Octonauts: New episodes - explaining the animation process

The Octonauts meet a Lionfish.

Very exciting news from the animations team at CBeebies: we’ve got five brand new Octonauts episodes starting on Monday 13th May, with Captain Barnacles and the crew encountering manatees, lionfish and the leafy sea dragon, amongst others!

We know it's felt like a long wait, and that many of your little ones (and you!) get very frustrated waiting for new episodes of favourite shows like the Octonauts and Tree Fu Tom, and can be disappointed when we only release a handful of new episodes at a time.

It’s frustrating for us too – we want to bring you exciting new episodes as soon as we possibly can. Unfortunately, animation takes a very long time to produce, with each episode going through a process that can take up to 8 months from an idea for a story to delivery of a finished episode. We thought you might be interested in learning a bit more about this process so you can explain to the fans in your home why we all have to wait so long for a new adventure with Tom or Captain Barnacles & co!

Animation is basically a sequence of minutely different still images or ‘frames’ that when played together give an illusion of movement.  There are many different styles of animation:

2D - Hand drawn animation which include classic Disney films like Snow White or Bambi

2D - computer animation like Charlie & Lola or Sarah & Duck

3D - Stop frame animation like Raa Raa the Noisy Lion, Postman Pat or Rastamouse

3D – computer generated animation like the Octonauts or Tree Fu Tom

While the techniques may be different the principle is the same – each has to assemble lots of frames together to give the illusion of movement. 

When you consider that there are 25 frames in every second of television you’ll get an idea of how much time it could take to make an episode of the Octonauts:

25 frames x 60 seconds x 11 minutes of the episode = 16500 frames

While there might not be a brand new image for every single frame in an episode, its possible that you might have to create 16500 images for an episode – that’s a lot of images!

However, before you even get to the animation bit, there’s a lot of preparatory work to do…


The show Producers and the CBeebies team work with writers to come up with new story ideas that haven’t been told in previous series – whether its new creatures in Octonauts or a new kind of jeopardy in Treetopolis – a lot of work goes into thinking up new scenarios for new series. The story ideas will then be developed into more detailed scene-by-scene breakdowns and eventually scripts. This process takes between 8 and 16 weeks depending on the complexity of the show and whether or not a script hits a problem!


The scripts are then recorded with actors such as Sophie Aldred and David Tennant in Tree Fu Tom. Each episode will take about 3-6 hours to record.


Each script is broken down into a storyboard – a series of drawings with action and dialogue represented in panels – that will form the basis for the shots and scenes in the episodes. This can take between 3 and 6 weeks, depending on the length of the episode.


The recorded voices are matched to the storyboard picture to form the basic framework of the episode. This is called an animatic. Once everyone is happy with the animatic, we then know that this is how our episode will be in terms of the story and the action – the length of shots and scenes will remain fundamentally unchanged from this point onward. Here’s a sample of an animatic from the ‘Winging It’ episode of Tree Fu Tom that you might have seen on CBeebies:


If there are new characters, backgrounds or props in the script, these will all have to be designed and built.


A first pass of animation will then be produced – this first draft will take 2-4 weeks with a large team of animators – as described above, there are a lot of images to produce!

Here’s a first draft of the sequence from Winging It:


This is where the animation and backgrounds are put together and the final texturing and lighting and visual effects applied. This can take a further 2-4 weeks to finalise the picture.

Here’s that scene from Winging It fully composited:



The final picture is given to:

a composer – music is written and edited especially for the action

a sound editor – sound effects are matched to the action in the picture

and then to a sound mixer who layers the voice track with the music and sound effects and mixes them together to create the soundtrack.

Here’s the same scene with all of the audio laid to the picture:



Once the picture and sound are complete the episode can be delivered to the BBC and the Scheduling team can decide when to put the episode on CBeebies!

As you can see, each episode takes very many months to produce, and we try to get them on television as soon as we possibly can. Normally we would start a new series with a minimum of 20 episodes, but with popular returning shows like Octonauts, we want to show them as soon as we can, which is why we’ll have just 5 new episodes at a time.  

We hope this helps explain why we have to wait so long for new episodes of our favourite shows – and we hope they are worth the wait!

Go to the Octonauts webpage



More Posts