From Storyboard to Screen: How to Navigate the 2D Animation Pipeline

Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Animation has a mesmerizing effect on audiences. Whether it’s a minute-long clip that draws chuckles or a feature-length tale that tugs at our heartstrings, animation can communicate across boundaries. This magic isn’t spontaneous; it’s the fruit of a meticulous 2D animation process. 

For enthusiasts wanting to grasp how illustrations transition to lifelike movement, let’s explore the comprehensive journey of 2D animation.

1. Conceptualization and Storyboarding

Every grand animation begins with a simple idea. This initial concept undergoes brainstorming sessions and discussions, evolving into a tangible plot. The next pivotal step is storyboarding, where a reputable 2D animation studio can be an invaluable asset. Here, experts draft a visual representation of the primary sequences, akin to a comic strip.

Here’s how to do just that:

  • Brainstorm your idea, and note down key elements.
  • Choose a 2D animation studio with a commendable portfolio.
  • Collaborate with professionals to draft the first storyboard, ensuring it captures your story’s essence.

2. Scriptwriting and Storyboarding

A storyboard is a visual representation of the script. It consists of a series of sketches or illustrations displayed in sequence. It’s a bit like a comic book, providing a skeletal view of how the animation will flow. This step allows directors, producers, and animators to visualize the narrative and make key decisions about shot selection, camera angles, and pacing.

With the visual roadmap, the narrative is then penned down. This isn’t just a compilation of dialogues. It includes character expressions, background sounds, and even the intensity of each scene. The script acts as the textual spine for the animation, ensuring a fluid progression.

In a nutshell, this step involves the following:

  • Outline your story’s beginning, middle, and end.
  • Write or hire someone to pen down the detailed script.
  • Keep refining until you feel the script resonates with the storyboard.

3. Design and Character Development

Visually enchanting animations are a result of hours of design. Here, characters take shape, environments get defined, and every prop or asset is curated. Each design aspect should resonate with the character’s role and the narrative’s mood.

Here’s what it looks like when you put this step into action:

  • Sketch preliminary character designs.
  • Discuss and finalize attire, traits, and other specifics.
  • Ensure consistency in design across all frames.

4. Voice-Over Recording

Before characters move, they often speak. This preemptive approach allows for precise lip-syncing and expressive animations. The selection of the right voice artist can make characters memorable.

To make the most of this, remember the following: 

5. Animatics

An animatic is like a moving storyboard. By adding rough timing and maybe some temporary soundtrack or voice-over to the storyboard images, the animation team can better understand the rhythm and pacing of the final piece. This also aids in identifying any potential problems in the narrative or flow before diving into the labor-intensive animation process. To ensure the highest quality and expertise, hiring an animation company with big experience from the USA is advisable.

Consider animatics as a trailer for your animation. It amalgamates voice-overs and storyboards, offering a glimpse into the animation’s pacing and rhythm. It’s a blueprint that guides subsequent processes. 

In short, animatics involves the following:

  • Combine the storyboard and voice-over using software like Adobe Premiere.
  • Ensure scene transitions are smooth.
  • Make modifications based on feedback.

6. Layouts and Backgrounds

As characters come alive, they need an environment to inhabit. This stage breathes life into the backdrops, determining depth, ambiance, and visual appeal.

Take the following steps to make the most of layouts and backgrounds:

  • Sketch or digitally create backgrounds for each scene.
  • Ensure character-to-background proportion is realistic.
  • Focus on color palettes that enhance the story’s mood.

7. In-Betweening or Tweening

Keyframes act as anchors for primary actions. The frames between them, created during tweening, ensure fluidity. The more intermediary frames, the smoother the motion.

Keep the following things in mind at this stage of the process:

  • Understand the start and end positions of a movement.
  • Use software to generate in-between frames or draw them.
  • Play back to ensure there’s no jitter or unnatural movement.

8. Clean-Up and Coloring

Refinement is vital. At this juncture, the sketches are polished, unnecessary lines are erased, and a splash of color is added. In short, do the following:

  • Go over each frame, refining the sketches.
  • Use consistent color palettes as per the designs.
  • Ensure characters and backgrounds merge seamlessly.

9. Compositing

Compositing isn’t just about layering visual elements; it’s about integrating every detail seamlessly to craft a convincing, unified visual narrative. It’s the phase where the animation transitions from individual pieces into a cohesive whole. Here’s a step-by-step guide to mastering this integral process:

Layering Elements

Start by layering your primary animation sequences with backgrounds, characters, and other assets. Use professional software like Adobe After Effects or Nuke, which offers greater control over layer hierarchy and blend modes.

