Hand-drawn animation

Hand-drawn animation, also known as traditional, classic or cel animation, is a technique whereby each frame is drawn by hand. Although CGI animation is booming, hand-drawn animation is still used by many studios for film and TV productions. 

Irene's Ghost, Irene’s Ghost Ltd

Skills needed to work in hand-drawn animation

  • understanding of 2D animation process, including camera mechanics
  • understanding of animation principles including pose, timing, squash and stretch and and how they should be applied

  • understanding of layout, composition, editing and film structure
  • understanding of relevant software and post-production possibilities
  • ability to communicate clearly with colleagues and work as part of a team
  • ability to take direction and a willingness to address comments and make changes
  • ability to work with minimum of supervision
  • ability to manage task priorities and meet agreed schedules

Ways into hand-drawn animation

Animators are likely to enter the industry as graduates of animation degree courses, or with comparable art school degrees.

It is a good idea to choose a college with established industry connections, which employs professional animators as tutors and have a good track record of ex-students working in the animation industry.

It is possible to become and animator with no formal art school training with enough passion and talent since in such a relatively small industry, personal reputation and recommendations from previous employers are invaluable.

Jobs in hand-drawn animation

Storyboard artist
Storyboard artists illustrate the narrative, plan shots, and draw panels to demonstrate action, and to maintain continuity. They may need to update their work to reflect a changing script or feedback. They may be required to prepare the storyboards for production. These include indications of dialogue, character performance and camera moves. Storyboard artists need to be aware of any relevant technical or budgetary restrictions related to the production, and they are responsible for delivering the storyboard on schedule.

Layout artist
Layout artists plan the action of scenes and are likely to draw both the background and character elements within a shot. To do this, they translate the storyboard into a format and size that can be utilised by the animation and camera departments. This involves referring to production designs and model sheets to ensure the animation is on model (in style). Experienced layout artists will also plot the camera moves and give clear technical instructions.

Animation director
Animation directors are responsible for the quality of the animation, for keeping it on brief, and for delivering consistent performances. They guide, supervise and review the work, understanding the implications of performance, style, quality, continuity, technical, scheduling and budgetary requirements. They keep the animation on model and often provide the main liaison between the animation department and those who are involved in the later stages of the production process. 

Digital painter
Digital painters add colour to the line images created by animators, using programmes such as Animo, Toon Boom, Opus, Toonz or Photoshop. They must follow the references they are given, and be aware of continuity requirements. Where appropriate, they may clean up the before colouring. Digital painters usually work as part of a team, under the supervision of a head of digital colour and compositing. 

Inbetweeners are responsible for producing neat and accurate in-between drawings. They must be able to adapt to the style and technique of different productions, and be aware of the schedule in order to deliver on time. Inbetweeners are often asked to produce cleaned-up drawings. This is often an entry-level role in the animation department, and may provide an ideal opportunity to acquire both practical animation skills and a solid foundation for future work.

Find out more about working in hand-drawn animation

Organisations and networks:


  • The Animator's Survival Kit, by Richard Williams
  • Timing for Animation, by Harold Whittaker and John Halas
  • The Complete Animation Course: The Principles, Practice, and Techniques of
  • Successful Animation, by Chris Patmore
  • Acting for Animators: A complete guide to Performance Animation, by Ed Hooks
  • Character Animation Crash Course! by Eric Goldberg

Some other job roles in animation

Back to animation