How TV Animation Works

The Big Picture

The extended "cast" of "Family Guy," a popular realistic animated sitcom.
The extended "cast" of "Family Guy," a popular realistic animated sitcom.
Photo courtesy Fox Broadcasting Company

The production process for a live action TV show is fairly straightforward. Writers come up with a script, actors perform the script in front of a few cameras and a studio audience, the footage is edited, and the show is ready for broadcast. (This is a simplification, but that's the production process in a nutshell).

Producing an animated television program is a far more laborious process, involving dozens of people working hundreds of hours. In traditional animation, still the standard for animated TV shows, every single frame of an animated show must be drawn by hand. The 20 or so minutes of actual footage that make up a typical half-hour program consists of around 30,000 separate frames.

Typically, a half-hour animated program is the product of a nine-month journey, involving eight major steps:

  • writing the script
  • the table read
  • recording voices and editing the soundtrack
  • creating the storyboard
  • creating the animatic
  • creating the color
  • editing the color
  • adding sound effects and music

In the next few sections, we'll look at each step in the process.