A Complete Guide to the 3D Animation Pipeline

Follow the 3D animation pipeline to construct a 3D animation project and produce studio-quality 3D projects.

3D animation production is one of the most difficult and sophisticated animation procedures. The procedures involved in making 3D animation differ widely. It is mostly determined by two fundamental factors:

  • Animation studio (production methods utilized)
  • Project complexity (measures to reduce complexity)

The list of duties must be examined in depth in a 3D animation studio and analyzed by the production team while creating a 3D animation project, and in order to reach top-notch 3D animation quality, a properly structured procedure or thorough framework is required – a 3D animation pipeline.

3D Animation Pipeline

The animation pipeline is a production process in 3D or any other animation that comprises animation tools (software), resources, and machines (hardware) that perform the operation in a pre-defined order that results in a 3D animated product.

The final outcome of this animation pipeline technique can be a 3D model, video game, animated film (long/short), television show, or marketing video.

Pipeline Components of 3D Animation

The 3D animation production pipeline, like any other production process, contains some important components that ensure the animation outcome is pitch-perfect. Consider the following:

  • The Pre-production
  • The Production
  • The Post-production

The animation business uses these three stages and adapts them based on necessity, resources, outcomes, and other factors, but the basic framework of the production processes remains consistent.

The Pre-Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

The pre-production phase is a planning phase in which the whole project production and post-production processes are planned. Two teams are involved in this process: the design team and the management team.

The design team develops an idea, creates a story around it, and then creates the animation for that tale. The management team, on the other hand, develops a production plan for the project, which includes funding, resources, and project duration.

It states that if the pre-production is completely planned and executed, the production will be the greatest.

The following stages are included in pre-production:

1. Idea Development

A great story requires a smart idea, which is why it is vital to have a well-thought-out idea before commencing with 3D animation production.

2. Storytelling

Once you’ve got an idea, it’s time to start telling stories. Throughout the process, you can change the idea to fit your tale.

If you have created a great tale, the concept artist will have a clear understanding of how to design the people and items based on the story.

3. The Writing of the Script

You might believe that now that you have a story, the following step should be animation, however, that is not the case. The following phase is scriptwriting.

Scriptwriting is a more formal type of tale writing. It includes the movement of the characters, a description of the period and setting, an explanation of the action, and a portrayal of the dialog.

4. Storyboarding

Storyboarding is the process of creating a static vision of the script after you have finished storyboarding and scriptwriting.

You create a storyboard for the entire animation, scene by scene, and cover the narrative with a description. It has the appearance of a comic book page and also describes the camera staging, character position, and event sequence.

5. The Animatic

When you turn your storyboard into animated motion, you create an animatic, which eventually becomes the project’s final edit.

The animatic is made in its most basic form, depicting the project’s sequence timing through 2D storyboard drawings.

The animatics are always generated in simple forms, and using 2D storyboard art, it depicts the project’s sequence timing.

6. Design

Have you ever seen a video or a character with no design? Of certainly not, because the design adds the elements and determines the overall look of the product.

Character, costume, concept, prop, and environment design are all part of the design. This stage expresses the design’s mood and image.

The Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

This is the stage of 3D animation where the magic happens and your imagination comes to life. Production carries out all of the thoughts and ideas that were planned and designed throughout the pre-production phase.

At this point, the team leader and animators work together to turn all of the ideas, designs, and art into a three-dimensional visual.

The 3D animation project manager ensures that all activities are accomplished within the given deadline and timeframe while maintaining the work quality that was intended in pre-production.

The following steps are included in the production:

1. 3D Layout

The 3D layout is the 2D animatic of the 3D version. It includes 3D character features such as size, shape, surroundings, proxy geometry, and motion.

2. 3D Modeling

It is the most crucial step in 3D animation, in which the animator provides the character with realistic detailing.

In technical terms, 3D modeling is the entire process of creating a geometrical surface representation of a character or object using 3D animation software such as Maya, Houdini, or Motionbuilder.

3. 3D Texturing

Following 3D modeling comes 3D texturing, in which the texture artist gives texture, color, and surface attributes to the character.

4. 3D Rigging

After you’ve finished texturing, the next stage is rigging, which involves incorporating a skeleton framework into the 3D character or object.

The 3D rigger builds a bone structure that allows the 3D models to be used as puppets in the animation. This method simplifies the animation process and increases production efficiency.

Learn what 3D rigging is and how to execute it in simple steps.

  • Animation in 3D (5th)
  • Set movement and rotation of 3D character/object during the animation stage (most crucial and time-consuming phase)

6. Visual Effects (VFX)

VFX keyframes the many aspects of the 3D character such as clothes, shoes, hair, fur, water, dust, air, or water in 3D animation because animating these elements is extremely difficult for animators.

7. Lighting in 3D

3D animation, like any other film or photograph, requires the right lighting to set the mood and ambiance of the scene.

The lighting artist selects a variety of light sources, tools, techniques, and effects to change and illuminate the 3D world based on the scenario of the tale.

The Post-Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

Post-production is the final stage of 3D animation where the project is touched up and polished before delivery.

To improve the quality of the animation, the post-production artist employs a variety of techniques and equipment. The following steps are included in post-production:

1. The Arrangement

After rendering, the individual layers are reassembled in the compositing process. Layer merging can be as simple as integrating two layers together or as difficult as placing many layers together and altering their characteristics.

You can learn all about compositing. See the page Compositing In Animation for more information.

2. 2D VFX

2D VFX is related to other post-production steps such as compositing, color correction, and final rendering.

Sparks, dust, clouds, rainfall, skylining, and camera shake are all easier to achieve in two dimensions than three dimensions.

All of the small features of the scene and animation are rendered in 3D quality by 2D VFX. Typically, these effects are combined with other layers during the compositing process.

3. Color Adjustment

Color correction is the final phase in the 3D animation pipeline and the most significant aspect of 3D animation post-production.

To produce a more realistic effect, the artist employs color correction and editing tools to change the image’s color, contrast, light, highlight, sharpness, and temperature.

4. The End Result

There are several options for the pipeline’s output format, but digital video is the most popular because it is compatible with practically every device and can easily be streamed over the internet.

3D Animation Vs. CGI Pipeline

CGI stands for computer-generated imagery, and it employs computer graphics to convert images into animation, game art, animated movies, TV programs, animated commercials, and advertisements.

There appears to be no distinction between 3D animation and CGI because both employ the same tools and approaches to create art in varied ways.

What is the need for 3D animation pipeline in 3D animation?

The 3D pipeline is utilized in 3D animation as a creative series of events that must occur during the entire production process.

The 3D animation pipeline maintains all jobs organized and coordinated to avoid delays and confusion for the 3D production team.

The pipeline contains the entire project crew, which includes concept artists, scriptwriters, illustrators, animators, editors, and the project manager.


Creating a 3D animation is a time-consuming process that necessitates a slew of activities, a wide range of hardware, and a big team of people with various abilities and responsibilities. To keep the process running smoothly and affordably, a good production workflow is necessary.

A 3D animation pipeline is a process that comprises of people, hardware, and software that are all aligned to perform pre-determined operations in a precise sequential order over a pre-determined length of time.

This process will yield a 3D animation product or assets, such as a 3D feature film, short animation, television show, 3D video game asset, or something altogether else.