As we introduce Animation Classes to the Sparks Film School offering, we’re starting with a look at the 5 main animation styles. In our animation classes we’re going to cover all five animation styles.
What is Animation?
Animation is the process of “bringing to life” a sequence of still images by way of illusion. Subjects are photographed or captured within a singular frame again and again, with the images sequenced in order to tell a story. On playback, this gives the impression that the subjects or characters have moved, interacted, or changed as the frames progress.
There are lots of different animation styles, which have evolved over time. From the earliest animations to the present day, there are lots of different animation styles to make use of and master if you’re interested in making your own animations.
We are often asked about the differences between animation and filmmaking – by this people most often mean “live action filmmaking”. And whilst there are lots of differences, there are also lots of similarities. Animation is filmmaking, after all. It’s just film made in a different way.
How does Animation work?
As the human eye can only recognise around 24 frames per second, our brains start to recognise the sequence as a moving image, rather than still frames. This means we start to watch the action between the frames and follow the subjects/characters in the same way that we would in a live action sequence. Our brains naturally fill in any gaps and make sense of the movement as though we were watching it in real life.
Animation offers a fantastic way of telling stories on screen; there are no limits to reality with animation, as the entire film is crafted through imagination and production. In the real world, you can’t film a real mermaid, or command a mouse to perform to camera. But in an animation, the world is yours to create!
What are the 5 Different Animation Styles?
There are 5 main different animation styles, though within each of the 5 main animation styles, you’ll also find more subcategories.
Here, we’re going to look at the 5 main different animation styles.
- Traditional Animation
- 2D Animation (Vector-based animation)
- 3D Animation
- Motion Graphics
- Stop Motion Animation
Traditional animation is how the earliest animated films were made – painstakingly!
Traditional animation involves drawing out each frame, usually onto a transparency or celluloid paper (this is sometimes why it’s referred to as ‘cel animation’). All the movement is drawn out frame by frame. If you think of a flipbook, this is the same technique, but instead of flipping through page by page, the drawings are sequenced for you to watch continuously.
This is the earliest of all the animation styles. It’s how cartoons like Disney’s Mickey Mouse were first made, and most of the earlier Disney films were made using this process too.
Traditional animation is usually 2D, but not all 2D animations are made in the traditional way. Although the traditional style is not in use as often it once was, lots of animators still use the traditional method in their work.
2D Animation (Vector Based Animation)
As above, 2D animations can be made using the Traditional method, but they can also be created using Vector-Based-Animation. This is one of the computer-based animation styles, although it’s not usually referred to as ‘computer animation’, which usually denotes 3D animation instead.
2D Vector Animations use computer technology, so that instead of drawing out each frame individually, you can use mathematical formulas to create the same subjects/characters moving, interacting and changing. It’s much easier for instance, to show a character in Close Up. You don’t have to draw out a re-proportioned face, you can allow the vector calculations to do it for you, based on the properties of the original.
This speeds up the production process enormously and also helps add in some reliability for scaling, or stretching, and showing individualised movement in a way that comes across as true and like-like. There won’t be any errors in the drawings, as there can be with the traditional animation approach.
That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easier though! It depends on your strengths and individually, animators tend to opt for their preferred of the animation styles. Skilful drawers might prefer to use the Traditional method, but if you’re confident with Adobe Photoshop or Animate, you might find 2D Vector animation a good way to go. As with all the animation styles, it’s still detailed and requires lots of precision editing.
With 3D animation, the images you see on screen are designed, constructed and moved within a computer programme. Characters respond to programme instructions, before the animator captures their desired positions. The computer works out the movement needed between each start and end point, then generates the required frames. For an animator, it shares characteristics with the work of a live action director, it doesn’t necessarily require strong drawing skills.
Unlike with 2D animation styles, this method uses a 3D environment. The characters interact and move across the three different dimensions (height, width and depth) on the screen.
Most animations today are made this way. This technique was first used with the movie Toy Story, but has now become a prevalent and popular choice with animators.
But, as with vector based animation, this animation style is not necessarily any easier or any less time-consuming. Whilst the computer will do a lot of the work in terms of the movement, this animation style requires a lot of programming and design work to bring your characters to life.
Motion Graphics take graphics, or art pieces, and animate specific elements within them. Lots of different examples can fall within this category.
Title or credit sequences are often motion graphics animations. They take graphic elements, such as text, or illustrations, and apply them within an animation sequence.
Some of the James Bond title sequences use motion graphics animation to create a stunning effect, or more simply, you can also find them in lots of adverts, or commercial videos. Keep an eye out next time you see an advert, you’ll like soon see some motion graphics work.
Motion Graphics is a whole subsection of animation post-production. Post-production houses might have a whole team of animators who specialise in motion graphics and design titles for films, commercial videos, computer games and even more.
Stop Motion Animation
Stop motion animation is one of the most famous and well-known animation styles.
It’s similar in approach to Traditional 2D drawn animation, but instead of using drawings, it uses physical objects – cutouts, Lego structures, clay models, live subjects (actors), props or puppets, etc.
Photographic images are taken of the objects at intervals, in a stop-start fashion, and the images then sequenced to show movements between each one. Our brains fill in the blanks in between each one when we watch them all in the sequence.
This is how films like the Wallace and Gromit collection was made.
Just like with the other animation styles, this process is detailed, laborious and time consuming. It takes meticulous attention to detail to adjust the movement for each frame, but with care and precision it can create really stunning effects.
Sparks is a film school for ages 5-18. We help young filmmakers to develop their skills, knowledge and confidence.
In our animation classes, young filmmakers explore and create using all the different animation styles. They learn different techniques associated with each one and apply them to their own animated films.