Animation techniques are incredibly varied and difficult to categorize. Techniques are often related or combined. The following is a brief on common types of animation. Again, this list is by no means comprehensive.
Also called cel animation, the frames of a traditionally animated movie are hand-drawn. The drawings are traced or copied onto transparent acetate sheets called cels, which are then placed over a painted background and photographed one by one on a rostrum camera. Nowadays, the use of cels (and cameras) is mostly obsolete, since the drawings are scanned into computers, and digitally transferred directly to 35 mm film. The “look” of traditional cel animation is still preserved, and the character animator‘s work has remained essentially the same over the past 70 years. Because of the digital influence over modern cel animation, it is also known as tradigital animation.
Examples: The Lion King, Spirited Away, Les Triplettes de Belleville
- Full animation
- The most common style in animation, known for its realistic and often very detailed art.
- Examples: All Disney feature length animated films, The Secret of NIMH, The Iron Giant
- Limited animation
- A cheaper process of making animated cartoons that does not follow a “realistic” approach.
- Examples: The Flintstones, Yellow Submarine
- Rubber hose
- The characters are usually cartoony, and the animators have a lot of artistic freedom as rubber hose animations don’t have to follow the laws of physics and anatomy in the same degree as the other main styles in animation.
- Examples: Early Mickey Mouse cartoons, Ren and Stimpy, Popeye
- A technique where animators trace live action movement, frame by frame, for use in animated films.
- Examples: Gulliver’s Travels, American Pop
Stop motion animation is any type of animation which requires the animator to physically alter the scene, shoot a frame, again alter the scene and shoot a frame and so on, to create the animation.
- Cutout animation
- This is a type of stop motion animation. Here the figures comprise several 2-dimensional pieces which are moved individually, frame by frame, to create movement.
- Examples: the animated sequences of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the animated sequences of The Mighty Boosh, Tale of Tales
- The particular visual style seen in Monty Python’s Flying Circus and other works is often referred to as Dada animation, named after the Dada art movement
- Puppet animation
- Again a type of stop motion animation. Here figures are puppets, generally with an armature inside of them to keep them still and steady as well as allow them to move at particular joints. The puppets are moved frame by frame, much like in cutout animation.
- Examples: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Robot Chicken, The Tale of the Fox
A clay animation scene from a TV commercial.
- Often abbreviated to claymation, this is also a type of stop-motion animation. The difference of course being that the figures are made of clay or a similar malleable material. The figures often have an armature inside of them, effectively making it a type of puppet animation. However, this is not always the case, notably in the films of Bruce Bickford where clay creatures continuosly morph into a variety of different shapes.
- Examples: Creature Comforts, Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Å vankmajer, The Amazing Mr. Bickford
A short gif animation
Like stop motion, computer animation encompasses a variety of techniques, the unifying idea being that the animation is created digitally on a computer.
- 2D animation
- Figures are created and/or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics or created and edited using 2D vector graphics. This includes automated computerized version of tweening, morphing, onion skinning and interpolated rotoscoping.
- Examples: A Scanner Darkly, Jib Jab
A completely synthetic, computer-generated scene.
- 3D animation
- Figures are created in the computer using polygons. To allow these meshes to move they are given a digital armature (sculpture). This process is called rigging. Various other techniques can be applied, such as mathematical functions (gravity), simulated fur or hair, effects such as fire and water and the use of motion capture to name but a few.
- Examples The Incredibles, Shrek
Less common techniques
Makes use of a screen filled with movable pins, which can be moved in or out by pressing an object onto the screen. The screen is lit from the side so that the pins cast shadows. The technique has been used to create animated films with a range of textural effects difficult to achieve with traditional cel animation.
Sand is moved around on a backlighted or frontlighted piece of glass to create each frame for an animated film.