How to Make an Animated Short Film
Animation is easy to get into but difficult to master. There are as many styles of animation as there are animators, and starting with a short film is a great way to practice animation techniques as you develop your "signature" style. Just like any other film, animation takes time, patience, and a lot of planning to get right, but anyone with a computer can make an animated short film.
Making an Animatic (Pre-Production)
Write out a script.This is often easier said than done, but you need to write down your ideas clearly and give them structure before you start working. Unlike in live action, it is almost impossible to "improvise" an animated film, as it simply takes too long animate everything. You can use a simple Word document or script writing software like Celtx, Writer Duets, or Final Draft. Your script doesn't need dialog, but it does need:
- A theme.What is the "point" of the short film? This doesn't need to be grand, profound, or complicated. It can be anything from "the loss of childhood innocence," or "boredom is a state of mind," to "I want to make people laugh with this joke." Think of it as a guiding principle for your film.
- Characters.What will hold the attention of your audience? This can be anything from a person or an animal to a squiggly line, like the Oscar-winning short "The Dot and the Line: A Romance."
- Visuals.Where does the short take place? What's the mood, or atmosphere? A screenplay needs to tell the story of the short in full so it can be used as a blueprint for future work.
A beginning, middle, and end.This sounds obvious, but that's the point -- almost all stories are told in three specific, delineated parts, or acts. This doesn't mean youmusthave a three-act story, or even "characters." You do, however, need to think out the "action" of the short film before moving forward.
- Act 1 introduces the characters and a problem (they're hungry, the world is ending, boy has a crush on someone, etc.)
- Act 2 complicates the story/problem (All the stores are closed, the bad guy might win, the person has a boyfriend already, etc.).
- Act 3 provides resolution to the problem (they find a sandwich shop, they save the world, the boy meets another person, etc.)
Sketch character models.Before starting to animate, you need to know what your characters are going to look like. Sketch them in a variety of poses, costumes, and expressions to get a feel for what they will look like. Remember that a character can be anything in an animated film, from a bear to a pair of salt & pepper shakers. Still, you want to develop your characters ahead of time so that they look consistent when you animate them.
Draw up a storyboard.Storyboards are individual drawings for every bit of action in the script and are used in the production of almost every film -- animated or otherwise. They are both simple and comprehensive, as you need one for every change you want in the film. They do not, however, need background detail or color, unless it is essential to the story. You can find and print a variety of , or draw your own. Each frame of the storyboard has two parts:
- The Image:In a rectangular box, draw the principal action of the shot, ignoring background images for now. You can also draw notes or arrows to indicate movement.
- The Dialogue.Underneath the shot, write down what needs to be said in the shot, the proposed length of the shot, and any effects (zoom in, shaky camera, etc.)
Import your storyboard into a filmmaking program, saving each frame individually.Once you have your shots planned out, import them into your computer. Make sure to name them appropriately (Act1.Scene1.Shot1.jpg, for example). When you're done, import them all into your film editing software (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Final Cut Pro, Adobe AfterEffects, etc.) and put them in the correct order.
- Adobe AfterEffects or Premier are considered the industry standards, but you can use whatever program you are most comfortable with.
Use your storyboard to make a timed slideshow, or animatic.Animatics are the rough cuts of animation -- they get the pace and rhythm of the short together and allow you to to get the timing right for your final short. This sounds complicated, however, they are really just slideshows with proper timing. Put the images of the storyboard in order on your editing software and extend, cut, and play with them until you have a "rough" cut of the final film.
- You can find examples of animatics online, like the animatic for the music video "Feel Good Inc." as well as some Pixar animatics.
- Almost all animated movies are made into animatics first. Otherwise you risk spending hours fully animating a scene that needs to change, get longer or shorter, or get deleted.
Add the dialog and sound effects and adjust the timing of the animatic as needed.Once you have your rough timing down, it's time to pre-record the dialog. This doesn't have to be perfect, and you can even fake the sound effects with your mouth and hands if you want. What matters is the timing. Do you have enough time in the "shot" to get all the words out? Extend or shorten the length of your slides as necessary.
- The closer you can get the dialog to perfect, the better, as most good voice acting requires proper timing. That said, now is not the time to worry about the finer details of voice acting. You need to get your animatic together before moving on to full production.
