What Is Animation?

Animation is the illusion of movement created via a series of images displayed in rapid succession. This may sound like a simple concept, but the ways in which we create animation are rapidly developing to produce more realistic results. As specialists in the art of animation, we aim to help you understand what’s what.

What Different Formats Of Animation Are There?

In animation’s early days the dominant form was traditional hand drawn animation which involved drawing individual coloured frames by hand, which were photographed and then combined with sound.

Nowadays, there are numerous forms of animation including stop motion, 2D and 3D animation, motion graphics and vector based animation. Each form has a unique style and animation methods.

2D Animation

2D animation is simply one drawing followed by another drawing with a slightly different pose. This was once done by hand with pencil and paint on transparent cellulose sheets called ‘cels’. Generally the moving character would be drawn onto cels and then laid over a static background – this reduced the amount of redrawing required. Today computer software can be used in various ways, such as digital colouring. This is a technique that can be carried out using a computer – but instead of the computer automatically generating an image based on a model created by the animator, as with CGI (see below), instead the animator uses traditional painting techniques to create the image on the computer.

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3D Animation

Sometimes referred to as computer-generated imagery (CGI), 3D animation is one of the more recent animation forms. This form of animation creates a more realistic look since textures can be added and the extra dimensions give depth to the imagery. Surface reflection and shading models can be automatically applied using algorithms. Recent advances in the technology have enabled animators to produce ever more realistic textures and effects, such as fire, water and fur. The first fully CGI animation film was Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’. It was this film that really launched CGI’s popularity in the 1990's.

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Stop motion

Stop motion animation is one of the most time-consuming forms of animation, primarily because it is such a painstakingly hands-on technique. Stop motion involves manipulating a physical object frame by frame in order to make it appear to move. A popular example is ‘Wallace and Gromit’ by Aardman Animation.

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Vector based animation

This type of animation allows clean and smooth imagery since, instead of pixels, motion is controlled by vectors. And because vector images aren’t made up of a set number of pixels, they can be flexible which prevents image quality loss from resizing and manipulation.

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Motion Graphics

This is a digital technique which involves a combination of words, pictures, video and sound. Motion graphics combine the art of film, graphic design and animation to tell a story. Examples include presentations and film credits. One famous motion graphics artist was Saul Bass who created the opening title sequences for the Alfred Hitchcock films, Vertigo and Psycho. In addition to providing supporting visuals, motion graphics are often used to produce short films and animated infographics.

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How is animation done?

Despite all the different forms, the base of all animation is the illusion of movement created by a succession of still images – or frames – whether they be computer generated or physical objects.

Images are called frames because their position in time is measured in frames on a strip of film. Key frames are the pivotal frames: the start and end of a smooth transition.

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What are animation effects?

Animation effects are effects that can be applied to objects to give them a new dimension. For example, if making an animation about a fire, you can add smoke as an effect. By stacking these effects on layers, you can create different looks and styles. The stars in the sky could be a good example of this as you could have simple dots in the sky and then add twinkling to the sky and possibly a shooting star using animation effects to enhance the picture.

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What are animation tools?

Animation tools are very dependent on the type of software that you have on your computer. They typically depend on which plugins you may have. It is possible to speed up the process using animation tools such as graphic tablets with which you can draw straight on to the screen as opposed to having to draw 10 to 25 frames per second. There are other plugins which can speed up the work process such as ‘rubber hose’.

What are animation layers?

These refer to the different levels where you can place your characters or objects. The use of layers allows the animator to manipulate certain aspects of the animation in isolation. Layers also make the process of animating easier as it means the animator doesn’t have to try and fit everything on each frame.

Click the picture of Sonny the Caterpillar to see animation layers in action.

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Why choose animation?

Animation is more popular now than it has ever been with box offices being dominated by animated features. One reason for this is that the medium isn’t bound by live-action limitations. This flexibility makes the medium perfect for communicating messages to audiences of all ages.

Animation is not just limited to films and cartoons. It is the perfect medium for communicating messages to your audience. The possibilities for creating likeable characters are endless, and there are so many ways to reach more customers and clients by featuring animation in your marketing output. We have helped our clients to educate their staff by producing a series of online training games featuring a variety of animated characters. We have also helped clients to launch new products with animations that show off new innovations and features animation in a fun, engaging and memorable way. Why not check out some of these here.

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