns and in-betweens are important terms, but they mean slightly different things depending on the type of animation.

In hand drawn animation, keyframes (or just keys) are the major important poses that define the scene. Breakdowns come between keys and define what the motion from key to key will be. In-betweens are all the frames that come in between to smooth out the motion.

In 3D, a keyframe is any position on the timeline where the animator has defined the position of the character. In-betweens are all the frames that the computer interprets or automatically generates to move the character from key to key.

Timing | Spacing | Easing

Timing, spacing and easing are closely related terms.

Timing means the total number of frames that will be used for a movement. Spacing is the amount of change that comes between each frame. Decreasing the spacing, makes an object slower, while increasing the spacing makes it look faster.

In digital animation, easing is how spacing is controlled, usually through a motion graph on the timeline.

The 12 Principles of Animation

The foundation of any animation education is the 12 principles of animation.

The 12 principles were a set of core concepts that were developed in the 1930’s by animators at Walt Disney Studios as they were transitioning from doing shorts to feature films. It was a gradual process of discovery and refinement as the animators tried to push their work to a new higher standard.

These 12 principles were first compiled by the legendary animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in 1981 in their book The Illusion of Life.

Creating the illusion of life is what the principles are all about. They help us create characters that look like they have weight, personality, and exist in a real world with real physics at work.

Even though they were developed by 2D animators, they still apply to 3D and any other type of animation.

1. Squash & Stretch

Squash and stretch describe how an object changes shape in response to forces acting on it.

Squash is when the object is compressed by an impact of an opposing force. Stretch is when an object is distended by something pulling on it, or by moving quickly.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation is a smaller movement that comes before a major one, and signals that the major movement is about to happen.

3. Staging

Staging is the presentation of a shot in a way that makes the content of the shot as clear as possible, and the narrative function of the shot as strong as possible.

4. Straight ahead vs. Pose-to-pose

Straight-ahead and pose-to-pose are different approaches to animating.

Straight-ahead means creating each new frame in sequence from beginning to end. Pose-to-pose means creating the key poses for each action first, and then filling in the in-between poses.

5. Follow Through & Overlapping Action

Follow-through and overlapping action refers to the tendency of different parts of a body to move at different speeds.

This includes the concept of drag, which is when one part of the body lags behind when a motion starts.

6. Slow in & Slow out

Slow-in and slow-out refer to the tendency of objects to gradually accelerate (and then decelerate) when moving from one position to another.

These are sometimes referred to as ease-in and ease-out, or simply easing.

7. Arcs

The principle of arcs come from the observation that living things don’t move in straight lines, but rather in curved motions.

Creating graceful, clear arcs often elevates the animation and reveals the experience level of the animator.

8. Secondary Action

Secondary action refers to smaller movements (or gestures) that support the primary actions of a character.

These actions make the shot clearer by emphasizing the attitude or motivation behind the movement.

9. Timing

Timing is controlling the speed of an action through the number of frames used to represent it.

It is one of the most fundamental of the 12 principles and takes years to master.

10. Exaggeration

Exaggeration means representing a subject in a heightened or more extreme way, rather than strictly realistic, in order to push your animation further.

11. Solid Drawing

Solid drawing means posing characters in a way that creates a sense of volumeweight and balance.

Drawing for animation requires being able to draw the characters from any angle or pose, with three-dimensionality in mind.

12. Appeal

Appeal is a broad term for any qualities of a character’s design that makes them inherently compelling to watch.

This includes the design of the character, as well as how the character is animated.

Types of Animation

There are many different types of animation, some of which you’re probably already familiar with, so let’s do a quick rundown of the different types of animation and what the differences and similarities are.3DHand DrawnVectorStop MotionMotion Graphics

3D Animation


3D, also referred to as CGI (computer generated imagery), is the most popular type of animation for feature films currently, and it’s become common in TV and short films as well.

This is also the same type of animation used to create digital characters for live-action films and animation for video games.

An animator uses a digital puppet (called a character rig) to position the character, and then use a system of motion paths (or splines) to define the movement of the character between those poses.

The computer proceeds to interpolate the frames of the animation in between the key frames. The animator then refines these frames until they are satisfied with the animation, and how to become great animation designer.

3D animation is a technically intensive process, which often involves many separate specialists to model the character, rig it with bones and controls, animate it, and then texture and light it for the final output.

2D Hand-Drawn Animation


The first type of 2D animation might be called traditional animation or cel animation. I prefer the term hand-drawn animation because that define its most important aspect – the fact that it is drawn by hand.

This is the classic type of animation you’re probably most familiar with. In the old days, animators drew characters frame by frame, and then those drawings were transferred onto clear acetate sheets called cels for painting. That’s where the term cel animation comes from.

Through the 1990s almost all animation studios stopped using cels and started scanning drawings into the computer for digital coloring, and now many hand-drawn animators skip paper altogether and draw directly into the computer using a tablet or Wacom Cintiq monitors.