Review your animatic as if it were the final film.The final animatic should tell the full story of your film, minus the trappings of color, backgrounds, and details.
Consider purchasing a tablet.Tablets are small computer pads that come with an electronic pen, allowing you to "draw" straight into your computer. Drawing well with a mouse is nearly impossible, and unless you plan on small projects or stop-motion work, you will almost definitely need a tablet.
Animating your Film (Production)
Determine your animating medium.This usually depends on your expertise and hardware. For example, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a beginner with an older computer to make 3D animations like Pixar. There are many, many animating software and styles, and all of them have intricacies and techniques unique to the software.
- 2D Animation:This is the classic cartoon, hand-drawn look. The characters are flat line drawings. Originally, they were drawn frame by frame, but now there is a variety of software that makes the process much faster, such as Synfig, Pencil2D, ToonBoom, or even Adobe Photoshop. Traditionally, you use 12-24 drawings per second of film.
- 3D Animation:Similar to the models used in video games and movies likeToy StoryandShrek,3D animation is much harder to master. You make models of the characters and code movement into them, making 3D animation a sort of artistic/coding hybrid. You also need to add lighting and textures. 3D software can used, yet it takes a long time and requires software like AutoDesk, Poser Pro, Aladdin, or Sketchup. Most 3D animation is the result of large teams working together.
- Stop-Motion:So simple anyone can do it, stop-motion is when you use real-life figures or drawings and take a picture after every small movement. When the pictures are played back to back at high speeds, it looks like movement. It is incredibly time-consuming, however, as you often need upwards of 12 photosper-secondof footage to make it look smooth. You can use cut-outs, clay models, individual drawings, or real people to make it.
- Rotoscoping:A niche form of animation found in films likeA Scanner Darkly,rotoscoping is animating on top of conventionally shot films. You will need a tablet, and you go through the footage frame by frame, using the live video as a guide for drawing the characters. The result is a realistic, but still animated, look.
Draw out your backgrounds.Start with your settings, as the characters are superimposed on them. The background should be everything that the charactersdo not interact with,as anything that moves needs to be animated. The background should be a big drawing and scanned in at high resolution. This allows you to "zoom in" on certain sections without distortion. For example, if you have two characters talking in a cafe, you want to draw the whole cafe behind them. But you may want the "camera" to focus in on each character as they talk individually. Instead of redrawing the background behind him, you can copy and paste a smaller section of your detailed background for "close ups."
Sketch, model, or design your "key poses."What are the essential poses of your characters, or defining actions each one makes, in the scene? Think of these as the "destinations" for each piece of movement. Take, for example, a character winding up for a punch. You could break this down into three "key poses," each of which needs to be drawn and saved separately.
- Key Pose 1 = Resting. It could be a face of surprise, anger, or determination, or simply the character with its hands at its sides.
- Key Pose 2 = Winding Up. How does the character cock their arm back? Don't worry yet about the movement to get to this position, just draw out them with their arm back and ready to release.
- Key Pose 3 = The Follow Through. Where does the character end up right after the punch? Their arm will be exposed and their body likely follows through. Again, you want the final pose, not the frames as the hand goes through.
- The more key poses you draw, the more complex the movement will be. For example, you can add keyframe sof the character looking shocked, balling into a fist, dropping their elbow, swinging their arm, punching, then spinning around on the follow through.
Draw out the "in-between" frames.Take the punch for example -- how do you get from key to key? There is some advanced software that will do this for you -- once you've made character models, the software will "render" the movement in between for you. However, if you are just starting out, you'll likely need to draw your own frames by hand. The more frames you draw, the smoother the action will look.
- It can help to put your keyframes on the screen as guides. This helps you see where you need to get the characters, and where they started.
- If something doesn't move, don't bother re-drawing. Copy and paste the keyframe, erase the part that needs to move, and keep everything else where it was.
Composite the footage.Composting is just a fancy way to describe stringing the movie together. This can be as simple as ordering all the frames for stop-motion or as complicated as rendering a 3D model with accurate lighting. Again, your method of animation will determine how you composite something:
- For 2D animators, compositing is about making the motion looks smooth. Software like ToonBoom will do this for you, and may be called "rendering."
- For 3D animators, know that this takes a long time. Lighting effects and textures are difficult to program, and even the fastest computers may take hours to composite a video.
