3D Production Pipeline

The 3D production pipeline is a basic outline of the method used to produce a 3D animation.

It roughly consists of:

  • Pre-production
  • Modeling
  • UV Mapping
  • Texturing
  • Rigging
  • Animation
  • Scene Assembly
  • Lighting
  • Rendering
  • Compositioning
  • Editing

This is a basic outline can is not always set out exactly like this. Each of the elements will be explored in further detail in this blog.


During the pre-production stage, the direction of the plot is developed. All the major concepts and ideas for characters, storyboards, style, sets (backgrounds/environments), props, vehicles, scenes, scripts, etc. are all created and processed in the pre-production stage. These concepts are explored through sketching. When working in a team, discussion with partners is crucial in this stage.

Character design is an integral component of the pre-production stage, developing the appearance and features of the characters that will accurately convey the intentions of the animation. The characters then have to bee refined and simplified so that their purposes as characters are achieved while being easy to animate. Model Sheets and Expression Sheets of the characters are made to help the animators maintain  consistency and Character Line-up Sheets help compare the scale of the characters to each other. Expression Sheets help the animators convey emotions in characters.

character multi-views2
Character model sheet

Storyboards are the first opportunity for others to experience the overall impression of the progression of the animation before it enters the production stage. They help to visualize the animation and communicate ideas clearly to other members of the team. The panels of a storyboard are often accompanied by text notes describing the occurrences of the scene, i.e. mood and lighting and camera moves, etc. The storyboard is used as a blueprint to refer back to throughout the production stage.

Brave storyboard
Storyboard for the Disney PIXAR animation Brave

An animatic is like a storyboard slideshow, including the dialogue, sound effects and music. The duration matches that of the intended animation. Animatics demonstrate the intended timing, transitions and sound simultaneously.






3D Modeling

3D modeling is a method for creating digital figures and graphics that seem to have 3 dimensions. This stage takes all of the concepts from pre-production and gives them substance and mass. It is used for creating assets such as: characters, environments, vehicles and props.

3D modeling xbox remote
Video game controller 3D model

There are four main methods of 3D modeling. The first, Primitive Modeling, is the simplest form and uses geometric basics to construct figures. Another method is Polygonal Modeling, which is more advanced. It involves joining lines through positions or vertices within a 3D space to create a flexible polygonal object, but exact curves are not possible. Non-Uniform Rational B-Spline Modeling, allows the user to bend space to create true curves, unlike the Polygonal method. Splines & Patches Modeling is the most advanced and time consuming method using curved lines to recognize and portray the visible surface.

3D modeling remote-controlled car
Remote controlled race car 3D model

There is a multitude of digital software available to chose from, eg. 3DS Max, Maya, Blender and many others. 3D Modeling is the foundation step in the Production phase of the pipeline because it involves creating the assets that all of the other steps in the 3D pipeline rely upon. Once the model is complete, it can be animated directly, without creating further models, unlike traditional 2D methods.