3D Animation Pipeline: 9-Step Guide 2023

the process of 3d animation pipeline

Creating a 3D animation may look easy on the eyes but it is not easy at all. A number of people have to work very hard to come up with a good animation. The process is difficult, time-consuming and needs experts at each step. 

In order to push such a tough task forward meticulously an animation studio needs to have a proper 3D animation pipeline and animation experts as well. However, not many animation studios are aware of this process. So, let’s dive a little deeper and let us tell you 9 simple steps of the 3D animation pipeline and help you make an informed decision.  

What is a 3D Animation Pipeline? 

An animation pipeline is a systematic and structured process that outlines the steps and stages involved in creating an animation, whether it’s 2D, 3D, or any other form. It is like a roadmap that consists of artists, software and animators, who turn a simple idea into an animation.  

In simple terms, an animation pipeline is like a production factory where different people are assigned different tasks. The complex process of production is made simple through this pipeline by distributing complex tasks into simple manageable ones. 

Main Components of 3D Animation Pipeline 

Before diving into the 9 main concepts of the 3D animation pipeline it should be made clear that there are three major steps which are followed by animation studios. 

  1. Pre-production 
  2. Production 
  3. Post-production 

The nine steps which we are going to explore are part of these three major steps. So, let’s move forward and explore the 9 steps one by one. 

1. Conceptualization: Breathing Life into Ideas

the conceptualization, the first step in 3d animation pipeline

Before starting any animation project, be it a short animated film, an advertisement or any other kind of animation you need to have a proper idea in your mind. 

Once you have got the idea you need to come up with a proper plan and some steps to convert that idea into reality or animation. So, let’s see what these steps are. 

Sketching the Initial Vision

Every animation begins with a spark of inspiration. Artists and animators collaborate to sketch initial concepts, capturing the essence of characters, environments, and the story’s core.

Let us suppose that an animator is working on a story revolving around a robot. Before moving forward the animator would try different versions of the same robot and come up with a version that best suit the storyline. 

Storyboarding the Narrative

Storyboarding follows as scenes are illustrated in sequence. This provides a visual blueprint, enabling the team to map out the narrative’s progression.

If we move forward with the same robot, storyboarding would be like making the robot discover new things or venture into different adventures etc. 

Defining Characters and Environments

Characters and environments are then refined, shaping their appearances and personalities. This stage lays the foundation for what’s to come.

For the story and characters to look more realistic both the animation and the environment have to be refined. It means that they have to be realistic and it is the work of the animator to make them look so. 

1. Technical Expertise and Innovation

At the heart of every exceptional 3D animation studio lies a team of highly skilled professionals. These individuals possess a deep understanding of animation software, modelling techniques, lighting, and texturing.

Always opt for companies that are innovative and can come up with unique ideas for your project. For that, you can check the previous work of these companies and get an idea of how innovative they are. 

2. Modelling: Creating the Virtual Framework

the process of modelling in 3d animation pipeline

The 3D modelling stage brings concepts to life in a virtual space. Artists meticulously sculpt characters, props, and scenery, ensuring precision and detail.

Modelling is one of the most important steps in the 3D animation pipeline. It is the step where animators create three-dimensional images, scenes or characters using different software. 

The models are constructed using mathematical equations and geometric shapes. After this process is done the models are moved forward to the next step which is texturing and rigging. 

1. Texturing

Texturing is the process of applying different textures (colours and surface properties) to 3D models. Before the process of texturing the 3D models are in a rough shape and texturing is done to make them look more realistic and catchy. 

2. Rigging

Rigging adds a virtual skeleton to models, enabling movement. This step is crucial for articulating lifelike motion in characters and objects. Without rigging it would be impossible to make the moment of animations look realistic. 

3. Animation: The Dance of Motion

animation is the third step in the pipeline for making a full animation

Animation is the most important and time-consuming process in this whole pipeline. It is the process of making the 3D objects and models move in a scene. The process of animation is further divided into three main steps. 

  1. Keyframing
  2. Refining with Secondary Motion
  3. Facial Animation

1. Keyframing

Keyframing involves placing essential motion markers. Animators refine these keyframes to create fluid, dynamic movement. Without keyframes, the motion of the characters would be unrealistic. 

2. Refining with Secondary Motion

Secondary motion adds realism by incorporating subtler movements like swaying hair or clothing, enhancing the overall believability of the animation.

3. Facial Animation

Animating facial expressions and lip sync gives characters emotion and voice, deepening the audience’s connection to the story. A character who does not speak is not likely to be appreciated by the audience. 

So, the facial animation does exactly that and gives the animation a more realistic look and feel. 

4. Lighting and Shading: Setting the Mood

Lighting is an art form in itself. It sets the tone, mood, and ambience of a scene, guiding the viewer’s focus and enhancing the storytelling.

Lighting has the capacity to change the overall mood of the animation. If the lighting is not good enough in any animation it does not look good at all. 

The lighting artist chooses from a number of lighting options to set the tone according to the scene and overall aesthetic of the animation. 

