Exploring the key stages of animation

But, one of the main factors for a successful animated video campaign is actually how the initial groundwork is laid. Although the majority of people focus on the later, more creative steps in the process, animation consists of a series of key stages.

Written by Jack Last

What are the initial stages of animation production?

The initial stages of animation production are all about planning and strategising for the overall project. It is at this point that the foundations are laid, the vision is established, and everything is in place, ready to start creating. 

The three initial stages of animation production are: 

  • Step 1: Outline & Brief - a brief is created, which provides an overview of the background and campaign objectives, a short brand statement, the key challenges that the campaign seeks to resolve, the campaign’s target audience, the brand’s main competitors, the primary message (outlining the brand’s values and marketing positioning), and the communication channels that will be used to run the campaign.
  • Step 2: Script & Style - at this stage, the outline of all the animation’s events is created, to form a framework for the animation. This includes devising dialogue, sound effects and a music score. Alongside the script, the client’s brand guidelines will be used to create the video’s visual style. This step encompasses character design, text design, eye candy illustrations, and fixing the colour palette. 
  • Step 3: Storyboarding & Prep - once the elements above have been finalized, a visual representation of the script is designed and shared. This document illustrates the video’s narrative flow, scene by scene. The goal of the storyboard is to help everyone visualize the video as an overall concept, and understand how each element contributes to the wider vision.

In short, these can be understood more broadly as the planning steps, which occur before design, illustration, animation and recording start. 

The purpose of these stages is to define a clear strategy for the content. This includes fixing the video’s KPIs, and understanding how the content should align with the company’s existing brand identity, while devising bold concepts and characters, to ensure it stands out amongst a crowded marketplace. 

How does storyboarding contribute to the animation process?

Storyboarding is one of the most important aspects of the planning process and - particularly in these early stages - serves as a go-to guide for animators, illustrators and the client. 

Storyboarding is a core part of the animation process, as it provides key support with:

  • Visualising the narrative - using a storyboard makes it far easier for the team to see how the narrative plays out. Rather than considering the script, sketches and character design in isolation, the storyboard displays how the narrative plays out (from start to image), and how each element serves to support the plot. 
  • Planning specific shots - a storyboard also includes details of camera angles and any other visual details for how the shots will look. Not only does this make sure everyone is on the same page, but it also allows viewers to see how all these shots look alongside each other, and make adjustments to ensure a seamless feel throughout the video. 
  • Timing and pacing of the story - timing is key to any good story. So, a storyboard will also provide a detailed breakdown of the timings breakdown for all the frames. This ensures that the right scenes/events are being prioritised, that no one part feels rushed or dragged out, and any moments of drama are utilised to their full advantage. 
  • Communication between the team and client - by putting all these key details into a single, centralised document, the storyboard greatly enhances the quality of communication between the design team and the client. It ensures that everyone is being kept in the loop about all elements of the video.
  • Identifying early issues - the other benefit of ensuring that all plans are communicated clearly is that it allows all parties to request changes early on, before it becomes more costly and time-consuming to change them. 
  • Cost efficiency across the project - storyboarding dramatically enhances the efficiency of the entire project which, in turn, results in greater cost savings. It achieves this by minimising the volume of changes that are needed later on in the process, making group discussions more focused and more precise, and reducing the time required to illustrate and animate the elements.  
  • Client and stakeholder approval - by bringing more transparency and stronger collaboration to the project, clients and stakeholders will feel more involved in the process. Their feedback will be more precise (which will ensure that it is being acted on more accurately), which then increases the likelihood that their approval will be granted earlier, and that their overall satisfaction with the project will be higher. 

What role does character design play in animation?

When it comes to animated storytelling, the role of the characters cannot be overestimated. 

Even if it’s a 20-second social media clip, the characters are the elements that most effectively engage the audience, and establish a strong emotional connection. The characters enable the consumers to better understand the brand and what it stands for, as the digital ‘face’ of the business.

The benefits that character design brings to animation include:

  • Having a visual identity - although you might initially think it’s hard to make a character ‘branded’, you’d be surprised by just how many elements of branding can be integrated into a character design. And, when this is achieved, it is an extremely effective way to illustrate a strong, cohesive visual identity. 
  • Conveying personality - characters help to bring your branding to life, in a way that cannot be achieved by shapes or colour palettes alone. Characters infuse your brand with personality, and help your audience to better understand what you stand for and what makes you unique. 
  • Storytelling - as the characters go through the story, they aid the audience’s understanding of what is happening, and why it is important. They offer a subtle and personable way to guide your viewers through to your call to action.
  • Audience connection - emotional engagement is key to establishing a connection with your audience. And what better way to achieve this than a relatable, engaging, entertaining and personable character? Animated characters not only humanise your business, but they help brands to strike a real emotional connection with their audiences, and create an asset that they will actually want to share.  
  • Animation feasibility - firstly, if you’re working with a topic that (you may think) is inherently dull, adding a character is the perfect way to bring it to life, and infuse the animation with fun. Secondly, they give context to the ‘pain point’ or CTA that features in your video. The characters give real meaning to the message, and make it far clearer for audiences to both relate to the challenges raised, and see the value to be gained by following your CTA. 

How do animators bring characters to life through keyframing?

A keyframe in animation is used to give characters, backgrounds and other elements movement. 

Keyframes work by acting as signposts, marking the start and end of an action. They direct the animation software, informing it what will be moving, how it will be moving, and how quickly the movement will take place. 

You can find out more about keyframes and how they work in our dedicated blog post

In animated videos, designing the look and feel of the character is just the start of the story. 

Giving the character movements, expressions and actions is critical to not only making the character lifelike and engaging, but also to supporting the overall impact the character has on the animation. 

