What are animatics and how can I make them?

Animatic production is an important part of the filmmaking process. They are used when planning animated productions or even complex live action sequences, to help pre-visualise a project. Animatics can help filmmakers see if planned edits work and help with the flow of storytelling. As well as being quick and easy to make, animatics can save time and money.

Smiling woman sketching with laptop open.

What is the definition of animatics?

An animatic is an animated storyboard. It’s a rough draught of a sequence or film, sometimes with a soundtrack, used to help filmmakers get an idea of what a sequence will look like. Animatics are used to test timings and flow and to see if the sequence gets the correct meaning across at the right pace.


Animatics used to be made by filming drawings with a camera. The rough sketches would then be edited to create scenes. These days, you can create animatics digitally in Photoshop and After Effects.

Orange pencil on paper drawing animatic of boy and girl on bench.

Why are animatics used?

There are several ways that animatics can help you with a project:


  • Quick to produce - if you already have a storyboard for your animation or film, it’s easy to create animatics from it. Specialist software allows you to automatically turn storyboards into animatics.

  • Help you to make changes - animatics are sketches, not final images, so it’s easy to remove a scene if it becomes clear it isn’t going to work. It’s not so easy to remove finished animation.

  • Save time and money - making a film or animation is expensive. An animatic helps you to get a sense of the timing and feel of a piece before you commit lots of time and resources to it.

  • They are useful reference points - it can be all too easy to become lost in the detail of a film or animation and lose sight of the bigger picture. You can refer back to animatics and use them as reference points for timing.

  • Create consensus - an animatic will be the first time your team gets an idea of a project in motion. It gives stakeholders a chance to air their thoughts and suggest changes before it’s too late (or expensive) to do so.

Animatics vs animation: key differences.

As animatics are used for planning purposes, the images are low-resolution, rough drafts of animation. The look and feel of these sketches isn’t as important because they are mainly used to judge the timing of a piece. 


Artists prepare animatics by taking storyboard images and making them into a rudimentary version of the final animation. Though presented in minimal from, an animatic will evolve into the final edit of a project. You can expect to see more basic, monochrome versions of the final work when you look at animatics.

Glasses resting on storyboard next to equipment.

Animatics vs storyboards: key differences.

Animatics are usually made from the same low-res images as storyboards. But the main difference is that they are pieced together in animatics, in sequence and rendered as video. They may utilise the same images but there are differences. Animatics use:


  • Subtitles
  • Video output

  • Varying frame lengths

  • Audio


Storyboards use written frame descriptions, but animatics do not. While storyboards are very useful for planning animation, animatics fill in the gaps and flesh out the storyboard to make an idea easier to visualise.


Fascinated by the world of animation?

Keep learning by reading our beginner's guide to animation.

History of animatics.


  • 1930s. Animatics were developed as part of the storyboarding process used by Walt Disney Productions when pitching to Hollywood.
  • 1940s. The word ‘animatics’ was first used to describe the process by animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor while they worked on projects at George Méliès Studios in France.
  • 1990s. Despite the rise of digital technology, animatics continued to be primarily made in studios, with shots laid out on rostrum tables and covered with cel to stop unwanted movement. Digital pre-visualisation began to be used in Hollywood.
  • Modern day. Advances in hardware and software mean animatics become more animated and complex. They can now be made on tablets and computers with the use of programmes, including Photoshop.

Examples of animatics.

Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999)

When George Lucas returned to the Star Wars saga in the 1990s, for Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, he took advantage of digital pre-visualisation techniques. The main scene in which it was used was the pod-racing sequence. Animatic supervisor David Dozoretz worked on the sequence for nearly three years. 


The animatics for this film are of note because they combine green screen, live-action and computer-generated imagery (CGI).


SpongeBob SquarePants (1999)

This popular American animated comedy series was created by animator Stephen Hillenburg for Nickelodeon. Hillenburg’s team consisted of around 50 people, who used cel animation for the first series, before switching to digital ink and paint animation.


Nickelodeon have helpfully included many animatics on their YouTube channel. This ‘Neptune’s Spatula’ animatic from the first season gives you a feel of how animatics can help with comic timing, which is so important in a zany series like SpongeBob SquarePants.


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Here’s a good example of a live-action movie that used animatics to help visualise and refine its story. Director Wes Anderson is famous for his attention to detail. It proves Hollywood doesn’t just use animatics for action-packed scenes - this excerpt consists mainly of Jeff Goldblum talking, with Ralph Fiennes and Adrien Brody also featuring.


Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc. (2005)

Damon Albarn’s virtual group Gorillaz are regularly brought to life by co-creator and animator Jamie Hewlett. The animatic for their 2005 single Feel Good Inc., featuring US hip-hop outfit De La Soul, is a prime example of how Gorillaz are as important visually as musically. In 2005 this video won two MTV Music Awards.

Bearded artist drawing with laptop open and other equipment.

How to make an animatic.

Make an animatic in Photoshop.

Making an animatic in Photoshop is easy - just follow these steps:


  1. Create a document - open Photoshop and create a new document. Make it 1920px wide and 1080px high. This size is Full HD or HDTV1080p.

  2. Add a timeline - select ‘Create video timeline’ in the ‘Timeline’ panel at the bottom of the UI. If it’s hard to find, select ‘Window > Timeline’ from the menu.

  3. Add frames - drag the storyboard images into the artboard. This creates references to the frames in the Timeline. If the Timeline doesn’t fill the entire horizontal width of the screen, use the Timeline zoom tool to zoom in or out. You’ll find the tool at the bottom of the Timeline panel.

  4. Time the frames - to time them out, drag the end-point of each frame to the left until there is a staircase of frames. The first should be at the top and the last at the bottom. There’s no need to alter the start points because Photoshop only shows the top visible frame at any given point. The end-point of the last visible frame in the Timeline defines your animatic’s duration.

  5. Play your animatic - in the Timeline UI, use the ‘Play’ or ‘Step’ buttons. The former plays the animatic continuously in a loop. The latter moves it forward a frame at a time. You can play and pause the animatic by pressing space.


What you need to make traditional animatics?

If you’d prefer to make an animatic the old-school way, you need:


  • Pencils

  • Paper

  • Ruler


That’s all. Make equal-sized boxes on a page and start sketching. Remember, you don’t need much detail - only the basic forms of each element. You could also take notes underneath the frames to describe sound effects or key motion needed. 

Black and yellow pencil on animatics plan.

Animatics FAQs.


Do animatics have sound?

Animatics can contain sound, unlike storyboards. Music, sound effects and even voiceover narration and/or acting can be used. Sound helps the creators and stakeholders visualise the finished product that an animatic is made for.


What other software can I use to make an animatic? 

Adobe After Effects is a popular choice for creating animatics. You can use After Effects to:


  • Manipulate drawings using the puppet tool.

  • Add elements to the view screen including time codes, frame count and shot number. 

  • Export in different formats and codecs.


I’m not sure I can make an animatic. Can I hire someone?

Although you may now feel like you’re clued up on the world of animatics, you may still be unsure if you want to make one yourself or you may not have time. If so, you can hire a professional artist to help with pre-production, including storyboards and animatics. Sites such as Jorgen’s List can tell you who from the world advertising animatics is currently available.