What are the main types of animation?
Generally speaking, there are five types of animation that are most commonly used. And in this article, you’ll learn:
- What the five different types of animation are
- Eight more types you need to know
- The most important types for building a career in animation
Interested in learning more? Read on.
In this article, we’ll look at:
What is animation?
Animation refers to the process of a series of images that are presented in rapid succession to create the illusion of motion. The images used in animation can be hand-drawn, computer generated, or a combination of both.
The way they are presented is often referred to as “frame-by-frame.”
This is because each frame is slightly different from the previous one incrementally showing movement through progression. The process creates the illusion of movement when the frames are shown in quick succession.
Animation is used in a variety of industries, from film and television to video games and web design. For example, you could use computer-generated animation to create realistic effects and backgrounds in films, while you’d use hand-drawn animation to create characters and other objects in the foreground.
To understand animation better, let’s take a look at the history of animation.
History of animation
Animation dates back to the late 19th century. Early animation was typically hand-drawn and used a series of still images to create the illusion of movement.
In 1868, John Barnes Linnett patented the first flipbook, the first form of animation to use a linear sequence of images. The first animated films include “The Humpty Dumpty Circus” in 1898 and “The Enchanted Drawing” in 1900.
The earliest technique developed was stop motion animation.
However, the first animated feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) was created with “cel animation.”
With this technique, animations create the frames, which involve painting individual cels with colored inks. While it’s a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, it was revolutionary in its day.
Later on, subsequent advances in technology allowed for faster, more efficient methods of animation. And today, the most common form of animation is computer-generated animation.
This technique has made it possible to create more detailed and realistic visuals faster and cheaper than ever before. And with new technologies like AI and VR, animation continues to develop.
Now, let’s look at the most popular animation techniques in the industry.
The most common types of animation
There are multiple animation styles. Mostly, they are categorized by the process used to create them.
The most common types of animation are traditional, 2D animation, 3D animation, motion graphics, and stop motion.
Each type of animation has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. They’re used for different purposes, too.
Here’s an overview of each:
Traditional animation is also called cel animation or hand-drawn animation.
As the name suggests, this animation style involves drawing each frame by hand. It’s also one of the oldest forms of animation, dating back to the 1800s. With cel animation, you ink and paint cels (sheets of celluloid) and use them in layers to create the illusion of movement.
Cel animation is a time-consuming process, which requires hundreds of drawings for each second of film.
You paint each cel on the reverse side and then place it over a background scene, with the characters, props, and backgrounds all placed on separate cels.
The cels are then photographed one at a time to create the illusion of movement.
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is an example of traditional animation. Even the television series Spongebob Squarepants used traditional animation until 2000 when its production team made the switch from the traditional inked-and-painted cel process to a digital one.
This video shows you how cel animation is done:
And in this video, you can see a few of the original Spongebob Squarepants cels:
2D animation is typically used for traditional cartoons and anime, where characters and backgrounds are drawn by hand.
These hand-drawn images are then scanned into a computer and layered to create a moving image.
2D is different from cel animation because it does not require drawings to be done for every frame. Instead, the same drawing can be used multiple times.
In fact, every second of animation equals 24 frames, although most 2D animations usually animate every second frame, so 12 frames in total.
This makes 2D animation faster and less expensive to produce.
However, 2D animation is still an incredibly detailed process that requires a great deal of skill and patience to create a high-quality and compelling animation.
The 2D animation process involves:
- Creating a storyboard
- Designing characters
- Creating backgrounds
- Creating a timeline and sequence of the story
Once the animation is complete, it is then rendered and composited into a single video.
Digital tools have made the process faster. For example, these days, animators can use rigging to create the character “skeleton” and then tell a computer which body parts to animate.
This way, the animator doesn’t have to draw each character for every frame.
A wonderful example of a 2D animation is Honda’s “Paper”:
Most of the animated feature films Disney produced in the 1990s and 2000s are 2D animations. The last one was “The Princess and the Frog” (2009).
3D animation uses computer animation in a 3D space. Here, several departments work together to create 3D models and character rigs, which are dropped into digital scenes.
Thanks to animation software, such as Autodesk Maya, Maxon Cinema 4D, and Blender, you can set keyframes for key actions and fill in frames in between them.
In 3D animation, you design three-dimensional characters, so that they can be viewed from every angle. 2D animation only allows you to look at a character from one side.
These models can be manipulated and animated in a much more realistic way than traditional or 2D animation. 3D animation also allows for more complex visual effects that can be integrated into the animation.
3D animation also allows for more realistic textures, lighting, shadows, and movements, which give a more immersive experience for viewers.
This short video shows you the difference between 3D and 2D animation:
3D animation was first used in commercials and shorter animated films. But the first feature-length 3D animated movie, “Toy Story” in 1995, changed the industry.
Today, 3D animation is standard and many of the jobs in the industry are specialized in 3D animation.
Stop-motion animation is similar to claymation (discussed below) but usually uses plastic or paper figures instead of clay.
Stop-motion requires careful planning and a lot of work, as each frame must be moved slightly and photographed in order to create the illusion of movement. Each frame is adjusted just enough, and the lighting and camera angles must be carefully planned in order to create the desired effect.
For example, in the movie The “Nightmare Before Christmas,” stop motion was used to animate hundreds of puppets and props. Other films that use stop-motion animation include “Wallace and Gromit” and “Coraline.”
