Techniques of Animation

While talking to clients I often realize they don’t know the different techniques in creating animation.  This can create confusion when trying to explain what my studio does and does not do. I thought I would give a quick overview of some of the main techniques of animation.

While there are many different types, styles, and techniques of animation I wanted to focus on only 3 of the techniques.  It is understandable for someone not in the industry to be confused about the differences, since I have often heard people in the industry talk about them in different ways.  I won’t go into great detail about each, but instead will give you a general overview.  To get a little more details look up Animation on Wikipedia, and they have a great breakdown which I actually used as reference while writing this post.

Traditional Animation:

This is also called cel animation or hand-drawn animation.  It was originally created by drawing and/or painting each image on a piece of paper or a cel(short for celluloid).  With each image slightly different it would create the illusion of motion when captured on film.

The traditional cel animation process was eventually changed to scanning the images into the computer, or drawn directly into a computer system.  This would allow the inking and painting tasks to be done in the computer.

Some examples of traditionally animated films include Pinocchio, The Lion King, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and most recently The Secret of Kells.


Stop Motion Animation:

Stop-motion is created by physically moving an object and capturing each frame one at a time to create motion.  I made some stop motion animation in college, and while it was fun for the first 2 hours the animation looked like something a kid could have done.  Stop-motion has a very unique look to it, and often more blocky in the movements.

There are also different types of stop-motion, and it is often based on what medium which is being used.  For example you have puppet animation that is used in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline,  and Box Trolls. The puppets generally have armature inside to hold their poses for each frame.  There is cutout animation used in some earlier South Park episodes where they move two-dimensional pieces of paper or other material.  There is also Clay animation, often called claymation, that was used for The Gumby Show, California Raisins, and Wallace and Gromit.

There are of course many more styles, but this should give you a pretty good understanding of what stop-motion is.  I showed this time-lapse video in a previous post, but it is a great video showing the amount of work that goes into making stop-motion.


Computer Animation:

There are several different techniques that fall under computer animation, and I will touch on a couple.  My company does not do traditional animation or stop-motion, but we do computer animation.

Computer animation is any animation technique where it was created digitally on a computer.  I’m going to touch on both 2D and 3D computer animation.

To explain 2D computer animation I’m going to quote Wikipedia.

2D animation figures are created or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics or created and edited using 2D vector graphics. This includes automated computerized versions of traditional animation techniques such as interpolated morphingonion skinning and interpolatedrotoscoping. 2D animation has many applications, including analog computer animationFlash animation and PowerPoint animationCinemagraphs are still photographs in the form of an animated GIF file of which part is animated.

While my company does some 2D animation our main focus is 3D animation.  This is the technique used by Pixar and DreamWorks in their movies.  Each asset is digitally created on a computer, and manipulated to create the animation.  Pretty much everything you see had to be created with digital paintings, and digital 3D models that are digitally surfaced.  Characters and props are rigged to allow them to move, and animators animate them using keyframe animation.

Motion capture can also be used to animate the characters.  With motion capture they record the movements of a live-action actor and use those movements to animate the characters. Polar Express, A Christmas Carol, and The Adventures of Tintin all used motion capture.

At my company animators use animation software like Maya to keyframe animate the characters. There also has to be digital cameras setup and framed to get the perfect shots, digital lighting to set the mood, and to light the scene.

You also have simulations to simulate fur, hair, and other effects such as fire, water, smoke, and more.  These digital simulations are referred to as 3D dynamics.


Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the different techniques used to create animation.  In a future post I can dig deeper into all that goes into creating a 3D animation.  It will give you a better idea why animation is so expensive, and takes so long to make.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.