The 3D Animation Pipeline – A Complete Guide

3d animation pipeline
Learn how to create a 3D animation project by following the 3D animation pipeline and produce studio-quality 3D projects.

One of the challenging and complex animation processes is 3D animation production. The processes involved in creating 3D animation vary to many extents. It majorly depends upon two main factors:

  • The animation studio (what production approaches it follows)
  • The project (how much the project is complex itself and what techniques should be used to minimize the complexity)

While creating a 3D animation project, the list of tasks must be checked in detail in a 3D animation studio and analyzed by the production team, and to achieve top-notch 3D animation quality, a properly structured process or detailed framework is required – 3D animation pipeline.

3D Animation Pipeline

In 3D or any other animation, the animation pipeline is a production process that consists of animation tools (software), resources, and machines (hardware), that perform the procedure in a pre-defined order that leads to a 3D animated product.

With this animation pipeline procedure, the final product can be a 3D model, video game, animated film (long/short), television show, or marketing video.

Components of 3D Animation Pipeline

Just like any other production process, the 3D animation production pipeline also has some key components that make the animation product pitch-perfect. Let’s take a look:

  • The Pre-production
  • The Production
  • The Post-production

The animation industry uses these three phases and modifies them according to the need, resources, outcomes, and other factors, but the basic structure of the production processes remains the same.

The Pre-Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

The pre-production phase is a planning phase where you plan the entire project production and post-production processes. During this process, two teams are involved: the design team and the management team.

The design team imagines an idea, builds a story around it, and designs the animation for that story. On the other hand, the management team creates a production plan for the project, including finance, resources, and project duration.

It says that if you perfectly plan and execute the pre-production, the production will automatically be the best.

The pre-production includes the following stages:

1. Idea Construction

To create a great story, you need a brilliant idea; this is the reason why it’s necessary to have a well-thought idea before beginning with 3D animation production.

2. Story Building

Once you have an idea in your hand, it’s time to start story-making. You can improvise the idea according to your story throughout the process.

If you have done a strong story building, it will provide a clear idea to the concept artist to design the characters and objects according to the story.

3. The Scriptwriting

You must be thinking that now you have a story, the next step should be animation, but no! The next step is scriptwriting.

Scriptwriting is more of formal writing of the story. It covers the movement of the characters, description of the time & environment, explanation of the action, and portrayal of the dialogs.

4. The Storyboarding

Once you are done with story-building and scriptwriting, the next thing you do is storyboarding, where you create a static vision of the script.

You divide the whole animation scene-to-scene into a storyboard and cover the script with a description. It looks like a comic book page that also describes the camera staging, character pose, and event scene.

5. The Animatic

When you turn your storyboard into animated motion, it’s known as an animatic, which also evolves into the project’s final edit.

The animatic is created in its simple form, portraying the sequence timing of the project through 2D storyboard drawings.

The animatics are always created in their simple forms, and with 2D storyboard art, It portrays the sequence timing of the project.

6. Design

Have you ever seen a video or character without any design pattern? Of course not, because the design adds the details and decides the project’s final look.

The design includes the character, costume, concept, prop, and environment design. This phase conveys the mood and image of the designs.

The Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

In 3D animation, this is the phase where the magic happens, and your imagination comes to life. Production executes all the concepts and ideas that have been planned and designed in the pre-production phase.

In this stage, the team lead and animators collaborate to convert all the ideas, designs, and art into a three-dimensional visual.

The 3D animation project manager ensures that all the tasks are completed within the provided deadline and timeframe with the work quality planned in the pre-production.

The production includes the following steps:

1. The 3D Layout

The 2D animatic of the 3D version is known as the 3D layout. It contains the 3D attributes of the characters like size, shape, environment, proxy geometry, and animation.

2. 3D Modeling

It is the most important step in 3D animation, where the animator gives realistic detailing to the character.

In technical words, 3D modeling is the complete procedure of developing a geometrical surface representation of the character or object through various 3D animation software like Maya, Houdini, or Motionbuilder.

3. 3D Texturing

After 3D modeling, the next step is 3D texturing, where the texture artist applies texture, color, and surface properties to the character.

4. 3D Rigging

Once you are done with texturing, the next step is rigging, where you put a skeleton structure into the 3D character or object.

3D rigger creates a bone structure to manipulate the 3D models as puppets for the animation. This process simplifies the animation process and improves the efficiency of production.

Learn what is 3d rigging and how to do it in easy steps.

5. 3D Animation

In the animation stage, the movement and rotation of the 3D character or object are set. This phase is the most important but time-consuming.

6. The VFX (Visual Effects)

In 3D animation, VFX keyframe the various elements of the 3D character like clothes, shoes, hair, fur, water, dust, air, or water, because animating these elements is a lot challenging for the animators.

7. 3D Lighting

Like any other video or photograph, 3D animation requires the perfect lighting to set the mood and environment of the scene.

The lighting artist chooses a variety of light sources, tools, techniques, and effects to adjust the light and illuminate the 3D environment according to the story’s scene.

Learn more about:

8. 3D Rendering

To give a 3D look, every scene is rendered separately into numerous layers, including background, colors, foreground, highlights, shadow, objects, and more. After rendering, the separated layers merged again through compositing in the post-production phase.

The Post-Production in 3D Animation Pipeline

In 3D animation, post-production is the last phase where the final touch-ups and polishing is done to the project before delivering.

The post-production artist practices various techniques and uses multiple post-production tools to enhance the quality of the animation.

The post-production includes the following steps:

1. The Compositing

Once the rendering is done, the separated layers are put together again in the compositing phase. The merging of layers can be as simple as combining 2 layers together or can be as challenging as putting multiple layers and adjusting their properties.