Adding Effects

Effects can be dynamic, such as moving shadows, or subtle, like ambient occlusion that gives depth to your scenes. Determine which effects are necessary to enhance your animation’s realism or stylistic approach.

Color Correction & Grading

Consistency is key. Use color correction tools to ensure that the tones across scenes are uniform. Follow it up with color grading to set the mood, whether it’s a vibrant morning or a gloomy twilight.

Implementing Lighting

Lighting can make or break a scene. Use virtual lights to highlight crucial parts of a scene, create depth, or even add drama. Experiment with soft and hard lights, and play with shadows to add dimension.

Particle Systems and Atmospheric Effects

Atmospheric effects can elevate the visual appeal, whether it’s a light snowfall, a gust of wind, or floating dust particles caught in a sunbeam. Many software solutions offer particle system generators to help craft these details.


In instances where certain elements need to be separated from a scene, rotoscoping can be employed. This technique involves manually tracing over the frames to extract or isolate parts of the imagery, which is beneficial for detailed compositing work.

Quality Checks and Feedback

It’s essential to review your compositing work periodically. Zoom in, scrutinize the details and ensure layers interact naturally. Gather feedback from team members or peers, as fresh eyes might catch inconsistencies or offer new perspectives.

Render Preview

Before finalizing, do a low-resolution render of your scenes. This will give you an idea of how the composited elements come together in motion, enabling you to spot any anomalies or areas of improvement.

Compositing is where individual artistic elements are meticulously woven together to tell a story that feels both engaging and seamless. By approaching this step with attention to detail, a systematic method, and a keen eye, animators can ensure their narratives are not just seen but felt, creating a truly immersive experience for the viewer.

10. Sound Design

Though the voice-over is pre-recorded, this stage witnesses the orchestration of background scores, ambient sounds, and special effects, enriching the viewing experience.

Keep these points in mind when it comes to sound design: 

  • Identify scenes that require background music.
  • Incorporate ambient sounds like rustling leaves or distant chatter.
  • Ensure sound effects sync perfectly with visual actions.

11. Rendering

This computer-intensive step is where individual frames amalgamate into a video. The final visuals are computed for every pixel’s depth, color, and shade.

To make rendering a breeze, remember the following: 

  • Choose a suitable resolution and format.
  • Use reliable software for rendering.
  • Ensure you have backup storage; files can be large!

12. Feedback and Revisions

Before unveiling the animation, it’s scrutinized for imperfections. A select audience provides insights, and revisions are made for perfection.

When in doubt, here are a few essential tips:

  • Host a private screening.
  • Gather feedback regarding visuals, sounds, and pacing.
  • Make necessary edits without compromising the story’s integrity.

13. Distribution and Outreach

With your animation polished and ready to shine, the next vital step is to ensure it reaches its intended audience. The digital age has revolutionized the way content is consumed, giving animators and creators a plethora of platforms for distribution. Here’s how you can navigate this step effectively:

Identify Your Audience

Before releasing your animation, have a clear understanding of your target demographic. Is it for children, adults, or a niche group? Understanding this will help guide your distribution strategy.

Choose Suitable Platforms

There are numerous platforms available for distribution, each catering to different audience types. Platforms like YouTube Kids or children’s streaming services might be suitable if you’re aiming for a younger audience. Consider platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even YouTube for a general audience.

Engage with Social Media

Utilize platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to generate buzz around your animation. Share snippets, behind-the-scenes looks, and engage with your followers to build anticipation.

Consider Festival Circuits

Film and animation festivals can be a great way to showcase your work, network with industry professionals, and possibly gain recognition. Research festivals that align with your animation’s style and message and submit your work.

Collaborate with Bloggers and Influencers

Reach out to bloggers, vloggers, or influencers in animation or related industries. Their reviews or mentions can drive significant traffic and interest toward your work.

Engage in Q&A and Discussion Forums

Platforms like Reddit, Quora, and niche animation forums can be excellent spaces for discussing your animation, gaining feedback, and creating a community around your work.


The 2D animation pipeline, replete with its multifaceted stages, might seem overwhelming. However, each phase, with its intricacies, contributes to crafting a mesmerizing visual tale. The journey from a nascent idea to a full-fledged animation is filled with passion, perseverance, and painstaking attention to detail.

The next time an animated story captivates your senses, you’ll recognize the colossal effort behind those moving frames. And if you’re embarking on your animation odyssey, may this detailed guide illuminate your path!

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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