lighting a character

How Animated Films Get Made

Have you ever thought about working on animated films?

Making an animated film like Toy Story or Trolls is a complex process with major similarities AND differences from live-action movies.

For example, you might not think of using a “camera” or “lighting” a world that exists entirely on a computer screen, but that’s exactly what animators do.

Storyboarding in Animated Films

Like in live action films, story comes first in animation. But to make a film like Toy Story or The Incredibles, studios need more than a script – they need storyboards.

Filmmakers sketch out every shot in with a storyboard – a kind of visual rough draft of what the film will look like.

From there, concept art and character design begin. Check out this Insider guide for more:

Some artists focus solely on storyboarding – perhaps it’s the path for you!


In animated films, lighting helps transform characters into realistic-looking humans. But lighting is also an essential component of the film’s emotional journey.

Check out this YouTube guide from Insider about why lighting 3D animated films is especially complicated:

Lighting artists use ray tracing, a computer rendering method in which the virtual camera shoots out a light-sensing ray until the light hits an object in the scene. The light then goes through certain objects and bounces off others.

Another options is path tracing, when multiple rays are sent out at once.


Another department you may haven’t heard of in animated films is called Surfacing.

Surfacing is exactly what it sounds like – creating the surfaces of characters, objects and environments in animated films.

Surfacing artists work on both texturing and shading, painting models to make them look realistic. Whether it’s a shiny plastic box or a person’s skin, the surfaces begin to come alive once surfacing is finished.

Which animated film department would you be most interested in working on?

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