An Overview of the 2D Animation Process

By Michael Jones

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The 2D animation industry has a long and rich history, from old, black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons to the Flintstones of the ’60s to modern-day cartoons like the Simpsons. The magic of animation typically comes together through a collaborative process behind the scenes but can sometimes even be done by just one person at their computer. If you’re interested in learning more, read on for an overview of the 2D animation process.


At the heart of every 2D animation is the seed of an idea. The storyboarding phase is when these ideas come to life, whether they’re original or an adaptation of another medium. During this step, a writer develops a screenplay based on a concept. Animators then create rough sketches of the different sequences from the script. Each drawing is timed to the narrative, resulting in a whole scene.

Once finished, the storyboard will look like a series of comic book frames, depicting characters, actions, dialogue, and other vital features that will be filmed. The rest of the animators reference these storyboards, giving feedback along the way. Once everyone feels comfortable with the final storyboards, animation can begin.

Recording Dialogue

Once the writers and animators complete the storyboard and dialogue, the next step is to record audio. Actors come in to record their lines of dialogue. They will often work with the director to figure out each character’s personality and mannerisms. The actors may even ad-lib lines that illustrators will reflect on later once the animation starts.

Developing Visuals

When the actors finish recording their dialogue, artists create an animatic. The animatic ties voice acting to the storyboard designs. This informs the animators about how the speech and timing interact with the animation. Animators can make more adjustments and edits to the scenes once screened.

Animators compose a model sheet where each figure gets drawn in various postures and perspectives as a guide for the final animations. Then the layout stage begins, in which background illustrators choose camera angles, shading, and lighting.

Animation Begins

Once you finish all these stages, the actual animation can begin. In the early days, this process had to be done entirely by hand, with animators painting each frame. Now, artists animate using computers or digital tablets with specialized software. Some studios hand-ink each drawing, using a pen to write over the cleaned pencil lines. Others, particularly studios with artists who can draw fine pencil lines, will scan the pencils directly into the computer and digitally ink the drawing.


Once every part of the animation has been composed, the animation team will review, edit, and refine the result with any necessary effects. Then it will finally be time to publish the work.

We hope this overview of the 2D animation process was informative. If you’re interested in learning more about the 2D animation process, MoGraph Mentor offers 2D animation training to give you hands-on experience. We have live mentorship and workshops that can teach you the animation fundamentals and help you build up your portfolio.


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