Animation Styles – Inspiration and Technique

I have been so excited about writing this post. As an animator, I love what I do, and checking out innovations in software and some of the ideas that come out of the smaller, cutting edge animation studios that are popping up all over the place, can be truly inspiring. When I see others pushing the boundaries and trying new techniques it encourages me to stretch myself and you know, with animation, anything is possible! This industry is constantly moving forward, and boy do I love to be constantly moving forward!

I am going to share with you examples of some of the different styles of animation out there today; it is not an exhaustive list, and there will be new ones to add at a later date.

2D Animation

Originally, to create 2D animation you would have to draw one picture followed by another in a slightly different pose, followed by another in a slightly different pose, on and on for 24 frames for each second of animation! With the invention of computers (can I get an Amen to that?), we have software programs that can help speed up the process. I will go into more detail about the software we use to animate in another post. This style of animation is still popular in Europe and is somewhat a favorite of mine (well I am English!). There is a simplicity about this style that can tell a story in a whimsical but clear way that takes us back to our childhoods.

3D Animation

Objects appear in a three-dimensional space. They can be rotated and moved like real objects. 3D animation is at the heart of games and virtual reality, but it may also be used in presentation graphics to add flair.

Modern computer animation usually uses 3D computer graphics. Sometimes, the target of the animation is the computer itself, but sometimes, it is another medium, such as film. 3D movies are big business for the Hollywood studios, ‘Wall-E’ created by Disney and Pixar in 2008, grossed $108 million at the box office! You will often find 3D sections in regular movies for special effects and stunts, it’s pretty much standard and getting more and more vital when creating any type of action movie.

Motion Graphics

Motion Graphics is a digital technique that combines pictures, words, sound and video. This is not an animation style as such, but animation can be used within a motion graphic sequences and is often more animated than not. An animated Logo would fit into this category. All different kinds of creative elements are mixed to build a motion graphic.  I often use real video combined with graphic still images and animation to enhance a motion graphic. One of the most popular motion graphics tools is a particle system; a motion graphics technology that is used for generating multiple animated elements that can make an object look like it is exploding, melting or transforming into sand. I like to use an awesome piece of software called Trapcode by Red Giant.

Whiteboard Animation

Whiteboard animation is a process where a creative story and storyboard with pictures is drawn on a whiteboard (or something that resembles a whiteboard) by artists who record themselves in the process of their artwork. Some animated software programs provide this ability, without having to record and draw from scratch, you just use a transition (enter or exit of an object) as a hand drawing the object into the scene or rubbing out an object, to exit the scene. This is a really popular style and can also be mixed with 2d animation.

Rotoscoping Animation

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over footage within a software program with a rotoscoping tool, Adobe After Effects has this capability, whereby the animator re-traces the footage every 20 frames. This creates a hand drawn effect that can also look a bit like stop-animation. Even using computer programs this style is still a very long drawn-out process.


Stop motion is an animation technique whereby the animator physically manipulates an object which make it appears that the object moves on its own. The object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence. Stop motion animation using plasticine is called clay animation or “claymation”.

2D/3D mixed Animation

This last animation style is a mixture of 2D and 3D.  It came about due to an increasing reliance on NPR (Non-Photorealistic Rendering). This is where, rather than an animator striving to create a realistic world in 3D, the 3D software is used to create impressionist style animation that’s much more like hand-drawn 2D media. It is often a beautiful fusion of old and new and very stylized.

I hope you enjoyed our little foray into the world of animation, there are many other variations and styles but I think that 7 is a good enough number to stop at, for now. I added some excellent video examples for you to watch, so please take the time to check them out.

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