CGI Animation Stages Defined

April 23rd, 2024

Tags: CGI, Pre-Production, Post-Production

Service: 3D Animation


In the realm of modern entertainment, CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) animation stands as a cornerstone of visual storytelling. It has revolutionized the way we perceive cinema, television, and even advertising. But what exactly is CGI animation, and why is it so crucial in the entertainment industry?

What is CGI Animation?

CGI animation involves the creation of animated images with the help of computer software. Unlike traditional animation techniques, which rely heavily on hand-drawn or stop-motion methods, CGI animation brings characters and worlds to life using digital tools.

| Also Read: Difference between CGI & VFX |

Importance of CGI Animation in Entertainment Industry

CGI animation offers unparalleled flexibility and realism, allowing creators to explore fantastical realms and intricate details with ease. Its widespread use in blockbuster films, TV shows, video games, and advertisements underscores its significance in captivating audiences worldwide.

CGI Animation Stages Overview

The process of creating CGI animation can be broken down into three main stages: pre-production, production, and post-production. Each stage plays a crucial role in shaping the final outcome of the animation project.

Pre-production Stage

Before the digital magic begins, meticulous planning and preparation are essential to lay the foundation for a successful CGI animation project.

  • Concept Development: This is where the initial idea for the CGI animation is born. It involves brainstorming concepts, themes, characters, and storylines. Often, this stage includes creating concept art or mood boards to visually represent ideas.
  • Scriptwriting: Once the concept is solidified, the next step is to develop a script. This script outlines the dialogue, actions, and scenes of the animation. It's crucial to have a well-written script as it serves as the blueprint for the entire project.
  • Storyboarding: Storyboarding is the process of visualizing the script into a series of still images. Each image represents a key moment in the animation, helping to plan out the flow of the story, camera angles, and character movements.
  • Character Design: During this stage, characters are designed and finalized. This includes creating concept sketches, defining their appearance, personality traits, and any special features or abilities they may have.
  • Environment Design: Alongside character design, the environments in which the animation takes place are also conceptualized and designed. This includes settings, landscapes, buildings, and any other elements needed to bring the world of the animation to life.
  • Modeling: Once the designs are approved, the next step is to create 3D models of the characters, props, and environments using specialized software. These models serve as the foundation for the animation.
  • Rigging: Rigging involves adding a digital skeleton to the 3D models, allowing animators to manipulate and animate them realistically. This process is essential for giving characters and objects movement and expression.
  • Texturing: Texturing is the process of applying surface detail to the 3D models to make them appear realistic or stylized. This includes adding colors, patterns, and textures to mimic real-world materials like skin, fabric, or metal.
  • Lighting and Rendering: Lighting is crucial for setting the mood and atmosphere of the animation. In this stage, virtual lights are placed within the scene, and rendering software is used to calculate how light interacts with the objects and characters in the scene.
  • Animatic: An animatic is a rough, animated version of the storyboard. It helps to visualize how the final animation will look and allows for any necessary adjustments to timing, pacing, and camera movements before full animation begins.

By completing these pre-production stages thoroughly, the production team can ensure a solid foundation for the CGI animation project, setting the stage for smooth production and a high-quality final product.

Production Stage

Once the groundwork is laid, it's time to bring the concepts to life through modeling, texturing, and rigging.

  • Layout: Once the pre-production phase is complete, the production stage begins with layout. This involves placing the 3D models of characters and environments within the digital scene according to the storyboard and animatic.
  • Animation: Animation is the process of bringing characters and objects to life by creating movement. Animators use keyframe animation, motion capture, or a combination of both techniques to animate the characters' actions and expressions.
  • Simulation: Some animations require simulations for effects like cloth movement, hair dynamics, fluid dynamics, or physics simulations for objects interacting with each other or the environment. These simulations add realism to the animation.
  • Rendering: Rendering is the process of generating the final images or frames of the animation. It involves calculating the lighting, shadows, textures, and other visual effects to create the final, photorealistic or stylized look of the animation.
  • Compositing: Compositing is the stage where all the rendered elements are combined together to create the final frames of the animation. This includes layering different elements, adding visual effects, color correction, and adjusting the overall look of the animation.
  • Sound Design: Sound design involves creating and adding sound effects, dialogue, and music to the animation. This stage enhances the visual experience and helps to convey emotions, actions, and atmosphere.
  • Editing: Editing involves assembling all the scenes of the animation into the final sequence, ensuring that the timing, pacing, and transitions between scenes are smooth and coherent.
  • Quality Control: Before finalizing the animation, it undergoes a rigorous quality control process to check for any errors, inconsistencies, or glitches. This may involve reviewing the animation multiple times, as well as testing it on different devices and platforms.
  • Feedback and Revisions: Throughout the production stage, there are multiple opportunities for feedback and revisions. Producers, directors, and other stakeholders provide input on the animation, and adjustments are made accordingly to ensure that the final product meets the desired vision and standards.
  • Final Output: Once the animation is complete and approved, it is exported into the desired format for distribution. This may include formats for cinema, television, streaming platforms, or other digital media.

By following these steps, the production team can efficiently create a high-quality CGI animation that meets the creative vision and technical requirements of the project.