5. Rendering: From 3D to 2D

the process of rendering for animation

Rendering transforms 3D scenes into 2D images or videos. It’s a resource-intensive step that demands powerful hardware and software.

It involves calculating the colours, shadows, reflections, and other visual elements to create a realistic or stylized representation of the 3D scene. Rendering is a crucial step in turning raw 3D data into a visually appealing and comprehensible image or animation.

6. Post-Processing: Adding the Final Flourish

After the rendering process your animation would be almost ready. But to make it look realistic and eye-catching there are certain steps which are to be followed. 

First of all, there is colour grading and then comes sound design. To make things easier for you let’s further explain these points. 

1. Color Grading for Visual Cohesion

Colour grading unifies the animation’s palette, enhancing continuity and emotional resonance throughout the story. 

The animation has a number of characters and different scenes and not all of them look alike. This makes the animation a bit unrealistic. So make sure that the animation looks the same from start to finish colour grading needs to be done in a proper manner. 

2. Sound Design: Sonic Atmosphere

Sound design complements visuals, introducing auditory elements that immerse the audience in the animation’s world.

The goal of sound design is to make the animation feel more vivid and realistic by using auditory cues. Just as visuals create a sense of space and atmosphere, sound design creates a “sonic atmosphere” that helps transport the audience into the world being portrayed. 

This can evoke emotions, enhance storytelling, and add an extra layer of engagement to the overall experience.

7. Editing: Weaving the Story Together

editing for animation using a modern software

In the editing phase, individual animation sequences are arranged to ensure a cohesive and engaging storyline. This step includes combining different pieces together and making an animation that has a certain storyline. 

The process of editing includes. 

1. Fine-Tuning Transitions

Smooth transitions between scenes maintain the narrative’s flow, guiding viewers seamlessly through the unfolding story. Animation is a big thing you may have noticed that if the transitions are not good even in a small video it looks awful. 

So in order to make sure that the animation looks good, smooth transitions are very important.

2. Synchronizing Sound and Visuals

Precise synchronization of sound effects and music heightens the emotional impact, making the animation come alive. If your animation is doing something else and the sound in the background is making a voice of its own it would look awful. 

8. Review and Feedback: Iterative Refinement

People often ignore reviews and feedback but they are one of the most important aspects of any 3D animation project. You can take feedback from the general public and from the stakeholders as well. 

These reviews will give you a good idea about the shortcomings in the animation and you can certainly improve the quality for future endeavours. Feedback will also let you know what mistakes you have been making and you can do other projects in a much better way. 

9. Final Output: From Frames to Animation

After all the hard work put into conceptualizing, modelling, animating, and refining the 3D animation, the time comes to transform the individual frames and scenes into a cohesive and captivating animation. This stage involves the following key steps:

1. Exporting the Masterpiece

At this stage, the animation is prepared for its final presentation. The digital files containing the 3D models, textures, animations, and other elements are compiled and organized into a format suitable for sharing and distribution.

2. Distributing Across Platforms

Once the animation is ready, it’s time to decide where it will be showcased. Animations can be shared on various platforms, including television, film, online streaming services, social media, and websites.

3. Sharing the Vision with the World

This is the moment when the animation is finally revealed to the world. Whether it’s a short film, a commercial, a video game cutscene, or any other form of animated content.

Why 3D Animation Pipeline is Important? 

why do you need to have an animation pipeline

3D animation is a time-consuming and complex process and to work seamlessly you need to have a pipeline. If you are not following certain steps things can get a bit confusing and you can end up making an awful animation instead of a good one. 

Some of the main benefits of using a 3D animation pipeline are. 

1. Efficiency 

If you are following a proper pipeline or a proper pattern in other words animation becomes much easier. On the other hand, if you have just jumped on the bandwagon without any plan things can get messier. 

2. Budget Management 

A proper pipeline also makes budget management much easier. You exactly know who is doing which work and how much work. That way you have an idea of how much the budget is needed for the project. If you are not following a proper pipeline then allocating money can be a challenge. 

3. Streamlined Workflow

A pipeline distributes the work properly and everyone knows what needs to be done on his/her part. In this way, the workflow is much more organized and streamlined. 


The 3D animation pipeline is a symphony of creativity and technology, where imagination takes form through meticulous craftsmanship. From initial concepts to final distribution, each stage weaves together to create captivating animations that enrapture audiences worldwide.


What are the steps in the 3D pipeline?

The steps include modelling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, compositing, and editing.

What is the best CPU for 3D animation 2023?

CPUs like AMD Ryzen 9 5950X or Intel Core i9-12900K are great choices for 3D animation tasks.

How to make a 3D animation step by step?

Steps involve concept development, pre-production planning, modelling, rigging, animation, texturing, lighting, rendering, compositing, and post-production.

What are the steps in the animation production pipeline?

The pipeline comprises concept and script development, storyboarding, layout and previsualization, modelling and rigging, animation, texturing and lighting, rendering, compositing, editing, and final output.


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