Tutorial 2 - Hand-Drawn Animation: From Animator to Inbetweener

For those interested, this Tutorial walks you through how a hand-drawn animated scene is created, as it's passed from Animator to Assistant to Inbetweener...and then passed through other departments during a traditional "Hand-Drawn" Animation Studio Production.


This image shows a traditional "Animation Disc", which is the drawing surface of an Animator's Drawing Table.  It can be lit from behind to see multiple drawings, and has registration pegs that line up with pre-punched holes in the animation paper. This is how an Animator keeps all their drawings registered in their proper position.In a Traditional Hand-Drawn Animation Studio, once a script is written, audio recorded, and a rough 'Storyboard' is drawn to indicate the action and acting required in a scene.... a typical scene will be created in the following order...




Animator - Starts the Scene, Draws the "Key" Poses of a character, using their knowledge of animation principles, acting, expression and physics, while synching mouth movement and facial expressions with the audio soundtrack.


Assistant Animator - Helps the Animator with their workflow, sometimes helping with additional character animation.  Many Assistants are working towards becoming an Animator, while some choose to Assist permanently, as they like that role in the studio. Assistants put at least one drawing between the animator's drawings to smooth out the action from one pose to another.  They closely follow the "timing charts" designed by the animator. These drawings help to make this 'frame by frame' movement clearer for the Inbetweener to do their job.  An assistant is often required to check the inbetweener's drawings before a final test is shown to the Animator.


Breakdown Artist - Handles similar work as an Assistant Animator when needed, but mostly acts as an advanced inbetweener... usually on the more complicated scenes.


Inbetweener - Completes the remaining drawings in an Animator's scene, following the timing guide on each of the Animator's "Key" drawings.   A proper "inbetween" drawing should match the animator's drawing style, and should be positioned 'inbetween' the other drawings, line for line... matching the timing instructed by the Animator.  if the timing is instructed as "half"...an inbetweener must get all the lines of a character exactly half-way between the lines that make up the other drawings in sequence.  If a drawing is to favour the first pose, the timing will be "one third" or "one quarter" for example..  This is often needed when an action requires the character to increase speed between poses.  Many times a drawing will need to be 'half-way' but also following a natural 'arc' or path of action.  All of this must be considered by the Inbetweener.

In the process... Inbetweeners gain valuable knowledge of timing and posing for animation... and improve their drawing skills while doing a lot of the final drawings in the scenes.  Even in scenes with little movement, there still needs to be a lot of drawings to make the the character appear life-like. By breaking each scene into these stages, it allows the Animator to move on to other scenes, while controlling the quality of the movement as it's passed down the line.


Breaking down a Typical Scene -  Many Feature films have 24 drawings for every second of time in a film.  In this example, the Lead Animator might create drawings #1,  7, 15, 19 and 24... as an example.   The Assistant then puts another drawing between each of these, following the timing charts designed by the animator.  So, for this example the Assistant might create drawings # 4, 9, 12, 17 and 21. The remaining drawings are completed by an "Inbetweener".... so we end up with 24 drawings in the end.  In this example, The Animator made 5 drawings, the Assistant made 5 drawings, and the inbetweener made the remaining 14 drawings.  All of which add up to only One Second of the Final Film.


Visual References - The best way to see visually what I am describing, is to watch any animated feature film, on slow-motion frame by frame.  You will see just how many drawings it takes to make a character move in a believeable way.  A 3-second scene can take as many as 72 drawings. It depends on the production, really.  Sometimes scenes may only require 12 drawings per second, each would be doubled-up on film, to make a full second of time... the final animation is still very believable, but not as smooth, or flowing as a scene that is made up of one drawing for every frame of film. Typically, television animation is made up of 12 drawings per second to keep costs lower.


When all Drawings are Done - Once all the drawings are made, and reviewed by an Assistant or Animator.  The complete scene will be filmed under a 'pencil test' camera, and reviewed by the Animator.  If approved without revisions, the scene will be reviewed by the Film's Director and passed on to the next departments... 


The Departments that follow...


"Clean Up" Department - After a scene is approved, it will move on to the "Clean Up" department... where the skilled artists put the final clean pencil line on the animator's rough drawings, and clean up any details necessary to keep the character consistant from scene to scene.  This department has it's own set of "Lead" to "Inbetweener" positions much like the animation department, and for the same work-flow and training reasons.

"Effects" Department - After a scene is cleaned up, it is scanned, to be reviewed by the director.  After it's approved, it will go to the "Effects Animation" Department, to have everything from cast shadows, to highlights in the eyes or lips, added.  As well as any environmental effects added to the scene... like smoke, water, glow, magic effects etc.  The effects department also has it's own Lead Effects Animators, Assistants and Inbetweeners.

"Ink and Paint Department - With all of these elements created, they will be scanned individually, and proceed to the 'Ink and Paint' department.  This was traditionally a department that literally painted the final images on clear plastic (animation cels), to be placed over a painted background, when filmed under a camera.  However this process is now painted digitally, and allows for much more accurate colour, line-colour and efficiency of production.  The digital 'frames' of film are then composited with the final watercolour backgrounds and all the coloured effects, to create the final scene.


This is the procedure we had at Fox Animation Studios.  Other studios are set up with a similar work flow.  Sometimes on lower budget productions, the 'clean up' work will be done by the assistants and inbetweeners.  Sometimes basic shadows and highlights are drawn by the animators instead of effects animators.  It really comes down to budget, how big the team is, and the style of the animated production.

Hand-Drawn "Classical Animation" is a slow process, that takes dedication and a love of drawing.  The final product, when done well, will come to life and have a soul of it's own... it is a magical form of Art.


- Mike Hogue



Please teach me how to make my line consistent. I'm currently studying as a Trainee of Assistant Animator as a In Betweener & Clean Up artist. I just want to know... please leave me a comment on my tumblr account or on my facebook. @ juriasu37@gmail.com or thisisme37.tumblr.com thank you very much for the info!

Thanks Angela!

Thanks for your nice words, Angela!

I too would love to see Jinx on more merchandise. It's a very competitive market, but I think Jinx would be well suited for many fun toys and fashions.

For now though, I am focussing on my Jinx Project Story, and other related projects.

Please do check here, or jinx's website: www.jinxtheblackcat.com for future updates.



Jinx ~~ New "it" Cat ...

Just wanted to tell you ~ I look forward to seeing more of Jinx in the stores. Including all the stuff you can think of to sell... Stuffed animal, stickers, notebooks and on and on ... Jinx will be the next "hello kitty" ......... CAN'T WAIT !!
Angela Jackson
Auburn Hills, Michigan ....