Animation has been around since the dawn of cinema, and in that time the artform has evolved into several distinct styles. In this post, we take a look at some of the different types of animation, and when they’re best used.
Differing from other types of animation, Motion Graphics are less likely to be character or story based, and are often made up of abstract shapes and forms.
Motion Graphics are moving sequences of design elements like illustration, graphics and text.
We most commonly see Motion Graphics used to present infographics, titles and logos; in short, dynamic, vivid sequences.
Although dynamic, there is often simplicity in Motion Graphics, meaning they can be more cost effective than other types of animation.
In this spot for Printed Matter’s annual art book fair in New York, we see how the energy of a brand can be conveyed through relatively simple colours and geometry.
Use Motion Graphics when:
- The budget is extremely tight
- Making graphics or photography more dynamic
- Simulating computer interfaces
- Representing complicated information
- Adding complexity to a story with abstract themes
There are various techniques for animating 2D characters, but they can be broadly split into two categories; Traditional and Puppet. Here we concentrate on the latter.
Puppet Animation uses “rigged” graphics to move characters and objects in an economical way.
The rigging process works in a similar way to a real-life puppet: points on the character are set up to be manipulated, similar to a puppet’s strings. A well rigged character can be reused for different scenes, making the process very cost effective.
Due to this cost advantage, it is common to see puppet animation used in web series, films and TV shows that have a lower budget.
That said, rigged 2D animation can still feel cinematic. This spot for Ford features relatively simple character and animation, but manages a premium feel through clever art direction.
Use Puppet Animation when:
- Creating characters on a tight budget
- Character movement doesn’t need to be complicated
- Characters aren’t moving in 3D space
Traditional (or cel) is another type of 2D animation. These techniques were pioneered by early directors, most famously Walt Disney, and the basic principles remained unchanged right up until the advent of digital animation.
Traditional Animation is a meticulous technique consisting of hand-drawn frames.
In the pre-digital days, frames were drawn onto cel sheets (hence the name) and overlaid onto painted backgrounds.
Popularity of digital techniques has seen 2D animation wane in popularity over the decades, although there has been something of a resurgence in recent years.
Traditional animation retains much of the life and vitality we remember from classic animation we saw growing up. We often experience an emotional resonance with hand drawn animation, that is lacking in cleaner digital styles.
Although the digital era has streamlined traditional animation, it still remains one of the most laborious and expensive forms. Don’t expect to be able to achieve much on a tight budget.
Adidas chose a hybrid traditional / live action technique to great effect, to promote their 2017 range of football boots. The bright, vibrant colours call to mind the excitement of Saturday morning cartoon shows.
Use Traditional Animation when:
- Creating dynamic, fluid animation
- Character movement is complicated
- More emotional impact is required
- You have a bigger budget
3D / CGI
3D animation (AKA Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI) exploded in popularity in the mid 90, fuelled by advances that led to Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Toy Story.
3D animation uses software to create rich visuals with few technical boundaries.
As the technology continues to advance, this form remains at the cutting edge of innovative, high-end, photo-real visuals. This level of realism makes the form well suited to integration with live action – most modern visual effects have been created with CGI.
CGI is equally well suited to the creation of non-realistic characters and environments. Early CGI was known to look cold and unemotional. Nowadays, increasingly realistic materials (such as skin and natural fibres) allow characters to feel warm and inviting.
The hardware and software required to create CGI is expensive, but not as hefty as it used to be. More than ever, great results are achievable on a budget.
But the main advantage with CGI is in the boundless cinematography. Virtual camera and lighting setups give directors more flexibility than they could ever have in the real world.
In this Wilkinson Sword promo, we see two razors battle it out in an epic dance-off. The photoreal razors and environments show how a sequence like this can only really work using CGI.
Use CGI Animation when:
- There’s complicated 3D movement of characters and cameras
- Needing to seamlessly integrate with live action
- You really want to push visual boundaries
Stop Motion, or Stop Frame, animation is another traditional technique that goes right back to the dawn of cinema. Some of the very first moving pictures were still photographs of normally inanimate objects, that were “brought to life” in-camera.
Stop Motion animation uses cameras to capture real world objects, that are manipulated to give the illusion of movement.
Throughout the 20th century, Stop Motion was the go-to technique for visual effects. Famous practitioners like Ray Harryhausen were often as much the star as the lead actors.
Meanwhile, kids TV had plenty of Stop Motion stars too, such as Aardman’s famous creation, Morph.
Stop Motion inevitably feels dated to modern viewers, but it also elicits charm in a way no other types of animation can quite match. The vintage, lo-fi, feel is perfect when you are trying to foster that elusive feeling of approachability.
High quality Stop Motion requires specialised equipment and studio space, but equally a smartphone is a viable option for low budget projects.
This trailer for the Great British Bake Off 2017 shows the insane lengths stop frame animators go to in the search for new techniques. The unique creation required 500 eggs, 50kg of flour, 28kg of sugar, “and a whole lot of patience”.
Use Stop Motion animation when:
- You want to make it charming
- There’s an innovative idea using real-world objects
Animation is probably the most dynamic and innovative form of filmmaking, where technical and creative skills meet head on. We’ve discussed broad categories here, but on real projects the lines always blur. Many of techniques are usually used together to create various hybrid results.
Be sure to check back next week when we discuss How Much Does Animation Cost?