Animation is an art form that has developed over hundreds of years. People have come up with endless types of animation methods to bring the illusion of movement and life to objects, drawings, and computer graphics.
One of the advantages of animation is that it allows you to create whatever you can imagine, without the constraints of other video formats. Unlike other types of video content, which can be contingent upon anything from the availability of the cast to the time of day to the weather, the sky’s the limit with animation. The beauty of animation is that it can make anything visually possible, and we’ve found that to be a great advantage for many of the businesses we work with.
This article looks at some of the most common types of animation that are used today, along with examples that you will recognise, and a bit of history to explain how animation got to where it is today.
- The early history of animation
- Traditional animation
- 2D animation
- 3D animation
- Stop motion animation
- Motion graphics
- Whiteboard animation
- Which type of animation should you use?
The Early History of Animation
Everyone knows that humans have been creating art for thousands of years, starting with paintings on the walls of caves. Even some of this early art tried to depict motion, with examples including paleolithic cave paintings, which show animals with multiple superimposed legs, to create the effect of movement. Certain drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, and a device invented by the ancient Chinese inventor Ding Huan may also be considered as part of the evolution of animation.
One of the best-known early forms of animation is the magic lantern. First developed in the 17th century, magic lanterns eventually developed into what we know as slide projectors. The lanterns used a concave mirror to direct light through a small rectangular sheet of glass. Pictures were hand-painted onto glass slides and then projected onto a wall. In their earliest days, the images produced by magic lanterns were not very bright, as the light source was simply a candle or an oil lamp.
The zoetrope is another early form of animation. A zoetrope is a cylinder that shows a series of drawings, and when rotated, creates the illusion of progressive phases of motion.
The humble flip book is perhaps the most familiar type of traditional animation. A flip book is a small book with a series of images that change very gradually from one page to the next, creating the effect of motion. While many people would assume that such a simple idea predates the likes of the magic lantern or zoetrope, there is not concrete evidence of flip books being used until the 19th century.
With the invention of film, traditional and early forms of animation started to develop into something more like what most people recognise as animation today. This included developments such as Théâtre Optique, a system developed by the French inventor Émile Reynaud and patented in 1888.
Traditional animation, also known as cel animation, is a technique where each frame is drawn by hand, and until the age of computer animation, this was the main form of animation used. The French artist Émile Cohl used this method for the film Fantasmagorie in 1908, and it went on to be adopted by many animators in the following years.
The traditional, cel animation technique is the technique that was made famous by the likes of Walt Disney and then the Warner Brothers. Disney’s Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937, is considered by some as the first feature length animated feature film. In reality, it was his first animated feature film that was made using only traditional animation. Some earlier Disney films used other techniques including cut out, silhouette, and stop motion.
Traditional animation is extremely time-consuming, so in recent years it has largely been replaced by 2D animation, which can achieve a similar effect but without the need for hand-drawing thousands of individual frames.
To achieve a fluid feeling of motion, traditional animation usually uses 12 or 24 frames per second. To capture fast or sudden movement, more frames per second may be necessary. However, to reduce the amount of work needed, certain scenes or slow-paced shots may use less.
2D animation (vector-based)
2D animation is the same as traditional animation, but thanks to computer technology, it has become much quicker and easier to create. Computers mean that now an outline drawing can be scanned into a computer and coloured in digitally. Devices such as graphics tablets or Cintiqs make it possible to draw directly onto a computer.
It’s important to know that computer-assisted 2D animation is not the same thing as 3D animation. The animation process is quite different, as is the finished product. One way of understanding it is that in a 3D animation, the parts of a character that are not visible still exist, and are still rendered by the computer in the background. On a 2D animation, all that exists is what’s visible – there are no hidden depths!
Tools like Adobe Animate (formerly known as Flash), Adobe After Effects, CelAction, Toon Boom, Moho, and TV Paint Animation are popular for 2D animation today.
There are two different types of 2D animation – bitmap (raster) and vector. In vector animations, the graphics are controlled by vectors as opposed to pixels. This means that when the image is display and manipulated, mathematical values rather than pixel values determine its appearance, creating a smoother and cleaner animation. This also means that vector graphics can easily be scaled up in size, without pixelation occurring as it would for bitmap images.
