Constructing an Effective 3D Production Pipeline: The Pre-Production Stage

The production of a 3D project is divisible into three distinct stages; the pre-production, production and post production, further divisible by sub-stages such as modelling and mapping.


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In keeping with chronological order, pre-production will be discussed first.

As it is with any development in film or other media, the core of a project – themes, style, setting –  matures during its early development. Dreams comes to fruition, are discarded and rebuilt upon during this crucial exploration. Ideas are moulded and refined whilst the design for the story concepts, animation style, characters and other features begin to take form.

Just like any task, planning is key. Setting the foundations for the project during this stage prevents ideas from wavering too far from their original goal, meaning artists and other personnel are on the same wavelength. These unofficial parameters allow for a production space free of miscommunication and other difficulties, allowing for increased productivity and accessibility.

Although approaches to planning can differ between projects, generally, this planning phase can see the emergence of screenplays (if required), rough character design, storyboarding, timing sheets, model sheets and refined animatics.


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At this stage, characters go through several iterations before transitioning into the modelling stage. Character continuity plays a large role in the success of a film, and so standardized character sheets are essential for any animation, especially those with multiple artists, or in the 2D genre. These can detail intricacies such as anatomy studies, default poses and expression that help to build character personality in preparation for the final project.

Storyboarding can be likened to a “blueprint” of the action and project. After the creation of the screenplay (if required), characters are mapped out into a series of rough sketches, comparable to a comic strip. Essentials such as camera angles and edits are selected. These sequences are reviewed by directors or those with similar roles and subject to change if necessary.

After developing the storyboard, more polished progression, such as an animatic, often called a “storyboard reel”, can take place. Rather than being a frame-by-frame animation, an animatic encapsulates the essentials of the scenes, detailing certain areas, namely expression and movement. The flow of time and action can be assessed if done well. Animatics can additionally be accompanied by voice acting if required by the project.

Preparation during project organization allows ideas and creativity to flourish whilst within the boundaries of effective time management and team coordination. A strong sense of direction not only motivates workers, but reduces the risk of failure during the final stages of production, and is no doubt essential to a successive pipeline.

Other References:

Boudon, G., (2014) Understanding a 3D Production Pipeline – Learning the Basics. Retrieved from

Seibold, W., (2011) Free Film School #23: Animation, The Twelve Step Program. Retrieved from

Upcoming VFX Movies, (2014) 3D Production Pipeline (Pixar vs. Dreamworks). Retrieved from

Veetil Digital Service, (2014) Pre-Production, Production & Post Production Processes in 3D Animation. Retrieved from


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