Hi Joe. thanks for the thoughtful question. First off I want to say, if you’re looking for advice, my main tip is to ignore any rules you might have been taught and focus on what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to animate. So do whatever you want to get sweet results.
Yeah you guessed it. I mostly just animate off the top of my head. I’m not big into pre production. I never make animatics for my own stuff. I only do rough animation if its a complicated shot that i might fail at. Otherwise i just go straight into final clean animation. I’m not saying that’s the best way to do things, but its best for me. I do make storyboards for longer stuff. They’re super sketchy and loose. Mostly just make them to quickly reference what happens next and to keep the big picture in mind. This is the storyboard I used when making The Jump.
You’ll notice I cut some stuff out and didn’t bother planning out the ghost memory stuff. I think if story meant a lot to me I might be more into planning. But it doesn’t, so I’m not.
Charles Huettner shares a bit of process.