|Working with Maya: How to Begin? - The Curse of the Blank Screen|
Every animator has their own method. Some go into a dark corner and act out their shot, filming themselves in action. Others imagine it in their head, planning the motion. Others use stock reference from YouTube or elsewhere. Many use small thumbnail sketches to plan out their work. In fact, as it turns out, most animators use a combination of these methods.
Here's a link to an excellent webpage by Pixar animator Carlos Baena on how he planned out a beautiful shot from The Incredibles. I particularly like the part where he says: "this is work that I want to be as good as possible for years to come". It's a big responsibility, working on a Pixar movie.
(Editor's Note: For more secrets of animation planning, check out this blog post from June where we explore how Glen Keane uses animation thumbnails to plan out a shot)