So hand-drawn animation could be done entirely analog or entirely digitally, or some mix of the two. The important thing is that hand drawn animators still create their animation frame by frame using the same techniques and principles as in those old days of paper and cels.

2D Vector Animation


Nowadays there are new ways to create 2D animation using a 2D digital puppet. These are 2D characters which are built with a system of bones and controls that can be manipulated in a way similar to a 3D character rig.

The difference between 2D rigged characters and hand-drawn characters can get a bit blurry. Programs like Toon Boom Harmony and Adobe Animate CC let you seamlessly mix and match hand-drawn animation with 2D puppet techniques, sometimes even within the same character.

A character could have bones that let the animator pose it, but also have other parts that are animated by hand.

Stop Motion Animation


Stop motion has several variants, but they all involve manipulating real world objects. These objects are moved slightly, and photographed one frame at a time. When shown in sequence, these frames create the illusion of movement.

In higher-end stop motion, like the ones created by Laika (Coraline, Kubu and the Two Strings), a specially rigged puppet is shot on a miniature stage.

Claymation is a similar technique. In it, malleable characters are used, though they’re generally made out of a substance called plasticine, not actual clay.

You can also do stop motion with regular figurines, and objects, like all those great Lego animations you can find on YouTube.

Another variation of stop motion is paper cut-out animation. In this style, characters are built out of paper shapes. They might be pinned together at the joints to make a posable figure, or pieces might be set in place so that they can be swapped out. They are then moved and photographed frame by frame, just like a stop motion puppet. That’s how South Park was originally animated.

Another rare type of stop motion is called pixelation. In pixelation, real people are used instead of puppets.

All of these types of stop motion share an important characteristic:

They all have to be shot straight-ahead, which means starting at frame one and shooting each frame one after another, all the way through the end of the scene.

If a mistake is made on one frame, it’s very difficult to fix it without having to start all over again. You can’t just redraw that frame like you can in 2D animation. This makes this type of animation particularly intense and it requires a lot of patience.

Motion Graphics Animation


The last big category of animation is motion graphics. Motion graphics focuses on making dynamic and interesting presentations of moving text logos and basic illustrations.

Motion graphics can be both 2D and 3D, and you’ll find them everywhere in commercials, explainer videos, sporting events, the news and other TV productions.

Proper character animation is generally outside the scope of motion graphics, but many of the core animation principles  apply to motion graphics too and how to become great animation designer.

For a more in-depth look at the 5 types of animation, check out our complete guide on the 5 types of animation, including detailed history of each type, and the best schools, software and courses.


The Process of Animation

Now that we understand the basic concepts of what animation is, lets go over the workflow of creating animation and how to become great animation designer.

First, I’ll go cover the basic steps of the animation filmmaking pipeline (all the moving parts it takes to create an animated movie), and then I’ll breakdown the process of actually animating a shot from start to finish.

So what are the steps of making an animated film?

1. Story

The first (and probably the most important) part of making any film is a good story.

If you don’t get your story right from the start, then no matter how great your film looks, people will not enjoy watching it. Story comes first. make sure it’s good and that it works before you move on.

In animation, the story often evolves and changes during production, since you’re not restricted to whatever shots you got on set, so the more work you put into developing your story, the more you reduce wasted time during production.

2. Script

Once the idea for the story is ready to put into words, the next step is writing the script.

It’s important to transfer the idea into words as soon as you can, so that we can spot any issues with the story before getting into production.

3. Concept Art

Once the script is ready, concept art is often created to establish the visual style of the film and how to become great animation designer.

That’s a really fun step, and is the first chance we get to see parts of the film come to life on paper. It’s all about exploring and trying things out.

4. Storyboard

Next is creating a storyboard, which is probably one of the most important steps in figuring out the film in learning and how to Become Great Animation Designer

Storyboarding allows you to look at your film as a whole and spot story and pacing issues. Making one also provides you with something you can show other people for feedback. Most people react better to a storyboard than a script.

Once we’re happy with the boards, we move on to creating an animatic creating and how to become great animation designer.

5. Animatic

An animatic is the movie version of your storyboard.

If storyboard is like a comic book, then an animatic is like a movie.

We bring all the boards into an editing program and edit them with the correct timing, add some temporary music and sound effects (just enough to convey the different story beats), and when we’re done we have the first version of our film ready to watch.

As great as a storyboard is, an animatic really gives us a first glimpse into what our film is going to be like.

6. Creating Assets

At this point, depending on your animation medium of choice, we’ll be creating the different assets for our film.

For 3D animation we’ll create the models for the characters, environments, sets, and the props. We’ll use the concept art and model sheets as our reference. These models will then have to be rigged with a 3D skeleton with controls, so that we can animate them in our scene.

For 2D animation we’ll draw the background, finalize the character design sheets, and if necessary – rig the characters in our 2D animation software.

For stop-motion animation we’ll build our sets, our puppets, the props and different pieces of clothing needed for the film.