- For stop-motion animators, you should play with frame length, adjusting the shots by a tenth or hundredth of a second to get smooth, fluid motion.
Finishing Your Film (Post-Production)
Record any dialog for the final movie.Now that you have the nearly-finished animation, it's time to get the vocals just right. Your voice actors can see the final scene, their characters' expressions, and the timing you want in your final shot. This allows them (or you) to deliver the best vocal performance.
- Note that, at this point, any changes to the animation might be very time-consuming to make. This is why careful pre-production is essential to an animated film of any length.
Add in sound-effects where appropriate.Sound effects should come after the voice actors, and tuned to the appropriate volume where they don't overpower the dialog. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. For example, if there is an explosion the characters need to react to, it may be best to put it in first, before recording dialog. This helps the actors out with reactions.
- Sound mixing is an important, and subtle, art form. Invest in a good pair of headphones and/or speakers to fine tune all the volumes correctly.
Cut the film into your final vision.Now that you've got the whole movie together, how does it hold up? The chances are that some of the transitions feel clunky and a scene or two goes longer than it should. Just like you would edit any live-action film, you need to turn a critical eye to your animated piece and polish it until it sparkles. While there is no "correct" way to edit a film, there are a couple of principles to keep in mind:
- Do any scenes feel quick and essential? Do you feel engaged the whole time? Does a specific line or shot help move the story or theme along? If the answer to any of these questions is no, start trimming. Oftentimes the first and last lines of dialog are inessential, as jumping straight into/out of a scene is usually more engaging. Every frame counts when editing.
- Watch the film with someone who is distant from the project. Were there parts the got bored? Did anything confuse them or need more time? How can you cut and trim your story to make it as gripping as possible?
- How do the scene flow together? Sometimes 2-3 seconds of background footage helps the viewer catch their breath and dive into the next scene before dialog starts.
Add your polishing touches, like effects, transitions, and color correction.For example, if you want an old-time, sepia tint to your movie, add it last. These sorts of small changes are unnecessary while you are trimming, cutting, and building your movie. Moreover, they will be useless if you cut the scene or change the color scheme. All these minute touches need to come last, once you're sure the "meat" of the movie is done.
- Add wipes, dissolves, or fade-ins to the scene transitions.
- Add any filters or effects over the finished footage.
- Add titles and credits to the beginning and end as necessary, at the very end.
QuestionDoes the storyboard become part of the film?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe storyboard is just a rough sketch to convey your idea. Since you will probably have your movie acted out, filmed and editied, the storyboard itself won't be part of the movie.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are some examples of free animation software?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerBlender is a great free 3D software with a supportive and talented community.Thanks!
QuestionCan you suggest where to get those special sound effects?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnsweriMovie is a free software that comes with a fair selection of BGM and a larger selection of sound effects.Thanks!
QuestionCan I get iMovie on an iPad Mini?GregcornCommunity AnswerYes. Just go to the app store and search for "iMovie." Once it is downloaded, tap on the app, and it will lead you through a tutorial on the software.Thanks!
QuestionWhat app can I download to make a mini movie?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnsweriMovie is a great app for making mini movies and clips.Thanks!
QuestionWhich is the best software to animate my own movies?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnsweriMovie is good for short films involving stop motion. However, they are lacking in sound FX.Thanks!
QuestionWhere can I find an animation editing software?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFilmora is a really good website.Thanks!
QuestionCan you make an animated movie using only iMovie?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can.Thanks!
QuestionAre there websites that I can use to make a mini film?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerI used to make short animated presentations in school on goanimate.com. It's free to use up to a certain amount of time.Thanks!
QuestionIs iMovie available on a Kindle Fire 6 mini?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, it isn't, although that may change sometime in the future.Thanks!
Are there any websites that are free and I can use to make an animated short film? What apps can I use for free to make an animated short film?
- Work in small chunks for the best results -- a scene, an action, etc. -- and then build them together later.
- Take your time in pre-production. It will save a lot of headaches later.
- Make a test film, no more than 20-30 seconds, if you are just starting with a new software. This helps you learn the program and the challenges before diving into your vision.
- Don't expect perfection in your first few films. Animation takes a lifetime to master.
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Video: How to Make a short Animated Film
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