Thumbnail Silhouettes, Expression Sheets, Character Studies
Designing characters and scenes may seem relatively straightforward, but professionally it is a much more complicated process. Animation and Game studios go through thousands of concepts before they finalize the look of the final product.
Making a lot of quick sketches will allow you to get some ideas on paper so you can move on to the main production process. Distinctive shapes and dynamic silhouettes should come before adding fine details. Professional concept artists typically spend anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes on their silhouettes, and about the same time for storyboard panels.
The most time is spent on the last phase refining details for the final character turnaround, which is used as a reference model sheet for 2D animators. 3D animators sometimes base 3D models off of maquette sculpts, but turnarounds and expression sheets are still more versatile
When creating an animated short, it is important to consider the tone and art style of the story. Your first animation probably won’t be the best animation you ever make, but the project can be salvaged for your portfolio if at least a few shots look nice. Even though the majority of the animation industry is dominated by 3D software, many studios are more interested in seeing student projects that are unique or technically accomplished.
A word of warning is that realism takes a lot of modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering time. Most scenes and rigged characters take months of refinement before they look as good as examples online. Anyone able to speed model has had lots of practice.
Use any cheats possible to save time so you can focus all effort on the aspect you are most interested in, whether it be story, character design, environments, animation, etc. If you’re going to put a lot of work into a project, you might as well create something you can be somewhat happy with.
If you can sketch a design, the drawings can be translated to 3D. Toon shading renders much faster and creates a flat cartoonish look similar to cel shading. Other stylistic effects can be achieved through camera angles and lighting, while texture overlays can be created in other programs like Photoshop and After Effects.
The Incredibles Colorscript by Ralph Eggleston
Colorscripts are a unique form of storyboard used solely in animation. The main purpose of a color script is to establish scene color palettes and lighting guides for the rendering artists. Colorscripts can take a lot of effort to make, so they are rarely found outside of the major industry studios.
Story Reels/Pencil Tests
A story reel is a 2D storyboard that has partial animation. It is usually produced before a 3D animatic to test out complicated animation sequences. Story reels generally only consist of a few short clips and are not intended for covering the entire length of a movie.
Animatics and Blocking
Animation takes a lot of time, and it isn’t cost effective to have to do reshoots. For this reason, the story and concept art needs to be mostly solidified before any modeling ever takes place. Top animation studios like Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks will create a color script that serves as a scene by scene breakdown of the entire movie. Most other studios just rely on a script or storyboard.
From the storyboard, an animatic is created. This can be done in 2D with limited animation reels, or 3D blocking. A 3D animatic is probably more time-efficient.
The first animatic rough pass won’t have final textures, lighting, or facial animation, and it will look absolutely horrendous. It takes multiple passes to create an animation that looks decent.