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How to Make Your First Animated Short - Part 2 - Pre-production
In this part two of my three-part series on "How to Make Your First Animated Short," we will look at how you could tackle preproduction and build the story for your animated short.
In the How to Make Your First Animated Short - Part 1 of this series, we looked out how to define your project and start laying down your ideas. During preproduction, you design your characters, storyboard the action, record a scratch track if you're using one, and create your backgrounds.
Start creating the artwork for your animated short by sketching out the characters. As you sketch, think about how different materials and objects react differently to the physical environment they are in - this process will help you build your character's personality. You also use these physical attributes to build tension in story, as a catalyst for plot twists, and to increase character appeal by having them overcome limits.
Some people like to design a character's personality based on the plot while others will develop the plot out of the type of personality they want their character to have. Both ways work: you can either think about what would challenge the character you're designing and build your story around that, or you can design a character that would experience challenges in your story. Whichever way you approach it, at the end you want your character design to embody a personality that serves the story.
Once you've designed your character or characters, create the model pack, which usually has a turnaround in five views (front, ¾ front, profile, ¾ back and back). For asymmetrical characters, you will need more views. You can also facial expressions and hand positions to the model pack as well as action poses, or you can do that after you storyboard, with your storyboard as a reference for what you need.
Above is an example of a turnaround (3 poses) and a prop. Props are created in preproduction and should be made using a similar process to character design - they are also actors in your short.
Storyboarding and Scratch Track
It's important to storyboard your project to work out the story timing and camera perspective by breaking down your story into a series of images. It's here that you will set the pace for your story, composition for the scenes, add camera moves, and maybe even create an animatic to see a draft of what it will look like. Use captions to guide you, add arrows to show movement and colour for emphasis. Include the script and if you have dialog, you can record a scratch track for your voiceover. This helps with timing. Shelly Jacobson's shared some tips on creating a sound map according to your script here and on recording voiceovers here.
If you plan to work digitally, Storyboard Pro has all the tools you need. Find out more here.
Pre-production is where you choose the colour palette for your characters. You'll also want to design your backgrounds using colours that create the right ambiance for your story as your characters move through the environment. Remember, whatever colours you choose should match the mood of your short as they have a huge impact on the look and feel.
When you start creating the backgrounds, keep the story context in mind. Make a clean version of one background to finalize the colour palette with your character over the background. Then create and finalize all the backgrounds according to your storyboard.
In How to Make Your First Animated Short - Part 3 of this series, we move on to the production stage for your animated short.