Some 2D animation mixes 2D and 3D elements, which is also known as hybrid animation.
We used 2D animation for our client Ash Dykes – Big Family Adventure. 2D animation was the ideal medium for us to create a cartoon style character to appeal to children and families, capturing the feelings of adventure and fun which are central to the client’s offering. h
3D animation involves creating and manipulating a 3D polygon mesh. The mesh is made up of vertices, edges, and faces, which form the skeleton of a 3D object – whether that’s a moving character or a static object. The mesh is animated by creating what’s known as ‘key frames.’ After key frames have been set, the computer calculates and creates the movement between those frames. The job of the animator is to then make that movement look flowing and realistic, by adjusting the lines of movement that different parts of the polygon mesh follow.
3D animation was beginning to be used in computer games and some short films and advertisements, but the first feature length 3D animated film was Toy Story, released in 1995. Since then, 3D animation has gone on to change the industry as it has been used more and more widely.
For our client Black Arrow Space Technologies, 3D animation was the perfect solution. 3D animation enabled us to depict a product which is still in the making in the most realistic way possible, to attract potential investors for the client.
Stop motion animation
Stop motion animation is an older former of animation that remains popular to this day. Stop motion involves physically moving objects between individually photographed frames, to create the effect of motion when the frames are viewed quickly in sequence. This may involve the use of clay or plasticine figures (also known as claymation), humans (also known as pixelate animation), cut-outs, puppets, or other objects.
Well-known examples of stop motion animation include Aardman Animations, the studio who created the popular, comedic claymation Wallace and Gromit films, as well as Chicken Run. Popular examples of cutout animation include the likes of South Park and Charlie and Lola. However, while animations such as South Park still retain the cutout aesthetic, they now use computer technology to animate the characters.
This video that we made for our client, Woodburner Specialists, uses a cutout stop motion animation style (though not technically stop motion), capturing the friendly, approachable image of the brand. Promoted as part of a social media video marketing campaign, this animation went down a storm, attracting loads of new business for the client.
Motion graphics differs from other types of animation because it doesn’t feature characters, and usually doesn’t have a narrative in the same way as other animations. Motion graphics consist of text (typography) and simple graphics, and they can be used for all sorts of purposes. Motion graphics can be especially effective for explainer videos as well as short promotional videos.
If you want an animated video for a product or service where scenes of characters might not fit then motion graphics and typography can be a really effective way to create a visual identity. The simplicity of motion graphics can also be great at helping you to get messages across in a clear and concise manner, without introducing too many visual distractions. At the same time, the bold use of colour, movement, and well-chosen fonts can make a motion graphics animation really stand out.
Here’s an example of a motion graphics video for our client, North Wales Economic Ambition. The combination of text and simple graphics conveys the organisations message in a simple, visually striking manner, with minimal distractions.
Whiteboard animation is another form of animation that’s really well-suited to explainer videos. This genre of animation really grew with the internet and the success of YouTube. Part of the reason for its popularity is because it’s a great way of keeping viewers engaged, keeping their attention by leading them systematically through a subject and providing visual cues.
It’s a simple technique, but using a plain white background with hand-drawn illustrations and movement sometimes provide just the right level of visuals necessary to get your message across in the simplest possible way. It captures the familiarity of the age-old classroom learning method, where a teacher or instructor leads the class through a learning process with little more than their voice and a whiteboard (or blackboard!) for notes and simple illustrations. Whiteboard animations are especially effective if you’re message is complex, technical, or educational.
For our client RealRates, we used a whiteboard style animation to explain their complex financial services. The whiteboard style guides the viewer painlessly through the explanation, making it easy to follow and understand. See what you think!
Which type of animation should you use?
So that’s a quick introduction to some of the types of animation that are used today. But which method is right for you? If you’re a business looking to use animation to promote your products or services, then there are many factors you need to consider. For your animation to have the maximum impact, it can help to speak to a video marketing expert.
Want to learn more? Get in touch with us today for a free video marketing strategy consultation with no obligation. We’d love to discuss your project with you!