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3D Animation and VFX Pipeline

Updated: Jun 20

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3d animation and VFX pipeline

Wondering about the magic behind the creation of your beloved heroes? Curious about the process that breathes life into dinosaurs, colossal robots, and awe-inspiring superheroes on the silver screen? Well let’s find out here!

In this ebook, we'll explore the 3D and VFX pipelines, which are quite similar but have their own unique aspects. But before we dive into the details, you need to know the differences between :

  • Movie with VFX Production:

  • Full 3D Movie Production:

Then we'll jump into the world of 3D pipelines, where we'll uncover the steps involved in creating awesome 3D effects for both VFX movies and full 3D productions.

VFX movie Production:

VFX movie production typically involves live actors and real-world settings that are filmed first. After the filming is done, 3D animations and visual effects are added during post-production. This process seamlessly blends the real world with digital magic to create amazing visuals. Example: Jurassic park, Star Wars, Game of Thrones.

Full 3D movie Production:

Full 3D movie production involves creating an entire film or TV series using computer-generated imagery (CGI). This means that everything, including the characters, settings, and even the story, is crafted entirely using digital technology. There's no live-action filming involved.

Example: Toys Story, Paw Patrol, Shrek.


VFX Movie Production

In both cases, the goal is to create a captivating and immersive cinematic experience, but the methods differ significantly. Let's take a moment to refresh our understanding of movie production, both with and without VFX.

It is divided in three phases:


Story Development: This is the initial phase where the film's idea is developed into a complete script.

  • Script Writing: Screenwriters write the script, describing the story, characters, and actions.

  • Storyboard: A storyboard is created to visually plan each scene in the film.

  • Artistic Design: Visual artists create artistic concepts for characters, locations, and special effects.

  • Budget Preparation: The film's cost is assessed, and a budget is established.

  • Casting: Actors are chosen for the lead and supporting roles.

  • Hiring the Technical Team: The director of photography, director, production designer, etc., are hired.

  • Location Scouting: Locations for shooting are selected and prepared.

  • Shooting Schedule: A shooting schedule is created to plan shooting days and required resources.

  • Preparation for Special Effects: Plans for special effects are developed, including 3D modeling, animation, etc.


  • Shooting: This is the phase where the film's scenes are shot using real actors and sets.

  • On-Set Special Effects Capture: Elements needed for creating special effects, such as background images or reference elements, are captured during the shoot.

  • Use of Miniatures and Green Screens: Actors may interact with miniatures or green screens to incorporate special visual elements.

  • Audio Recording: Sound is recorded during filming, including actors' dialogue.

  • Cast and Crew Coordination: The director manages the shoot and ensures everything goes as planned.


  • Editing: The shot footage is assembled to create the film.

  • Visual Effects (VFX): Special effects are created using computer tools, including 3D modeling, animation, and compositing.

  • Sound Design: The film's soundtrack is created, including music, sound effects, and audio mixing.

  • Sound Editing: Recorded sound is synchronized with the footage, and dialogue is edited as needed.

  • Color Grading: The film's colors are adjusted to achieve the desired mood.

  • Sound Effects: Special sound effects, such as explosions, monster sounds, etc., are added.

  • Final Editing: The film is finalized, including all visual and sound elements.

  • Quality Check: The film is reviewed to ensure its visual and audio quality.

  • Distribution and Screening: The film is ready for distribution in theaters, on streaming platforms, on television, etc.

So VFX are a part of movie post-production

What about a full 3D animation movie?


Full 3D Movie Production

Since there are no real actors filmed on a set, animating 3D characters becomes an integral part of the production process. (In this case, these 3D characters replace live actors.)

There is still three phases

Pre-production Concept Development: This is the initial phase where the idea for the 3D animation film is developed into a concept or synopsis.

  • Script and Writing: Screenwriters write the film script, detailing the story, dialogues, and actions.

  • Storyboard: A storyboard is created to visually plan each sequence of the 3D animation film.

  • Character Design: Film characters, including their appearance, personality, and animation, are designed.

  • Set Design: Environments and sets for the film are created in 3D.

  • Creation of 3D Assets: 3D models of characters, objects, and locations are created.

  • Voice Casting: Voice actors are chosen to provide voices for the characters.

  • Production Planning: A production plan is established to determine the steps to follow and the required resources.

  • Creation of Animatics: Animated versions of the storyboard help visualize the animation sequence.


  • 3D Modeling: Detailed 3D models of characters, objects, and sets are developed.

  • Rigging: 3D models are equipped with virtual skeletons (rigs) to enable their animation.