You can learn about compositing in detail. Check out the article Compositing In Animation.

2. 2D VFX

2D VFX is the stage that is associated with other stages of post-production like compositing, color correction, and the final rendering.

Visual effects like sparks, dust, clouds, raindrops, skylining, and camera shake are easily achievable in two-dimension than three-dimension.

2D VFX provides the 3D quality to all the minor details of the scene and animation. Usually, these effects are mixed with other layers in the compositing step.

3. Color Correction

Color correction is the most important part of the 3D animation post-production and the final step of the 3D animation pipeline.

The artist uses color correction and editing tools to adjust the color, contrast, light, highlight, sharpness, and temperature of the image to create a more realistic look.

4. The Final Result

There are a variety of alternatives for the pipeline’s output format, but the most popular is a digital video, which is compatible with almost every device and can easily be streamed over the internet.

3D Animation Vs. CGI Pipeline

Computer-generated imagery is known as CGI, and it uses computer graphics to convert images into animation, game art, animated movie, TV series, animated commercials, and ads.

Apparently, there is no such difference between 3D animation and CGI because both utilize the same tools and methods to create art in various ways.

P.S: Check out what is 2D animation (guide) to learn more about 2D animation processes and approaches.

What is the need for 3D animation pipeline in 3D animation?

In 3D animation, the  3D pipeline is used as a creative sequence of events that need to occur during the whole production process.

3D animation pipeline keeps all the tasks planned and aligned to prevent delay and confusion for the team that is part of 3D production.

The pipeline includes the complete project team like concept artists, scriptwriters, illustrators, animators, editors, and the project manager.

Reasons for Using pipeline in 3D production

There are 4 main reasons animation studios prefer the 3D pipeline for their 3D animation project production.

The Time Management

3D animation production is very time-consuming, particularly in animated movies and series. Even slight delays in any step might postpone the outcome and lead to a financial calamity, just like a domino effect.

As a result, a specific time for each stage is required, and a grand plan is needed to coordinate many creative tasks, some of which will be completed simultaneously.

The Financial Management

3D pipeline is an approach where you plan your task and the project’s expected cost. The cost and budget of every 3D animation depend and vary upon multiple factors. Most of the time, the ROI of the 3D animation project is calculated before starting the production process. Most project managers and teams estimate the project expense in the pre-production phase.

The Team Management

The duration and complexity of any 3D animation project decide the requirement of team members. Sometimes only five people can fulfill the requirement, and sometimes you need hundreds of people to complete a task.

According to the need, the people are divided into teams to execute the task quickly and efficiently. A project manager manages these teams to make the production successful and the result fruitful.

The Structure Management

Structuring and standardization of the process keep the team on the same page throughout the production phase.

The top 3D animation production studios, which produce numerous 3D animation projects for their clients, prefer structuring to keep balance and execute all activities smoothly and on time.

This practice helps the companies complete the project on time with maximum productivity and quality, providing clients with satisfactory results.

The Editor’s Choice

Many animation agencies claim to be the best in business, but trusting anyone can cause you trouble and might destroy your project.

To choose the best for your 3D animation production, you can always rely on BuzzFlick – a video animation studio in Houston.

BuzzFlick has worked with renowned companies and created numerous 2D & 3D animated projects. The studio has the most talented teams of project managers, animators, scriptwriters, concept artists, and editors, who put their heart and soul into creating outstanding and innovative animated projects.

The studio is an expert in animated explainer videos, 2D & 3D animation, 3D modeling services, motion graphics, whiteboard animation, product promotional videos, educational videos, app demo videos, animated commercials, video ads, and video editing.


Creating a 3D animation is a time-consuming process that requires a long list of activities, a diverse range of hardware, and a massive team of individuals with varying abilities and responsibilities. A good production workflow is required to keep the process operating smoothly and inexpensively.

A 3D animation pipeline is a process that consists of people, hardware, and software that are all aligned to do pre-determined activities in a pre-determined period in a precise sequential order.

Following this technique will result in a 3D animation product or assets, such as a 3D feature film, short animation, television show, 3D video game asset, or something else entirely.


  • What is required to start a 3D animation production?

To begin with 3D animation production, you require a fine computer (either desktop or laptop) with graphics cards and animation software. But if you want to create some crazy 3D animation on your smartphone, you need some animation apps.

To learn and experiment, check out the top 3D animation apps for Android and iPhone, and unleash the animator in you.

  • Do I need to know how to draw to become a good animator?

Not really, but if you have a skill of drawing, then it might help you set your hand faster on the software and digital sketching.

In 3D animation, character design and storyboarding need detailing, and if you are a master in drawing with paper and pencil, it won’t be hard for you to create a detailed 3D or 2D animated character.

  • Is animation a good career option?

Well, for some people, animation can be tricky and competitive, but if you have a passion for becoming an animator, then these challenges will reduce to none.

Animation is an exciting and creative field where you design your ideas to life and speak to people through your drawings and animations.

If you choose to be an animator, there is excellent scope in Hollywood for you, and maybe one day your feature film or animated series will be the reason for your popularity. So, yeah, it is a great career opportunity for creative hands and minds.

  • How to create an excellent animation portfolio?

The portfolio mirrors what you do and how you serve your clients. Basically, it reflects the quality of your work and the services you provide.

To create an excellent portfolio, you need to:

  • Showcase your best work.
  • Exhibit your work in the form of a showreel.
  • Display the short and compelling videos.
  • Make sure you showcase all styles and services you provide to give a clear view to your coming client.
Sophiea Ank

Sophiea Ank is an animator, but her passion for reading and writing made her Content Head at BuzzFlick. She loves to educate people through her blogs about technologies, animation, videography, and games. In her free time, she watches "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and reads Paulo Coelho.

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