Want to learn to be a Layout Artist



I’m super interested in learning the art of Layout, and stuff that would be complimentary, for animated movies. I’ve got a little experience in Final Layout, which is great. It sorta kills me, though, because, by the time a shot reaches Final Layout, it’s much too late to make any change besides smoothing camera motion or a very minor re-frame to better shoot the Animation. Can’t suggest a new shot or change angle dramatically because money’s already been spent. It kind of kills me because I want to figure out what makes a great shot, sequence and movie and improve a story, or the storytelling, early in production before the money is spent. I feel that all the work that can be pumped in early, like in Layout, benefits the entire movie and makes everyone look great.

Part of the fun is that I’m much more technically minded, and I struggle without having specific things to look out for. When I consider it, Layout is staging, pose blocking, photography and camera movement, all things I’d love to find resources for and learn the best practices, or what to definitely avoid that I currently have no idea about haha.

Google searching doesn’t give me so much, except maybe some old job descriptions. I’ve seen some discussion on Reddit about how Layout has a lot to do with Cinematography, but there doesn’t seem to be much (that I can find so far) that touches upon cinematography for animated movies. It’s usually talking about live action and lighting, and lighting we don’t touch at all, although I’d like to learn that too.

So hey, does anyone have any sites or programs, or just things I could pay attention to while watching a movie? Or maybe you know some movies that were done really well in this regard and I could try picking it apart? Maybe there’s a goldmine out there somewhere that I didn’t have the right google keyword for? =P
Thanks everyone!


“Layout” is a holdover term from 2D animation. It’s commonly called pre-visualization or “pre-viz” in the VFX circles, so you might find more google results using that keyword instead.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss live action cinematography. Everything about cinematography for animated movies comes from live action cinematography. Just about every animation curriculum teaches cinematography using textbooks for live action cinematography, such as Shot by Shot by Steven D. Katz or 5 C’s of Cinematography by Joseph Mascelli. This is because the end results are the same whether you’re watching an animated movie or a live-action movie – it’s a 2D image projected onto a large screen, so the same principles apply.

Another keyword to search for is “storyboard” because it is the storyboard that the layout artists use as the basis of their work. The sequence of still images from the storyboards are what the layout artists translate into preliminary layout using staging, pose blocking, lighting, and camera movement. It’s usually the storyboarding stage where all the shots are worked out and where unnecessary scenes get deleted, so the movie shot list should be fairly set in stone by the time it gets out of the storyboarding stage.

Pixar’s layout department is extremely meticulous, so their movies are great case studies. Watch a random 10-minute segment of any Pixar movie with the sound off. Pay attention to the editing cuts and think about the purpose of each cut. Did the scene change from a medium shot to a close-up and why? If we’re treated to a quick montage of images, where are our eyes directed, and how did the layout artist trick us into looking there? If the characters are different sizes, how and when is this size difference emphasized or de-emphasized? There’s so much food for thought when analyzing movies on how to tell a story better – this is different from how to tell a better story, which Hollywood is struggling with at the moment, but I digress. :wink:


Awesome, thanks! I’ll definitely pick up those two books you mention!

I didn’t intend to be dismissive about Lighting (entirely another field I’d like to learn about as well.) Generally the layout work I’ve done so far has been completely divorced from lighting, so I was hoping to find something that was focused on composition and camera work without that much light influence. Best case, of course, I would say that light and basic FX be covered as well in Layout, so to truly previs the movie.

I’ll add storyboarding to the list of things I should look into, along with editing. I had already gotten an editing book,“In The Blink of an Eye” by Walter Murch, just haven’t taken the time to read it yet. It’s a bit of a curse that everything is interesting somehow haha. I’ve always been fascinated with editing, I just never actually picked it up.

I’ll also definitely try that exercise you mention for studying. I’ve recently seen some movies that I might say were beautifully shot and getting down into it with them, as you describe, would probably be quite illuminating. Sound off, though. =D Don’t want to get swept away like how I always get swept away by movies =D