  • Animation: Animators create the movements and expressions of the characters.

  • Lighting and Rendering: 3D scenes are lit to create the desired ambiance and then rendered into images.

  • Voice Recording: Voice actors record their dialogues.

  • Visual Effects (VFX): Special effects and unique visual elements are added.

  • Editing: Animated sequences are assembled to form the film.


  • Composite and Compositing: Visual elements, special effects, and sequences are combined into a final composition.

  • Sound Editing: The soundtrack is created, including music, sound effects, and audio mixing.

  • Sound Effects: Special sound effects, such as explosion or magic sounds, are added.

  • Final Editing: The 3D animation film is finalized, including all visual and audio elements.

  • Color Grading: The film's colors are adjusted to achieve the desired ambiance.

  • Quality Check: The film is reviewed to ensure its visual and audio quality.

  • Distribution and Screening: The 3D animation film is ready to be distributed in theaters, on streaming platforms, on television, etc.

So 3D Animation is a part of movie production


What is a pipeline ?

Just as a car is built using a chain process, animation is also a step-by-step building process. We refer to this sequential approach as a”pipeline”.

Pipeline is the chain process. See it like a pipe, raw images and ideas gets in, many ingredients are added, then a finals and beautiful images are getting out.

Vfx pipeline animation 3d cochon chaine de production cinema Animation starter
3D animation pipeline


The initial stage of character creation involves translating a concept into a tangible idea on paper. Typically, this process entails brainstorming and experimenting with different ideas until the ideal design is chosen. The artist's output includes character sheets, which feature multiple views, poses, and expressions of the character.


After the concept artist has generated various character views, the modeler's role is to craft a 3D object that aligns with the character's proportions and appearance. During this phase, careful attention is given to the topology, ensuring that the polygons are strategically placed to facilitate realistic deformations for the character.


In order to animate the character model effectively, the addition of a skeletal structure, akin to a skeleton with both rigid and moving parts, is necessary. The task of constructing this skeletal framework and incorporating controllers for movement falls under the responsibility of the Rigger.

Texture and Shading

This phase involves defining the character's appearance, from color and clothing texture to surface properties like wetness or dryness. The Texture Artist manages the creation of textures and shaders, which control colors, patterns, and surface qualities such as matte or reflective finishes.


To seamlessly integrate a 3D object with the real world, we must synchronize the movement of a CG camera with that of the real camera used on set. The Tracking Artist is tasked with this precision work, as any misalignment could result in the CG object appearing to slide on the ground and shatter the illusion. Perfection in tracking is essential.


The layout artist, create the 3D scene. He import the environment (the tracked scene for vfx movies), he will import all characters and props needed for the scene. And very important, he will set up cameras, cameras animation, and sometimes rough animation to be sure that everything works as it is supposed to be.


The Animator begins their work based on the layout scene. Their responsibilities include animating the characters, props, and occasionally the camera. The primary objective is to achieve the desired animation style, the appropriate level of realism, and convey the intended emotions, all in accordance with the director's vision.

Learn more about Animation here.

Vfx - Simulations

While "VFX" is a broad term, we're focusing here on specific simulations, such as fire, water, particle emission, cloth, hair, and wind simulations. These require clean animations to craft realistic effects, like cloth or hair movements. The artist's job is to ensure that these simulations integrate seamlessly into the scene.


Just as a photographer arranges their studio lights, a CG Lighting Artist follows a similar process. They position 3D lights, adjust their angles, shadows, brightness, and colors. Lighting is a crucial element in establishing the atmosphere and ensuring a seamless match with real-world set lighting. For example, when a CG character interacts with a live actor, the CG lighting must precisely align with the real lighting for a seamless integration.


After completing the previous steps, it's time to create the ultimate CG character output. Rendering involves computationally combining these elements to form a high-quality image. This process can be resource-intensive, especially with complex factors like light interactions, transparency, and refraction. To manage this, we utilize powerful computing resources, known as a "render farm."


After rendering, we have a fantastic CG image, but the CG character must blend seamlessly with the real actor. This is where the compositor comes in. Their role is to bring together all elements, including characters, live-action plates, shadows, and VFX, and skillfully combine them to produce a highly convincing final image.


Once the compositor artist delivers the final shot version, the editor takes over. They cut, blend, craft transitions, add sound, and more to create the ultimate cut of the movie.

Color Grading

You've probably noticed the distinctive green hue in "The Matrix" or the striking orange and turquoise palette in "Mad Max." This final phase defines the movie's color style, providing a unique look. Color grading harmonizes all the shots, creating the beloved visual atmosphere in the films we cherish.

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