The complete process of animating cartoon characters for a feature film, or just a quick 2D animation for YouTube is a process that, depending on the project, needs a lot of time and effort. A 5 min animation can take from 1 day to 2 months. Really? How do I know if my project is going to be 1 day long or 2 months long? Well, you have to answer, how good do you want your cartoon animation to look? Simple = 1 day, Amazing = 2 months.
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Either one needs to go through the complete process.
It all starts with an idea. An idea turned into a script that can later be transformed into cartoon characters affecting each other in a 2D animation story. That idea is visualized in the head of the producer or director (usually the same person in NO BUDGET projects) who then decides what style is the project going to have.
The style can be cut out characters like Cartoon Network, more Classical like Disney, or maybe you want Anime style. Then you have to design the main characters and decide what best suits your project. How are your cartoon characters going to look like? How do they look from behind? Front? Above? below? How do they look in different poses?
After that, according to the budget and the style, the producer decides the software where all the animation is going to take place. If the style needs a cut out feeling, with lots of 3D and traveling cameras, maybe After Effects or Flash will be the choice, or if the series are more classical, or anime, in which cut out is not what is wanted, but a more organic look, like anime or Disney, then Toon Boom or Anime Studio can be the choice.
Then you bring in the voice actors to record all the dialogs, and, basically produce your story for a radio show, in which you listen to steps and sound effects. This will give the animators the correct timing to perform actions with their cartoon characters in an organic way.
After all the necessary decisions are made, then it’s time to visualize the cartoon animation story into a series of drawings. Storyboard. In there the animator and director put their knowledge of cinematography in practice, they decide the shots and from where the cartoon characters are best depicted for what moment of the story.
Then after the storyboard is complete, then you make an animatic of the storyboard, in which you put together the storyboard and the audio together with correct timings and then, you take important decisions like, maybe change a few lines, or see the character from another angle and so on, remember, the most important thing about your 2D animation story is to make people feel something. So these decisions are KEY.
After that important milestone you begin preparations. In a big studio, one team handles the cartoon character rigging and the other draws the different backgrounds and sets for the story. But in a very low-budget project, it’s usually the same person who does the character rigging and sets.
Finally, after all of that, which is almost 70% of the work, comes the fun part. The animation. In which you bring the story to life, you make your cartoon characters be affected by each other, they get mad, they cry, they laugh, they fall in love, whatever your story is about, this is where you breathe life into it.
In this step, all the hard work pays back. And, of course, when the project is low-budget (less than $10,000 bucks) or even NO BUDGET, the writer, producer, director, storyboard artist, character designer, background artist and animator, is a team that consists of 3 people, or sometimes it’s the same person, one author. But even then, when your cartoon animation has your heart in it, the hard work is worth it.