7. Previs

Before we get into animating our scenes, there’s another important step in making sure the story works, and that is creating a previs (or pre-visualization).

A previs is the next incarnation of the animatic, this time using 3D models.

We set up our shots in the 3D program, with the final camera angles and motion, and create very basic animation for the characters, just enough to convey the action they’re suppose to be doing.

We then bring all of these shots to the editing program, just like we did with the animatic, and we now have a previz version of our film, with the correct 3D models and camera motion.

because animation takes a very long time, this is the last chance we can have to make any serious story changes in our film. It will be a huge waste if we had to make story changes after the animation phase.

8. Animation

We’re finally ready for animation!

This is where we finally bring life into the film. The characters start to move, and we can see the soul of the film come to life in front of us.

It’s an amazing thing to see, but it also takes a long time. Done incorrectly, it can ruin our movie. Bad animation is like bad acting: Even if the writing and story are solid, people won’t notice if the delivery is all wrong.

We’ll go deeper into the 6 steps of animation later on in this section.

9. Texturing | Lighting | Rendering

This step applies mostly to 3D animation, though 2D animation goes through similar post-production steps similar to this, and stop-motion animation spends a long time doing compositing and miscellaneous effects on top of their shots as well.

In 3D, models need to be textured, which means creating different materials assigned to the different parts of the models. Some simulate metal, some plastic and even a few for skin and hair.

We then light the shots with virtual lights, replicating as closely as we can how light works in real life.

Then when our shots are textured and lit, we start the rendering process, which is the computer calculating all of the data in our scenes, and creating still images from it.

We then take these images to a compositing program, like Nuke or After Effects, extract the necessary data from the images, and combine them to create our final images.

10: Editing | Color correction

Once our images are composited and ready, we bring them back into our editing program and replace our previs shots with our new composited shots, just like we replaced the animatic shots with the previz.

We are now able to see our finished film on the editing timeline for the first time, but, it’s not really finished yet. We need to do some color correction and grading.

Color correction is the process of manipulating the colors of each individual shot so that it matches the one the comes before / after it. We also make sure each shot doesn’t have parts that are too white or too black, basically working so that we get a consistent and correct color all throughout the film.

Then we grade our film, which is the more fun and creative part, in which we try to create a visual style for the whole film, and give it a distinct look.

11. Music | Sound design

Ideally we’ve been working with a musician from day one of production, making sure the music fits what we were trying to do with the film, and making sure the film works with the music.

Music is not usually something we simply slap on at the end, and so I prefer to have it with me throughout the production so it becomes an integral part of the story.

The sound designer then finalizes all the film’s sound effects like folly, ambiance and voices, as well as mastering and mixing in the final audio of the film.

The 6 steps of animation

We’ve talked about the workflow of the animation filmmaking pipeline, now lets go into the actual steps of character animation.

Here are the 6 steps of animation:

  1. Shooting reference video
  2. Key posing
  3. Blocking
  4. Splining
  5. Smoothing
  6. Adding life

Step 1: Shooting Reference video

This is a very important and overlooked step. It’s weird how people really think they know what certain actions look like, and how long they take, but end up getting it wrong.

Physical actions are something you need to analyze before animating, especially if you’re a beginner.

You have a shot of a guy throwing a baseball? Search YouTube for videos of pitchers throwing balls.

Don’t assume you know what an action looks like just because you’ve seen it before.

Looking at an action as an animator is completely different from looking at it as a viewer.

Step 2: Posing

After shooting a reference, it’s time to create the key poses of the shot.

These poses are called key poses because they are the most important poses of the shot. These are the poses that convey the story of the shot. We need to make sure we get those poses right, because we’re going to build on those for the rest of the process.

Step 3: Blocking

Once we’re happy with our key poses, we start breaking down the movement from each pose to the next by adding ‘in betweens’ (also known as breakdown poses or passing poses). These are the poses that connect the key poses.

We keep adding more poses until the movement looks as good as it could, while still staying in stepped mode (stepped mode is when you don’t allow interpolation between poses, which results in a very choppy/blocky motion).

Step 4: Splining

Splining is a 3D animation term. It’s the process in which you convert the interpolation of the keys from stepped to spline.

In other words – you make the computer connect the movement between each of your poses, and that makes the movement look smoother.

The problem is that the computer doesn’t do a very good job at interpolating. It only works with what it has. That’s why the better the blocking is – the better the splined version is going to look.

Step 5: Refining & offset

Now that all of our keys are in spline mode, we need to work on them. We refined the animation curves and make sure the movement looks smooth.

It’s also a good idea to offset some of the actions so it doesn’t look so ‘stop and start’, as if the character is doing all the motion at once.

By the end of this step your shot should look pretty solid and almost finished.

Step 6: Adding life

This step is the a lot of fun.

We’re already finished with the grunt work of animation, and it’s time to add small imperfections that bring life to the character.

Maybe an extra blink or a mouth twitch here and there. The difference between the last 2 steps is small but it could make the difference between good animation and great animation in determine to become a great good animation designer

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