Pre-Production in 5 Easy Steps

From making a paper flip book to storyboarding, the more you plan with your students, the more efficient and effective they will be when they finally get down to using the animation software.

Step 1: Introducing animation as a concept and genre


Elementary Students Secondary Students
What animations do you know? What is animation?
What do you watch? Which is your favourite? What animated works are on your 'playlist'? What do you watch? Which is your favourite?
How do you know that something is an animation?
Be a detective: What are the clues?
What makes animation different from other genres, or types of media?
What makes a good animation, in your opinion? What are the different elements of an animation? What do you typically find in an animation?
What are the different parts of an animation? How does animation fit into multi-genre series, such as X-Men or other superhero series?
  Where else do you find animation?


Show students animation samples - professional and student-made. We have a selection on our Inspiration page (go to page), and some avenues for finding your own on our Teacher Planning (go to page) page.


Make a brainstorm poster of all the animation they can think of: movies, cartoons, etc.

Make a real paper flip book.

Younger students will especially benefit from making a real tactile flip book using paper (yellow sticky notes make it easy) and a dark marker. It will teach them better than any explanation the idea behind animation and how you can get your ideas across using the animation medium.

You can make one to show them, or you can make a short one while they watch you. Each student can work on a very simple flip book of a bouncing ball, a flying butterfly, a buzzing bee, etc. Their books will allow you to see whether your students understand the concept of animation before adding the layer of technology. Although especially recommended for younger students, we think that all students should go through this step.

For more, read Wired's article on flipbooks as an alternative to business cards. Go to site

Step 2: Story Development

An animation project begins with a story. Students decide on what their story will be, and tell the story either by writing it down, telling the teacher or recording their voice. In the media industry, this type of document is called a treatment. Go to site

Students from Cycle 3 elementary onwards can tell a story with a message, and that message can also be described in the treatment. The treatment will help students focus on their story during the next step: storyboarding.
Some students who struggle with writing might be happier creating their storyboard and then describing it in the treatment.

Animation Treatment (elementary) - Download

Animation Treatment (secondary) - Download

Step 3: Storyboarding

We cannot repeat this enough - do not skip this part! Your students MUST make a storyboard before beginning their animation on the computer. The storyboarding process will ensure that they have thought through their story or message and that they have identified all the things that will go into making the final animation. You can use a plain 9 panel storyboard, or one that is more scaffolded. You can also choose to use sticky notes which will allow your students to change their minds and move panels around if they need to.

When storyboarding for animation, students have to think about what is moving and what is not in each scene. This will make it easier to plan out the different pieces of the animation using the animation software. The first storyboard below has students colour code for movement. Arrows are also a useful way of showing movement and where it is happening.

Animation Storyboard - Download

Two Generic Storyboards - Download

Generic 4x3 Storyboard Template - Download

Step 4: Script and Soundtrack

If you are planning an animation with no audio, or just background music, you can skip this part, or come back to it later.
Once the storyboard is complete, students can focus on writing a script for what the characters are saying, as well as a soundtrack for the various noises that will help tell the story. Some students might find it easier to write the script first, before making their storyboard. This is entirely up to you. If you use the Animation storyboard (above), there is space for students to fill in the audio track with script and sounds.

It is important that you use music and soundtracks that have been properly licensed for re-use so you do not infringe on others' copyright protections. Here are some resources to help you find music that you can use.

Free Music Archive - Go to site

Incompetech - Go to site

Step 5: Gathering the Pieces

This step is appropriate for Cycle 3 elementary and all cycle of secondary. It is also for teachers who are comfortable exploring the more complex uses of software.
Flip Boom Classic and All-Star allow you to create your own characters and backgrounds that you can put in the Library to use and reuse. This is a great time-saver for students, as they only have to make a series of complex drawings once, rather than having to repeat them on a sequence of slides. When gathering all the pieces of their animation, students identify what drawings they will need over and over again, and begin by drawing or inserting those right in the software. They also make sure they have their music in an easily accessible folder or on a USB key, depending on how your school functions.

Background Information

In the media and music industries, pre-production is a crucial phase of the overall production process. Pre-production is the preparation of all the elements involved in a film, play, animation or musical recording.  In the music industry, it's the process during which a recording artist spends time creating and refining their music ideas and producing a demo recording or rough-draft of a song in order to establish ahead of time if the ideas are promising. This reduces time and money wasted in expensive studios. (Source: Wikipedia - Go to site)
For more about pre-production:

- Wide Open Space - Go to site