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6 Different Types of Animation

8th December 2017 Posted by: Student World Online

ANIMATION is nothing more than an optical illusion – a way of tricking our eyes into thinking that lots of static pictures are one moving image. Since the success of sites such as YouTube, simple shorts can be attempted by anyone, and stop-motion animations with everyday objects are some of the most popular and artistic videos. If you have tried some simple animation already, an animation course will develop this with more sophisticated materials. The basic processes and techniques are the same for all animation, and because of the wide range of applications, animation graduates are in high demand. So if you are an amateur animator, why not read on to learn more about the different types of animation.


Simple animations

Before film was invented, there were early forms of animated pictures. The zoetrope, for example, is a wheel with a number of static pictures around the inside so that they appear to move when the wheel spins. Flipbook animation is very similar, and places pictures on every page of a book so that it creates an optical illusion when the pages are flipped quickly. Whilst both of these don’t need a camera, object animation and chuckimation involve filming regular inanimate objects, such as Lego or action figures, and animating them using stop-motion or off-camera hand-movement. Pixilation uses people as stop-motion characters in a similar way.     

Traditional animation

Traditional animation is sometimes called hand-drawn animation or cel animation and, for most of the 20th Century, many popular animated films were created this way. It was a lengthy process. Thousands of pictures were drawn entirely by hand on acetate sheets, or cels, with each cel being slightly different from the one before it. Each cel was photographed onto a separate frame of film so that when the filmreel was played, the animation moved. This form of animation could also be combined with live-action video by placing the cels on top of the film. This technique was popular in the late 80s and early 90s, and was used in films such as Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Traditional animation takes a lot of artistic skill and has many different artistic styles: Disney’s films are very recognisable and considered quite realistic, whilst Studio Ghibli characters have a distinctive anime look. More stylistic drawings were used for many cartoon programmes, such as The Flintstones, and the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine used a pop-art style that was popular at the time it was made. The music video for the song “Take On Me” by A-ha is a good example of another style of traditional animation called rotoscoping, which used a live-action recording as a template for animation. In this video, a very simple pencil-sketch style was used.

In fact, any style of art can be turned into animation. Although this traditional animation became unnecessary when digital techniques were invented, some modern animators, such as those who worked on the 2010 film The Illusionist, still choose to use this form.

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Computer Animation

Computer technology revolutionised the animation world. Computer animation includes a very wide range of techniques, but in essence is any animation that is created digitally using a computer. Whilst forms of computer animation have been around since the 1960s, it came into general use in the 1990s when animators began using it alongside traditional animation. It is more controllable and faster than traditional animation and computer animation can be broken down into two main types:

Digital 2D can be created using computer programs such as Flash, After Effects, Cel Action and TV Paint. These programs have varying levels of intricacy – from simple stick-person animation figures, to entire worlds. Just as in traditional animation, 2D animation can use different layers to build up pictures. It can show anything from backgrounds and landscapes, to multiple characters and crowds. Digital 2D animation is not used for artistic purposes as much anymore, due to the lack of depth, but is still used in advertising and desktop publishing. It is also the basis of many graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that you use every day, including Mac OS and Microsoft Windows.

Digital 3D uses programmes such as Maya to create animation with more depth. An animator will often create a very simple version (or skeleton) for a digital character (or Avar) and build up from this with digital muscles, skin, hair, pores etc. The animator will use keyframing to set the Avar’s position, just as they would in traditional animation. However, they don’t need to do it on every frame, but just key ones – the computer programs then fill in the movement between the key frames to create a full animation.  Digital animation can be very realistic, and animators can be very artistically skilled to create a character. Some animators will specialise – for example, facial animators just work on the facial movements and speech of a character, rather than the whole thing.

Motion capture is method used to make 3D digital animation as life-like as possible. An actor will be filmed doing actions, speaking, or even acting full scenes, whilst special sensors on their body and face are ‘captured’ by a film camera.  This is then translated into a digital character, which can be controlled by the animator. This type of digital animation is often used in blockbusters, including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and the new The Legend of Tarzan film.  

Stop motion

Stop-motion is a simple, but time-consuming, form of animation where objects are physically manipulated and filmed frame-by-frame. Stop motion comes in many forms: Object animation and pixilation can use the stop-motion technique without specialist equipment, but special stop-motion models have often been used for special effects in live-action films. The 1933 King Kong film was famous for the stop-motion ape, and the original Star Wars films and The Terminator used stop-motion models for many of the aliens and machines.

Other forms of stop-motion use artistic materials to create the physical objects. The earliest known animated feature-film used cut-out animation, where flat pictures are physically cut out of paper or fabric and animated. The children’s show Charlie and Lola use a cut-out animation style. Another form of stop-motion uses puppets, such as Tim Burton’s animated films. These puppets often have hundreds of interchangeable heads to create lip-movement and facial expressions. Claymation is the name given to stop-motion that is made with clay or plasticine figures. Plasticine is easily moved and shaped, so the figures can be moved very carefully and precisely. It takes a long time to create a claymation, as a figure is usually moved about twelve times for every second of film. Aardman Animation’s Chicken Run is a claymation film, and currently the highest-grossing stop-motion film ever made.

Whilst it is very similar to traditional animation in technique, stop-motion continues to be a popular form of animation, with at least twelve feature-length stop-motions currently in production. Many animators work with stop-motion for artistic reasons, as it is still difficult to recreate stop-motion models digitally.

Working with animation

Animation is such a wide and versatile subject, there are endless routes you can go into. Artistic variations on the three main styles above are endless: hydrotechnic is a form of light animation projected on water, and can be seen in popular events such as the Lumiere festival, whilst sand animation, paint-on-glass and pinscreen animation use the same principals as stop-motion, but with different materials. If you want to specialise in a particular animation technique, be it digital or physical, you may find you have to do postgraduate studies or on-the-job training. But animation is always changing and developing, and as a course or career there is a lot to keep you interested.


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