Guide to Making Your First Animated Movie: Your Animation Software and Technical Requirements

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Exploring the world of animation and filmmaking requires not only technical and creative skills, but also patience and commitment to accomplish all the challenging tasks involved throughout the long production process.
After completing your initial pre-production requirements including the script, storyboard, and character and background designs, you must clearly know your technical workflow, audio and video settings, and other production requirements before proceeding to the actual animation.

Animation Software

Choosing your animation software is crucial to the specific workflow and technical and creative prerequisites of your film. For starters who have no prior animation experience, it is recommendable to start with 2D animation because 3D animation not only requires powerhouse computer software and hardware, but also adequate skills in 3D modeling and other animation requirements.

Another thing to consider is the more specific format to use for the animation. You may use traditional animation, computer animation, or stop-motion animation. There is no fixed choice that may be acknowledged as the best for all projects because each story and treatment from the director has more specific needs. One may find it more ideal to use traditional or hand-drawn, frame-by-frame animation for a particular project to achieve the look of old school Disney films like “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” Another person may find it more suitable to use a 2D animation software for faster production or to achieve a more “Flash look” like in the Oscar-nominated Israeli film “Waltz with Bashir.” Another one may find it better to use stop-motion animation to achieve the look of films like “Corpse Bride” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

As a general guide, typical first-time animators usually prefer a computer software like Flash or After Effects for their first animated movie projects. Aside from the practicality and ease of use, these programs allow any regular computer with a decent video card and technical specifications to effectively handle animation work.

Technical Requirements and Settings

Whether a one-minute short or a two-hour full-length project, making a movie requires a lot of creative and technical planning. First, confirm the kind of output you want for the movie. Is it meant to be shown on the web or for a big screen projection in your school or an independent film festival? What frame size and frame rate will you use? Ideally, a movie already follows the high-definition (HD) standard with a widescreen aspect ratio and 24 frames per second (fps) frame rate. Like in typical Blu-ray releases, you may prefer to have your settings in 1080p and MPEG-4 video codec. Yet, you have other options like a 720p (progressive) video, which offers a slightly lighter HD file resolution, and a .MOV or .WMV video file for your preferred output copy.

Audio Recording

More often than not, a preliminary voice recording is needed for characters with speaking lines. Also referred to as the “scratch voice” recording, this process helps the animator in the timing and movement of a character’s lips during the animation process. Aside from becoming a reference for the actual animation, it is also used to give the filmmaker an idea of the length of the scenes. Sometimes, the scratch voices are even used as final sound elements in the film instead of doing a re-recording of voices during the film’s post-production stage.

Animatics, Actual Animation, and Post-production

Prior to the actual animation, an animatic is done so that the initial storyboard drawings and key audio elements can come together in a very raw animation offer — functioning more like a moving storyboard with sound and/or music. Once done, you proceed with the actual animation.

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