The Process Of 2D Animation

Feb 28, 2023

If you’re planning to use animation as part of your marketing strategy, you might have some questions about what the process looks like. In this article, you’ll follow a project from its kick-off, through its development, and to its final delivery. We hope this information will be helpful when you contact an animation studio — and don’t worry, it’s not imperative that you know everything before you meet with one. 

While every animation studio may have a slightly unique process, the following are the key steps in creating a 2D animation project:

Creative Brief and Kick-Off

In the initial phase of your project, your animation studio will work with you to build a creative brief and form a plan of execution, based on any necessary details. 

Here are some typical questions that may need to be answered:

  • What is the purpose of your animation?

  • What is the style of animation you’re looking for? 

  • Will this animation require concept, illustration and/or design?

  • What are the required specifications — length of video, aspect ratio, size/resolution, voice-over, custom or stock music, sound design, etc.?

  • What is the deadline for delivery of the final animation?

  • Is there a budget that the studio needs to be aware of?

Concepting and Discovery

After the creative brief has been developed and has received your stamp of approval, the studio will begin the discovery process by creating concepts to present to you. This brainstorm session can be a collaborative effort, but that depends on how involved you want to be in the creative process. 

Script Writing

Once a concept is approved, it’s time to write the script. Studios often have a writer on staff who can work off the approved concept. Depending on the chosen idea, the script may be a voice-over, or it might be more involved and include dialogue and story. 


The storyboard is where the animation project begins to take form — the step in which you’ll be able to visualize how the story will be told. To create a storyboard, an artist will take key frames from the design and lay them out sequentially, in alignment with the script, setting each scene and thereby creating a map for the animator to follow. Once the storyboard is complete, an animatic can be created to put those static frames in motion with the audio overlaid. Using an animatic  gives you a chance to catch any timing issues before the animation process begins.

The storyboards that are presented to the client before moving into designing styleframes.
An example of the animatic to help set the animation pacing.


Styleframes are a full-color visual representation of how the final animation will look, and they’ll often come in handy when it’s time to choose the style of your animated video in production. Developing and defining your project’s animation style is crucial, as it gives the team a visual path to follow. 

The styleframes that were designed from the approved storyboards.

Voice-Over (VO)

VO is a technique used in animation production, wherein speaking is recorded for off-screen use. Explainer videos use VO to help narrate a story, while the visuals support the audio. Depending on their arrangement with you, a studio can hire the talent and record the VO. The final product will be an audio mix that includes the VO, music and sound effects. Including approved VO early in the process helps determine the pacing and timing for the entire animated video, so it is important to have this step completed before any animation begins.

Animation Production Phase

Once the above steps are completed, the animation team can begin putting the still designs into motion using the finalized styleframe designs and referencing the storyboard/animatic for timing. 

If 2D Cel animation is being used for the project, you can expect to see the animation progress in the following stages:

  1. Rough Animation Pass: Rough black-and-white sketches are drawn to help demonstrate motion. These initial sketches are called ‘keyframes,’ and they must be finalized and “locked” before moving forward.

  2. In-Between Pass: In-between sketches are added to complete the animation, creating fluid motion.

  3. Clean-Up: Keyframes are refined to have clean lines.

  4. Color Pass: Color is added, along with any additional shading and highlights, to bring the animation to life.

  5. Final Composite: Animations are composited with any  background designs (if necessary).

Here is an example of the 2d Cel animation process:

An example of 2D cel/hand-drawn animation in our short film titled "Dreams".

If After Effects is used for a project, you can also expect to see progress in multiple passes. With each pass, more and more details and flourish are added to the project until the animation is complete and polished.

Here is an example of the After effects animation process:

Our short film Amazonas is a great example of how After Effects can be used for animation. 

Check out this article for additional examples and details on various types of 2D animations.

Sound Design/Mix

Audio is a very important component in motion design, as it supports the animation and involves more of the viewers’ senses. This step is considered a part of post-production and typically requires a specialist who is trained in audio engineering. In this part of the process, the VO, music and sound effects are layered together, and levels are adjusted to create the sound that flows in sync with the on-screen visuals.

Polish and Hand-Off

When you’ve reviewed the completed project and approved all of the final revisions, the studio will do one last pass to clean up any roughness left in animation and tie up any loose ends before exporting and delivering the final files to you, per your specifications. Examples of an export format are mp4 or mov files. These can be high resolution files or compressed to suit your needs and the requirements of whichever platform you want to host your video.

How the different aspect ratios look side-by-side after they are exported.

There are many steps in creating an animated video. Be sure to reference the information in this article as you begin to develop your project. Though every animation studio works a bit differently, the goal of providing this information is to help you understand some of the basic building blocks that go into an animation project.

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Copyright © 2016 - 2024 • TheLittleLabs LLC. All rights reserved.

General Inquiries


Los Angeles, California

TheLittleLabs is a NMSDC certified minority-owned company.

Copyright © 2016 - 2024 • TheLittleLabs LLC. All rights reserved.