How I Animate by Hand

I recently finished Seed’s fourth animated short film. It was our third project for one of our most interesting new clients, The School of Life, a UK based company founded by one of my favourite authors, Alain de Botton.

So far my animations have been hand-drawn, which means that my process is somewhat different to a purely digital animator. I thought I’d share how I work to reveal how my animations are brought to life.

I’d like to note that what follows is very much my personal process and may very well differ from the creative process of other animators. There are lot of factors that affect how one works, such as the client brief, timeline, budget and creative parameters. Please keep this in mind as you read.

The script

Projects begin when we receive a script from a client. It may include a voiceover already, or we may have to organise the recording of one ourselves. For the sake of this article, let’s imagine that the client has included the voice-over.

Reaction Meeting

The script is sent to everyone in our team. I then schedule a meeting which I call ‘a reaction’. This is essentially a meeting where the team shares their initial reaction to the script and the voiceover. I find that the reaction meeting helps kick start projects and serves as a productive first step for on the mountain of work awaiting me as the animator.

During the reaction meeting I encourage the team to hold nothing back. We share ideas freely and without judgement. We discuss images that come to mind, feelings we have, themes and colours. We might even talk about sounds or propose entire stories if they occur to us. I take notes, listen and also reveal my own reaction. The purpose of this meeting is to get the initial reaction out of everyone and initiate the creative process.

Brainstorming and research

With the reaction meeting out of the way I initiate the formal brainstorming process. I sometimes rope in someone on our team – most recently our latest addition, Esther – to help me. What follows is three to four (or more depending on the project timeline) days of brainstorming and research.

Brainstorming and research is hard work. It may sound easy, but it’s a head-scratching process that involves a lot of silence, staring into space, and feelings of despair. After all, it’s during this stage that you choose your colour palette, tone, visual narrative and style. Once these aspects of an animated film are established, you’re essentially locked in. So it’s important to be considerate and choose your creative direction carefully.


The storyboard is what I like to tackle after I settle on my creative direction. I have created storyboards on paper before, but most recently I have enjoyed creating storyboards in a very rough Photoshop project. I add the voiceover to my timeline and time the shots accordingly. This provides me with something of a rough film and proves to be immensely helpful once I begin animating.

I use the storyboarding process not simply to come up with angles. I use it to build on the visual story itself.

While storyboarding I also establish a visual language to ensure my animation is consistent. I make sure my choice of angles and shots is not random, but rather intentional and thought out. I play the story over in my head using the shots I draw and revise over and over again until I’m happy with the final storyboard.

Storyboarding is a vital when it comes to preparing your animation as it functions as the blue print for whatever you intend on creating. It’s the North star of your story, guiding you forward. Without a storyboard, the animation process can be exausting as one can spend a great deal of energy simply trying to come up with ideas.

Once the storyboard is complete I begin animating.


There are a variety of programs you can use to make your animated short, but for my hand-drawn animation I like to use Adobe Photoshop.

I open a new project, create a timeline and begin the time-consuming process of drawing and colouring.

If I want to add camera movement or any other effects, I save specific shots in Photoshop and import the PSD files into Adobe After Effects.


With the animation complete, I render a video of the project in Photoshop. I then might apply an effect to the entire project, such as a texture or jiggle effect, in After Effects. After rendering the project and individually juiced shots in After Effects I import everything into Adobe Premiere where I edit the shots together, add the voice over and finally add any music or sound design if it’s available.

I export the project to produce an .mp4 file which I then upload to our client’s folder on our Google Drive.

The video is then shared with the client.