You must have seen movies such as Inside Out, Zootopia, Moana, Toy Story and Lion King. What do these movies have in common? Yes, they all are animated films; but, do you know what animation is and what goes behind making an animated movie or game?

Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s take a dive into this world. 

What is animation?

Animation refers to the process of planning, designing, drawing and formulating photographic sequences that are integrated into videos and gaming. In simple terms, it is the rapid screening of images to create a scene. It makes use of static images to give an illusion of movement.

Animation includes certain principles that were introduced in 1981 by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their book “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation”. These principles are still relevant in today’s time and are extensively used in the different fields of animation and they include:

  • Squash and stretch: when this principle is applied to any animation, it gives the illusion of flexibility, weight, gravity and mass.
  • Anticipation: this principle helps in preparing the audience for whatever a character is about to do in a video or a game. For example, the character could be preparing to jump or fight.
  • Staging: staging in animation is akin to the composition in an artwork. In simple terms, the motion should be used to draw the audience’s attention to the important part in any particular scene.
  • Straight ahead and pose-to-pose: straight ahead animation is carried out when continuous frames are drawn from start to finish. This technique provides realistic movements in any scene. In the pose-to-pose animation technique, the first and the last frames are drawn along with a few important frames in the middle. This technique helps in increasing the dramatic effect of any motion.
  • Follow through and overlapping action: when any object stops after being in motion, the various parts of the object will halt at different times. Keeping in tune with this, the parts of the object will also move at varied rates. For example, overlapping action occurs when characters are jogging, their legs and arms might be moving at a different speed. On the other hand, if the characters stop jogging, their hair will still be moving for a few more frames; this is the follow through
  • Slow in and slow out: animation gives you the advantage of increasing or decreasing the speed of an action in a scene. If you want to speed up the action in a sequence, only make a few drawings; and vice versa if you want to decrease the pace of an action in a scene.
  • Arc: It’s important to stick to the laws of physics while creating an animation. While objects or characters are moving in a scene, it is imperative that they follow the natural arc. For example, when you throw something, the natural arc of that object is to fall to the ground due to gravity.
  • Secondary action: this form of action is used to emphasise the primary action ongoing in any scene. Adding these actions help improve the dimensions of the objects and characters in a scene. For example, if walking is the primary action, then the movement of the arms is considered to be the secondary action in this scenario.
  • Timing: this refers to the number and organisation of frames that are present for a particular action in any scene. This also helps in determining the pace of the action.
  • Exaggeration: If an animation contains too much realism, the overall effect of it reduces. Hence, it is advisable to add some exaggeration to the objects and characters to make them more dynamic.
  • Solid drawing: It is important to apply the principles of drawing to animation. These principles consist of volume, weight and form.
  • Appeal: the characters, objects and surroundings in a scene present in any video or a game should be appealing enough to attract consumers. The best way to attract consumers is to have a fascinating yet simple design, good personality and excellent drawing. For example, if you are animating a character to be a villain, then the character should radiate deviousness.

What is 2D animation?

You must have played classic arcade games like Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Sonic; but you must be wondering what the connection between these games and animation is? Well, these games are excellent examples of 2D animation.

2D animation is also known as traditional animation and refers to the process of creating motion in a two-dimensional space. It consists of multiple elements such as foregrounds, backgrounds and characters that help in adding an illusion of depth. Traditional animation has been in existence since the invention of the first motion camera. This form of animation was discovered by accident when a camera was stopped for a few seconds and then the recording was again resumed. When this was done, it showed that the recorded material would suddenly ‘jump’. Popular 2D animation software includes Toon Boom Studio, Adobe Flash, Storyboard, Creatoon, Pencil and Animate.                        

Usually, the 2D animation process is the same for videos and games, and it includes:

  • Step 1- Storyboarding: this is the first step towards creating your final product and this concept was developed in the 1930s by Walt Disney. The concept allows the designers to pre-visualise their work before it is actually created or published. Since animation is an expensive process, this concept also allows the creators to edit a story or a scene before its animated.
  • Step 2- Audio production: once the storyboarding is completed and approved, the next step is to create the audio for the game or video. This also may involve creating dialogues for the characters present. In these cases, it is the voice of an actor that helps in bringing the animated characters to life. For example, Robin Williams as Genie in “Aladdin”, Tom Hanks as Woody in the “Toy Story Series”, James Earl Jones as Mufasa in “The Lion King” and Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in “Finding Nemo”.
  • Step 3- Visual development: In this step, the characters in the story are given colour, personality and quirks. It is actually here that the look of the characters is revealed. Earlier, this step was done by artists making massive amounts of sketches; but now, in this technological age, everything is done using specialised software.
  • Step 4- Production: In this phase, 2D animation software is used to insert images, backgrounds and characters in the frames. Thanks to technology, the entire production process has become seamless and requires less manpower as compared to the traditional process.
  • Step 5- Post production: In this step, special effects, audio and additional visuals are added to the frames to complete the entire process. This step usually occurs when the entire team sits to review the video or the game.

What is 3D animation?

3D animation involves animating characters and objects in a three-dimensional space. Characters and objects in this form of animation have volume, depth and can be rotated and moved. The depth in 3D animation actually exists unlike just the illusion in 2D animation. 3D animation has great popularity in movies, games and virtual reality. 3D animation is also known as CGI animation and lights and cameras can also be animated in this variation of animation. This form of computer animation also makes use of frames. Some of the top 3D animation programmes are Autodesk, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Poser, Unity and Blender.

3D animation is performed using two methods which include:

  • Keyframe animation: keyframe refers to the editing of spacing, position, shape or timing of an object in successive frames. Unlike 2D animation, 3D animation makes keyframe animation easier by connecting the in-between frames.
  • Motion capture: In this method, a character is placed in a special motion capture suit that contains sensors which record the movement of the character’s limbs. The data collected is transferred to 3D animation tools where it is added to the animation of the 3D character.

Pros and Cons of 2D and 3D animation

Take a look at the pros and cons of 2D animation:

Pros:

  • Low cost of production;
  • Easy to use;
  • More focused on gameplay.

Cons:

  • Can be boring at times;
  • Less demand as compared to 3D animation;
  • Time-consuming.

Now, let us take a look at the pros and cons of 3D animation:

Pros:

  • Greater portrayal of motion;
  • Visual appeal;
  • Quicker and helps in saving time;
  • Greater quality;
  • Has greater demand.

Cons:

  • Limited imagination as compared to 2D animation;
  • Complex in nature;
  • Might not always earn high profits.

Differences between 2D and 3D animation

Parameters

2D Animation

3D Animation

Appearance

2D animation is a flat animation and it consists of X and Y axes. X is the horizontal dimension while Y is the vertical dimension.

3D animation comprises of X, Y and Z axes. X refers to height, Y refers to width and Z refers to depth.

Applicability

Widely used in 2D animated films, videos, websites, engineering demonstrations and video games.

Widely used in 3D animated films, architecture, medical and video games.

Cost

Very reasonable and cost-effective.

Expensive when compared to 2D animation.

Realistic appeal

This form of animation comprises of frames and does not have much realistic appeal.

3D animation consists of movements and it has realistic appeal.


If you are interested in learning more about animation, London College of Contemporary Arts (LCCA) offers a HNC/HND in Computer Game Animation.

This article was written by Varun Mehta and edited by Anisa Choudhary.