The 6 Steps of Animation

We’ve talked about how to make an animated movie and the difference between 2D and 3D animation, and now it’s time to get into the animating process.

In this video I go over the 6 basic steps of animation, including:

  1. Shooting reference video
  2. Key posing
  3. Blocking
  4. Splining
  5. Smoothing
  6. Adding life

Watch the video or keep reading.

Step 1: Shooting Reference video

This is a very important and overlooked step. It’s weird how people really think they know what certain actions look like and how long they take, but in reality they are often wrong.

Physical actions is something you need to analyze before animating, especially if you’re a beginner.

You have a shot of a guy throwing a baseball? Better YouTube some reference video of pitchers throwing balls. Don’t assume you know what an action looks like just because you’ve seen it before. Looking at an action as an animator is completely different than looking at it as a regular viewer.

Step 2: Posing

After shooting a reference, it’s time to create the key poses of the shot.

These poses are called key poses because they are the most important poses of the shot. These are the poses that convey the story of the shot. We better make sure we get those poses right, because we’re going to build on those for the rest of the process.

Step 3: Blocking

Once we’re happy with our key poses, we start breaking down the movement from each pose to the next by adding ‘in betweens’ (also known as breakdown poses or passing poses). These are the poses that connect the key poses.

We keep adding more poses until the movement looks as good as it could, while still staying in stepped mode (stepped mode is when you don’t allow interpolation between poses, which results in a very choppy/blocky motion).

Step 4: Splining

Splining is a 3D animation term. It’s the process in which you convert the interpolation of the keys from stepped to spline. In other words – you make the computer connect the movement between each of your poses, and that makes the movement look smoother.

The problem is that the computer doesn’t do a very good job at interpolating. It only works with what it has. That’s why the better the blocking is – the better the splined version is going to look.

Step 5: Smoothing and offset

Now that all of our keys are on spline mode, we have to work on them. We need to clean up all the curves and make sure the movement looks smooth.

It’s also a good idea to offset some of the actions so it doesn’t look so ‘stop and start’, as if the character is doing all the motion at once. By the end of this step your shot should look pretty solid and almost finished.

Step 6: Adding life

This step is the a lot of fun. We’ve already finished with the grunt work of animating and it’s time to add the fun stuff. In this step we add small imperfections that bring life to the character. Maybe an extra blink or a mouth twitch here and there. The difference between the last 2 steps is small but very noticeable.


If you want to learn more about character animation in Maya, check out our Maya Animation Course.