What is a 3D Animation Layout and why does it matter?

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After exploring the design stage in 3D animation, we’ve pretty much summed up the pre-production phase of the 3D animation pipeline. Now, it’s time to step into the production phase and see what happens in a 3D animation studio when all pre-production efforts are about to be brought to fruition. The first step in the production phase would be the 3D animation layout which is closely related to the animatic by nature. The 3D animation layout process can begin as soon as proxy geometries of the final models are ready; in basic shapes but with the right scales. Therefore it can even begin in the pre-production stage and continue into post-production.


What is the layout in animation?

Layout in 3D animation is basically a 3D version of the animatic in low res with proxy models. A proxy model is a basic representation of the final 3D model with the right shape and size, used to demonstrate the story visually. Proxy models plus basic information such as character movements or directions is all that’s needed to start the layout process. It is the first step in production, in which the layout artists decide what will be on the screen based on the storyboard and/or animatic and instructions from the director.

The following video is an example 3D animation layout by Dream Farm Animation Studios:

Below you can see the final version of the above 3D layout at the end of the pipeline:


Check out our newly published article about shape theory to get a feel for how layouts are nuanced in the animation pipeline.

Animation layout, why do we use it for 3D animation? 

The 3D layout might seem very basic at first but becomes very useful throughout the rest of the pipeline. Another point worth mentioning is that 2D animatic is often cheatable in terms of character scale, perspective or distance. But cheating these properties in a 3D layout is not that easy. That’s why 3D animation layout is a crucial component in 3D animation production.

Generally speaking:

  • The 3D layout allows the director to adjust the composition of each shot in action.
  • As the project moves forward, the 3D layout will develop too: rough animation takes will be gradually replaced with the finals.
  • The final voice-over or music score can also be added; if not used already.
  • The process of development will go on until the 3D layout becomes the new guide for the rest of the 3D animation production.
  • Complex camera movements that cannot be easily portrayed in a storyboard or 2D animatic can be adjusted in a 3D layout.
  • Many other components of the production stage can get started sooner with a 3D layout; layout artists will later begin adding major and minor final props to the environments.


What does a 3D layout artist do in an animation studio?

The job of a layout artist in computer-aided animation is similar to a cinematographer in live-action. The layout team can prepare several versions of each scene to give the director and editorial team options when putting the final product together.

They start with an animation storyboard or animatic in close collaboration with the director. Layout artists take the prepared material from pre-production and begin creating the shots in a 3D environment using proxy models and environments.

Sometimes layout artists roughly animate a character or at least make it move from one place to another; to give the animators a starting point from which they can fully flesh out the characters’ movements and expressions. In fact, the character animation done at this stage is very basic and temporary, but the camera moves made by a layout artist will usually find their way to the final animation.


Some responsibilities of a layout artist in a 3D animation studio

A layout artist’s position in a 3D animation studio is really demanding and needs a comprehensive understanding of different subject areas like cinematography, lighting, blocking, acting, animation, etc. Above all, powerful imagination and creativity are among the most important qualities of a layout artist.

The number and nature of tasks referred to a 3D layout artist can be slightly different in each 3D animation studio but they are usually responsible for the following:

  • Translating storyboards and animatics into the 3D layout
  • Preparing proxy assets
  • Composing shots in 3D
  • Staging and blocking
  • Positioning or animating the camera
  • Camera finessing at animation stage (if required)
  • Maintaining visual and technical quality, style, and continuity throughout the project
  • Loading pieces and characters into the shot
  • Putting the characters in key poses to define actions and movements



After the pre-production phase of the 3D animation pipeline is successfully over, it’s time to step into production. The 3D animation production phase starts with the layout stage which is basically a 3D version of the animatic.

The 3D layout looks like a primitive version of the final product at first but is hugely useful and will develop throughout the rest of the pipeline. It lets the director adjust each shot’s composition in action. The development of the 3D layout will go on until it becomes the new guide for the rest of the 3D animation production. This stage paves the way for the next step of the 3D animation pipeline: 3D modeling.

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arash naghdi
Arash Naghdi

Arash is the equivalent of Buzz in Toy Story when he goes to infinity and beyond, but never comes back! responsible for our blog and content marketing efforts, he always delights the audience with his tenacity and passion in creating the extraordinary.

Payam Adib

Creating "something"​ out of "nothing"​ is the greatest joy for Payam. He believes content creation is the offspring of his innate characteristics including his never-ending thirst for painting, poetry, photography, music, and writing.

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3 years ago

I need to add that a lot of artists execute 3d animation layout in pre production and some in production. It all depends on the end result and what the animation is going to be about.

3 years ago

Awesome tips and tricks thank you very much. very short and to the point.

3 years ago

Can we have 2d layout for a 3d animation or should it be 3d too?

3 years ago

I would say 3d layout that is done in feature films is pretty much different from other forms of animation.

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