Movement brings the characters to life, enhances the personality that you are creating for them, and makes the narrative both easier and more engaging to follow. 

The process of keyframing (and using it to give your characters movement) can be enhanced by deploying the following: 

  • Planning and storyboarding - by carefully planning the video, then displaying all of these details in a storyboard, you can help ensure animators understand exactly what actions, expressions and movement styles are needed for the characters.
  • Identifying key keyframing moments - this involves selecting the critical keyframing moments, which are pivotal to the animation. These can include the moment audiences first meet the character, or how characters engage with the product, for example. By working with a motion graphic company like OK Social, animation specialists can select the key keyframing moments, and ensure they are deployed to the greatest possible advantage.
  • Creating action poses - this can include a character’s body position, facial expressions, or how they interact with any props or other elements. By determining how your character will pose in these moments, the animators can achieve a fantastic level of detail, consistency and visual quality for these key moments in the animation.
  • Providing timing and spacing requirements - creating a breakdown of the timing and spacing requirements should take place before the process of keyframing and animating starts. This will ensure that transitions are perfectly timed, and that the character’s movements are well-paced and engaging.
  • Refining - assessing, reviewing and amending the animation should take place at regular intervals, from the first illustrations to the keyframing process. This will ensure that the video ticks all the client’s requirement boxes, and that the characters are on-brand, believable and engaging.
  • Hosting feedback sessions - as it is in almost all creative fields, collaboration and feedback are absolutely vital in animation. By establishing regular feedback sessions - both from the team and from the clients themselves - you can continuously evolve the content. This is an extremely effective way to iron out any imperfections, while developing the sophistication and emotional resonance of the characters.
  • Final rendering - once the animation is complete, it will go through the final rendering process. At this point, it is converted into the desired format, ready to publish and share with audiences.

What's the importance of sound design in animation?

After you’ve spent all this time perfecting the visual elements, don’t fall at the final hurdle. 

Sound design makes an invaluable contribution to animation, and supports the delivery of the full range of animation’s USPs. Be it adding gravitas to the character’s dramatic moment, or uplifting the final CTA, sound design ensures an animation achieves real impact. 

The benefits that sound design brings to animation include:

  • Emotional impact - enhancing the emotional moments of the animation, and giving key points an extra level of depth. 
  • Characterisation - supporting your character development, by emphasising their personal qualities, how they are feeling, and how they differentiate from other characters. 
  • Setting the scene - helping the audience to follow the video and how it is progressing, before an event has taken place.  
  • Narrative clarity - sound design (on a subconscious level) makes it easier for audiences to understand the path that the narrative is taking, and how key events link together. 
  • Suspense and tension - carefully engineered sound design goes a long way towards building suspense and tension, and making these pivotal moments more dramatic. 
  • Mood and atmosphere - alongside suspense, sound design can create a wide range of other emotions in the audience. This helps animators to evoke the precise mood or atmosphere that they want for a specific scene. 

How are final touches and editing done in animation?

Once all of the above has been completed - with the script, characters, setting and audio all working together in harmony - it is time to refine the content. 

At the final stages of an animation project, the last bits of editing and final touches are made to the video. These final tweaks are designed to perfect the video, making it the best it can be. 

This includes ensuring smooth movements and transitions throughout, checking that the visual and audio elements are perfectly timed with each other, confirming that the design is consistent throughout, and ensuring that the content fulfills all of the client’s requirements. 

The final edits and finishing touches of an animation project will include:

  • Rendering: Creating individual frames from 3D/2D models and scenes.
  • Compositing: Combining all elements seamlessly.
  • Colour correction: Adjusting colours for consistency.
  • Sound design: Adding music, voiceovers, and effects.
  • Editing: Refining timing, pacing, and transitions.
  • VFX: Incorporating visual effects.
  • QA and testing: Identifying and fixing issues.
  • Feedback and revisions: Iterative refinement.
  • Export and delivery: Preparing for distribution.
  • Archiving: Safely and securely storing project files.
  • Credits and distribution: Adding credits and distributing the animation.


By viewing the animation process as a series of stages, you are far better positioned to achieve a sleek, bold and impactful end result. 

Break the path ahead into the constituent stages of animation, and consider the best ways to enhance each one. Then, you can more effectively collaborate with your clients and team, establish a stronger visual identity, and refine and develop your content. 

Why work with an animation agency like OK Social?

OK Social is a motion graphic company, specialising in the design and development of stand-out branded animations. 

We create everything from in-depth explainer videos, to striking social media posts, and every single piece of content is precisely tailored to match our clients’ specific brand identity. 

It’s for these reasons that we’ve been entrusted with the animated video campaigns of Ford, Deliveroo, Coca-Cola and many more. 

If you’d like to find out more about the stages of animation, or to enlist OK Social to shake up your content, our team is on hand to help

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I’m Jack, the Motion Director here at OK Social. I’ve been working in the world of motion design and animation for nearly 10 years. I had the pleasure of working with leading agencies and brands around the world, such as Samsung, Ford, Shell, Deliveroo, and Starbucks, to name a few.

From a young age, I’ve always been interested in animation, from making stop-motion films in my room as a kid to learning animation on my first computer. It started as a passion and still is to this day. Part of what I do now is more than just animation. I help craft the narratives of the stories we tell to ensure they make an impact to the audience and remain worthy of their attention.

So how do I do that? It starts with asking the right questions, leading to solving the right problems. First, diagnose what the problem is. Then, we can start to see if we can help. I believe that communication plays a key role in delivering a smooth and successful project. Looking into the future, I’m excited to expand my knowledge into creating more engaging stories that make a difference.