Post-production Stage

With the animation assets in place, the final stage focuses on refining and polishing the visuals to achieve the desired aesthetic.

  • Editing and Sequencing: In the post-production stage, the final touches are made to the animation. This includes fine-tuning the sequencing of scenes, adjusting transitions, and ensuring that the pacing of the animation flows smoothly from one scene to the next.
  • Color Grading: Color grading is the process of adjusting and enhancing the colors of the animation to achieve a cohesive and visually appealing look. It involves adjusting brightness, contrast, saturation, and color balance to create a consistent mood and atmosphere throughout the animation.
  • Visual Effects: Additional visual effects may be added during the post-production stage to enhance certain scenes or elements of the animation. This could include adding particle effects, explosions, magical effects, or other visual enhancements to make the animation more dynamic and engaging.
  • Sound Mixing: Sound mixing involves balancing and blending all the audio elements of the animation, including dialogue, music, sound effects, and ambient noise. The goal is to create a balanced and immersive audio experience that complements the visuals and enhances the storytelling.
  • Voice Acting and ADR: If necessary, voice actors may be brought in during the post-production stage to record or re-record dialogue for the animation. This process, known as automated dialogue replacement (ADR), ensures that the dialogue is clear, consistent, and synchronized with the animation.
  • Music Composition: Original music may be composed or licensed for the animation during the post-production stage. The music is carefully selected or composed to enhance the emotional impact of key scenes and evoke the desired mood or atmosphere.
  • Final Rendering: Once all the post-production elements are complete, the animation undergoes a final rendering process to generate the high-quality images or frames that will be used for the final output. This may involve rendering the animation at a higher resolution or with additional visual effects for the best possible quality.
  • Quality Control and Review: Before finalizing the animation, it undergoes a thorough quality control process to ensure that all elements meet the desired standards of quality and consistency. This may involve reviewing the animation multiple times, as well as testing it on different devices and platforms to ensure compatibility.
  • Delivery and Distribution: Once the animation is complete and approved, it is exported into the desired format for distribution. This may include formats for cinema, television, streaming platforms, or other digital media. The final animation is then delivered to the appropriate channels for release to the audience.

By following these steps, the post-production team can ensure that the CGI animation meets the highest standards of quality and delivers an engaging and immersive experience to the audience.

Popular Industrial Softwares

Pre-production Stage

Concept Art and DesignAdobe Photoshop, Autodesk SketchBook
StoryboardingToon Boom Storyboard Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro
ScriptwritingCeltx or Final Draft
Character and Environment DesignAutodesk Maya, Blender, Zbrush
Visualization and PlanningAdobe After Effects, Autodesk MotionBuilder
Asset Management and CollaborationTrello or Asana, Shotgun

Production Stage

3D Modeling and AnimationAutodesk Maya, Blender, Maxon Cinema 4D
Rigging and Character AnimationAutodesk Maya, Blender
Texturing and ShadingSubstance Painter, Adobe Substance 3D Suite (Substance Designer, Substance Alchemist), Mari
RenderingPixar RenderMan, Autodesk Arnold, Chaos Group V-Ray
Simulation and EffectsSideFX Houdini, Autodesk Maya (nParticles, Bifrost)
Compositing and Post-ProcessingAdobe After Effects, Foundry Nuke
Project Management and CollaborationShotgun, ftrack

Post-production Stage

Video EditingAdobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, DaVinci Resolve
Color GradingDaVinci Resolve, Adobe SpeedGrade, Autodesk Flame
Visual Effects and CompositingAdobe After Effects, Foundry Nuke, Blackmagic Fusion
Audio Editing and MixingAvid Pro Tools, Adobe Audition, Steinberg Nuendo
Music Composition and ScoringAvid Sibelius, Steinberg Cubase, Logic Pro
Delivery and DistributionAdobe Media Encoder, Apple Compressor

Challenges, Innovations and Future Trends

While CGI animation offers boundless creative possibilities, it also presents unique challenges that push artists and technicians to innovate and evolve.

Technological Advancements

Advancements in hardware and software have revolutionized the field of CGI animation, enabling artists to create increasingly complex and realistic visuals. From advanced rendering techniques to real-time animation tools, technology continues to drive innovation in the industry.

Creative Challenges

Balancing technical precision with artistic expression poses a constant challenge for CGI animators. From capturing subtle facial expressions to crafting dynamic action sequences, every detail must be meticulously crafted to resonate with audiences.

Future Trends in CGI Animation

As technology continues to evolve, the future of CGI animation holds exciting possibilities for realism, immersion, and interactivity.

  • Realism and Immersion: Advancements in CGI technology promise to blur the line between reality and fantasy, creating immersive experiences that transport audiences to new worlds and adventures.
  • Integration with Virtual Reality: The convergence of CGI animation with virtual reality opens up new avenues for interactive storytelling, allowing viewers to step inside their favorite animated worlds and explore them like never before.


CGI animation, positioned as the vanguard of visual narrative, epitomizes boundless creativity, unparalleled realism, and immersive engagement. Every facet of its journey, spanning from the initial conceptualization to the ultimate rendering, intricately weaves together, conjuring the enchanting allure of breathing life into characters and worlds, thereby captivating audiences on the silver screen.