A wire-frame model is first created, after which, the model is filled in with textures and then each limb is individually animated. This method allowed for not only more advanced animations but the amount of detail per character jumped dramatically.
The models were created on SGI workstations running early versions of Alias PowerAnimator on SGI's native os IRIX.
Alias PowerAnimator software would later be included in the standard Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii development kits. Its successor Maya is still Nintendo's standard go-to software for all their 3D modeling needs to this day and was used in the modeling and animation of Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, as well as its box art.
The models are rigged with a bone system to allow for movement of the models, then posed and animated by key framing. After that, each frame in the animation is rendered out as a single still digital image which is then converted into the SNES sprite standard at a much lower quality, rather than drawing or painting them by hand either on paper or a 2D paint program.
The same is done with the background and all other images. Textures are placed on the model and assigned a place to wrap around each polygon with UV mapping.
Since all the real rendering and lighting simulations happen on the then powerful SGI workstation, the SNES can fake the look of a real 3D rendered image with little to no performance hit on the SNES hardware since it is the same technical requirements as a standard SNES sprite, unlike other games such as Star Fox that required much of the SNES' as well as its own CPU on the game cart (Super FX) which does all the 3D images in real time.
The 3D models of the game can be seen in full quality on the Donkey Kong Country series' box art and promo renders. They are simply adjusted with effects removed to fit the SNES requirements and art style.
The Donkey Kong Country model is also seen in Mario Kart 64, since Rare provided the model. The game uses the technique for its characters.
It would also be used by other developers and in other Nintendo products later on.