Another industry that uses stop-motion animation is the medical field. Medical stop-motion animation is used to teach students and medical professionals about anatomy, medical procedures, and surgeries.
Motion capture is a technique that’s used to record real-life actor movements and transfer them to a digital character. You place sensors on the actor’s body and track their movements with a camera system.
The process begins with an actor being fitted with a special suit that contains sensors and markers. The suit is connected to a computer system, and the actor is placed in a room with a camera system that tracks the sensors and markers. The camera system then records the actor’s movements, which are then transferred to a digital character.
The technique enhances the realism of 3D animations.
For example, motion capture was used in movies like “The Lord of the Rings”, “Avatar”, and the 2017 live action remake of “The Jungle Book.”
This technique is used in gaming, virtual reality, and the movie industry. Motion capture technology is also being used in medical and biomechanical research to allow researchers to study the kinematics of human motion.
Other types of animation
We’ve looked at the most common types of animation, but there are more. Here are a few additional types that are also used, but are not as common as the first five listed here above.
Motion graphics create animated graphics and text, usually for commercials and webpages. They are designed to grab attention and convey information quickly and simply.
For instance, a motion graphic could be used to show a graph of a company’s sales over a period of time to demonstrate its success. Or it could be used to create animated logos for film intros.
The motion graphic process typically begins with the creation of a storyboard, which outlines the visuals and the order of the scene. After the storyboard is approved, you as the motion graphic artist create the animation and incorporate graphics, text, and sound effects.
Just like 3D and 2D animation, you design frames and use tweens in animation software to generate images between keyframes to create smooth transitions.
For example, the “Stranger Things” intro is a good example of motion graphics used in movies:
Anime is a Japanese art form that tells stories through colorful and imaginative visuals. It’s often characterized by dynamic action sequences, as well as exaggerated expressions and physical features.
The anime process involves multiple steps, such as character design, background art, sound production, and animation.
Anime can be both humorous and dramatic, and can often be both at the same time. Anime has become increasingly popular over the past few decades, and it’s now enjoyed by fans from all over the world.
A few popular anime examples include “Dragon Ball Z”, “Naruto”, and “One Piece.”
Here’s more on how anime is made:
Rotoscoping is where live-action footage is used as a reference to create more realistic movement. This technique is often used in anime, and has helped to create the unique style of animation that makes anime so appealing.
Popular examples of rotoscoping in anime films are “Akira”, “Spirited Away”, and “Ghost in the Shell.”
The rotoscoping process involves tracing over individual frames of the live-action footage to create animations that are more lifelike. This process can be done manually by an animator or digitally with the help of specialized software.
Cutout animation involves cutting out pieces of paper, drawing them on a surface, and then moving them around frame by frame to create the illusion of movement. The process begins by creating a storyboard. Then, the characters and backgrounds are created with paper and materials such as glue, tape, and scissors.
Once the characters and backgrounds are created, they are placed in a frame and photographed. The frames are then edited together to create the final animation.
Cutout animation is a popular form of animation and has been used to create some of the most iconic films of all time like the classic 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”
When you use whiteboard animation, you draw on a whiteboard, or other flat surface, to create an animated story.
First, you create the characters and backgrounds and then, you take a photo of each frame of the animation, which is then combined into a movie. Last, you add narration and sound effects, and use computer software to bring the animation to life.
Popular uses of whiteboard animation include explainer videos, educational videos, product demonstrations, and corporate videos.
For example, a company could use whiteboard animation to explain the features and benefits of a new product or service in a way that is easy to understand and entertaining.
Typography animation uses text and typography to create a dynamic and visually engaging story, often with a minimalist design. It can also be used to create an abstract visual experience or to illustrate a concept.
The process of typography animation typically involves creating a script, selecting appropriate typography, and animating the text to create a dynamic and engaging visual experience.
You can create the animation in a variety of ways, such as using motion graphics, 3D animation, or traditional animation methods.
For example, you could use typography animation to illustrate a mathematical equation.
Claymation is an animation technique where clay figures are moved one frame at a time. The figures are then photographed and the frames are strung together to create a stop-motion animation.
This technique creates a unique aesthetic that can be used to bring stories to life in a unique and creative way. Claymation has been used to create some of the most iconic animated films and shows.
Claymation is often used for artistic expression, but it is also used in television and film. For example, the famous California Raisins commercials used claymation…
…As did the popular films Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run.
Mechanical animation uses physical objects like articulated figures or props. The technique can be used to create dynamic scenes such as battle scenes.
The mechanical animation process begins with designing the objects so that they can move in a realistic way. This includes creating a system of pulleys, levers, and motors to control the movement of the objects.
Then, the objects must be programmed to move in a specific way according to the desired action.
Finally, the objects must be tested and adjusted until the desired effect is achieved.
The purpose of mechanical animation is to create a realistic simulation of a moving object or scene.
An example of mechanical animation would be a robotic arm that can be programmed to pick up and move a specific object. The arm needs to be designed, constructed, and programmed to carry out the desired task.
There you have it! Those are the different types of animation.
While 3D animation is the most common technique today, many of the other types are used frequently.
Understanding these different types is key for building a career in animation.
If you want to get started today building your own career, take a look at our guide to creating a 3D lighting demo reel:
About Jasmine Katatikarn
Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more about Jasmine here.