Editing in Animation: An Inside Look

Editing in animation The role of an editor in animation is a hot topic. And a question that came up recently on my website from RJ, so I thought we might cover it here. The specific question: How does an editor get “plugged in” to animation?

First, you need to know that the editor’s job on an animated film lasts for the entire film, and is just as intense up front as it is in the end. An animated film is “pre-edited.” The story is tied down with story sketches to set the timing of the film before animation even begins. It’s usually done sequence by sequence as opposed to the entire film being done “early.” In animation, the director can’t shoot footage as done in live-action – the equivalent would be asking the animator to animate the same scene from different angles. That would be astronomically expensive and take WAY too long.

The editor works very closely with the director and story supervisor once the script and storyboards are at a point where the director feels they are ready for reels. That means the editor steps up and begins timing out the sequences, putting scratch SFX and music into the reels to create the closest thing to the final film as possible. This will fluctuate throughout the 3 to 6+ years of the production. Once a sequence is approved for animation, the editor will start cutting in the actual animation, production dialogue, etc., that will eventually become the final film. (TV shows are similar, but are on a much tighter schedule and a lot less experimentation with the stories/episodes takes place – it will go at a much faster pace.)

So how do you get plugged into the creative marathon of editing in animation? It’s always good to know someone who does the job already – that’s always the case, unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your P.O.V. But if you don’t know someone, I’d suggest looking at the credits of animated films and shows – the ones you like. There is a good chance the editing team will still be working at the particular studio in which the film or show was made. Call up the studio and give the operator one of those names. Surely you’ll find at least one person nice enough to give you the time of day… and some advice. You can also send your resume in to the recruiting department and talk to them, as well. They may have better advice than I’m able to give you.

I hope that helps a little. Good luck!

Image by j / f / photos via Creative Commons

  • Claudia.

    I was going to comment on this yesterday, but unfortunately I couldn’t.
    Anyway, once again … I was able to learn something new thanks to you, Brenda. I have to say I found this quite interesting, not so long ago I was watching an animated movie, and I was wondering exactly this. Of course, this has answered all my questions.
    So, thanks for making me learn something new today! 🙂

    • Brenda Chapman

      My pleasure. 🙂

  • Steve

    Good question and good answer, that helps a lot …

    • Brenda Chapman

      Good! 🙂

  • One thing I’m not fully clear, and am rather curious of, is what is their level of involvement in the decisions made throughout the movie.

    They edit, of course, but how much of a say do they have in what is edited out and what is left, how much influence do they have in the directing process such as what camera angle would be best for X scene.

    Do they do a presorting of scenes eliminating the majority of obviously wrong angles and present the best options to the director for the final choice? or are they merely present when the choices are made and merely provide their opinions on the matter.

    Charles Veiman


    • brendachapman

      I think a lot depends on the director, but ideally, the editor will take the story boards and cut them together as they see fit – often times asking for more sketches from the story artist which can include acting choices, action choices and camera choices or simply cutting things out. The editor will get to shape the sequence and make a lot of the initial decisions.Then the editor will the present the sequence to the director for feedback. In the best case scenario, that should be a good collaboration. Some directors are more controlling and hands on than others who are much less so. You just have to find what works best for any particular project.
      Hope that answers?

  • Carissa

    Do you find that most editors get degrees in film and video, or in Animation? I’m currently an animation student at MICA, but I find that I like post production and editing a lot more than character animation. Would I have to change my major to film, or could I get a job as an editor or something when i graduate?

    • brendachapman

      Most editors I know went to film schools… but I don’t know if that is the only route you have to take. I would suggest trying to get in touch with editors who’ve worked on animated films you enjoy – I’m sure you’ll find one or two who would be happy to talk to you.

  • Keyra Jallah

    I am currently taking my first editing class since high school (at the age of 29) and noticing that I’m finding a passion for it. But in terms of editing, I’d like to stretch my knowledge to not just live action video but animation as well. Your post was amazingly helpful in understanding that there is another level of interaction in terms of animation editing. Are the techniques, film theories, concepts, etc generally the same across platforms? Live action vs editing?
    Thank you for your amazing work!

    • brendachapman

      Yes, the techniques, etc.,.. are the same. As all editors bring there on uniqueness to a project, you would do the same in animation. You are just working initially with still drawings instead of live footage to attain the timing and flow of the film before the animation is actually created.
      Glad you found us! 🙂

  • heysavvy


    Thanks for the post! I can hardly find info on this topic :/ I have just graduated high school and was a big film geek, and it would be my dream to get into the world of editing animation. I am looking at colleges and wondering what my best options are. Would it be necessary for me to know how to animate (which I don’t know how to do, except stop motion) in order to be an editor? Would it be best to study as a film or animation student? How important is the name of the school you go to in getting a job, or is it simply the amount of skill that you have?

    Thanks so much!
    Savannah Vasquez

    • brendachapman

      Hi, Savannah.
      No, you do not need to know how to animate! I’ll at least save you that! 🙂 Film school is your best bet for editing. NYU is has a great film school. The conundrum is that people who go to good schools are usually better at what they want to do when they graduate – so a reputable school would be best. You have to learn the skills somewhere, you might as well try to get the best program to get you there. It’s less about the degree, and more about your skills/talent AFTER you graduate.
      Good luck!

      • heysavvy

        Thanks so much for the reply! Another question… Is it necessary for the degree to be in film and for one to learn on actual film cameras? Are there any downfalls to a college that has digital film (Stephens College to be exact). Thank you!

        • Joelle

          Hey Savannah,
          Actual physical film is disappearing all together. The term “film” is used to define an industry and process. With the exception of stop-motion, animation is executed on a computer. So, no, its not about actual film cameras. “Film school” is only the name used to define learning the process of filmmaking. Make sense?

          • brendachapman

            Thank you, Joelle. I seem to have missed a few comments from “5 months ago”. Don’t know how that happened! So thanks for giving Savannah you knowledgable answer. Cheers!

  • Chelsea

    Hey, I’ve always loved movies, especially animated ones( <3Disney, Pixar, and Universal) so I wanted to become a animator. But there's a reason I can't become an animator, I STINK A DRAWING. some people think ANYONE one can draw but I worked and practiced and tried to do everything for 3 yrs in middleschool and still couldn't draw anything better than a stick figure. I finally quit in high school. But I still want to work in movies, live-action editor or even a producer. But your article made me wonder: if I get a degree in film, and stink at drawing would I have a chance at working in animated films as an editor(or a producer)? Your article is really good by the way, learned alot.

    • brendachapman

      Yikes! Sorry I missed your comment! Yes, of course! There are so many different career paths within the movie industry of especially in animation. Editor, producer, writer, technical directors – to name just a few that don’t require drawing skills.

Real Time Analytics