What Is Animation?


What is Animation? If we start with the absolute basics we would come to the conclusion that animation is a series of images placed in a thought out order to produce the simulation of movement. So if we take for example a stack of papers and draw a circle on the left side of the first sheet and on each sheet after that we draw the circle slightly more to the right, we would have a series of images. If we were to flip through these images from the first to the last we would trick our eye into seeing something similar to movement even though each drawing of the circle is its own independent image. To take it even further we can photograph these images and run them through a media player or in the old days a film projector and we would have an animated moving picture. Yes, it can be that simple.


I must warn you though, animation can also get very complex in the longer form of explaining exactly what it is.

Are you ready? Lets go.

Science has shown that our eyes are extensions of our brains. Yes, your eyes are really a part of your brain and you could even argue that all our body is just an extension of our brains, but lets focus on our eyes for now. In evolutionary terms our eyes contain a massive amount of nerves that serve as receptors which sense variations in light. These receptors are called rods and cones. Those nerves send signals to our brain via other nerves connected to the eyes and those signals get interpreted as an image. The speed at which these signals get sent to our brains is pretty fast. The nerves categorized as cones sense red, green, and blue colors of light. When light bounces off an object that light transmits with it the color of that object which the nerves pick up and sends that signal to the brain and the brain interprets the color and the image of that object. Now I’ve actually been very vague and left a ton of information out of this anatomy portion of the lesson. What I want to infer upon you is that your eyes are very much like a camera. They have a lens that deals with focus and they have receptors that are very much like a DSLR camera photography chip. Not only is your eye important, but light is also equally as important. Because without either we would not be able to view movement.

Eye Blink

So cameras like I mentioned a few sentences ago are like our eyes. They have lenses which focus on the objects in front of them and they have sensors like the nerves inside our eyes. When a camera takes an image it stores it on some sort of medium. Back in the earlier days of film it was celluloid film in the form of an image and in todays productions it’s an image broken down into computer data that gets held on hard drives or chips. The varying formats available now for viewing and exchanging images is way to many for an article such as this. Just know that none of these formats are permanent and all of them will be obsolete in 100 years, but the images that they will store can last forever as long as they are preserved by people who care enough about them.

Okay, so lets get into the animation side of things. Now I’ve read books where historians reference spinning clay pots of ancient Rome and Greek civilizations would depict athletes or animals in motion and by spinning them you could see a form of animation. Basically, images simulating movement. There’s actually a good book to checkout called The Animators Survival Kit where the author Richard Williams talks about this. He even mentions in 1600BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II built a temple where he had 110 columns painted with progressive images that would simulate movement when you would ride past them on horseback. So can say the concept of animation has been around for a very long time.

But animation is more then just a series of picture in progression. Animation is an expression of life, or if you’d like to go even farther, animation is an extension of life. It’s a mark left by humans in the vast universe to demonstrate their existence. It’s an expression of emotion, its movement of mass, time, and light. It is humans bringing life to an object, concept, or idea. That is what animation really ends up being at the end of the day. What we need to really be aware of in all of this is that at the core of animation is the story. If its as simple as a ball moving from one side of a piece of paper to another, or a William Shakespeare play brought to life through moving puppets frame by frame, it is really a story of time.

Now of course I dropped you down a rabbit hole of science and philosophy. We could actually spend years talking about both those aspects of animation and never really get a full grasp of what animation is. Mainly this is because there are lots of different forms of animation and lots of different ways to view animation, both mentally and physically. So let me give you an overview of the various forms of animation and in future articles I’ll explain each one individually for you to get an even greater grasp of what it is we are talking about.

Here is a list of the various forms of animation and a short explanation of what they are. Here we go!

Hand Drawn Animation / 2D Animation – Hand Drawn Animation is a very broad term and covers a lot of ground when talking about animation. This form of animation is typically done with a person drawing images in progression to simulate movement of an object, person, or environment. Hand drawn animation can take many forms and can use many mediums. These mediums can include and are not exclusive to pen and paper, cel animation, flip books, digital flash animation, painted animation, etc… Often called 2D animation, hand drawn animation can also simulate a three dimensional image which can give the viewer the sense of a 3D perspective. Though many people believe hand drawn animation is confined to pen and paper it is in reality just a method that can use many mediums of expression and technology such as computer hand drawn animation software.

Stop Motion Animation – Stop motion animation is a photographic technique in which images are taken in progression of moving objects that are captured using a camera. The technique covers pretty much everything including some hand drawn techniques. Because it is a process of photography it has a lot subcategories. The ones of notable mention are Puppet Animation, Clay Animation/Claymation, Found Object Animation/Object Animation, Pixelation, Sand Animation, Shadow Animation, Paper Cutout Animation, Legomation/Brick film, Toy Animation, Strata Cut Animation.

Computer Animation / 3D / 2D – Computer Animation is the use of computer technology to create moving images and moving objects. Elements of 2D and Stop Motion Animation have been adapted into the computer technology to allow tradition techniques to live on in modern times. 2D animation such as Flash animation have paved the way for faster and cheaper productions in television and film, while 3D computer animation has be revolutionary in production for producing visual effects and animation.

Cel Animation – Cel Animation is the technique of painting sheets of clear plastic called cels. Each cel is painted using a special Vinyl Paint and when dry they are place over each other using a rostrum camera or down-shooter. By placing the images on top of each other the cels can simulate depth, movement, separation and integration with each other. Most animated 2D films before 2000 where hand drawn cel animated films. With the advancement of technology cel animation has become more of an outlet for artistic expression for artists then a production technique in television and film. Though it is still alive as an art form, its cost usually prevents most artists and studios from using these techniques which were once the industry standard.

Puppet Animation – Puppet Animation uses hand made models or puppets to be animated using the technique of stop motion animation. The puppets are placed in front of the camera and photographed in various progressive poses to simulate movement. This technique was considered the industry standard for visual effects animation and monster animation, but very much like cel animation, puppet animation in Western Society became obsolete when computer animation took over. Currently there is a major resurgence of puppet animation in the world also due to modern computer and camera technology. Most of this animation is produced on a small scale, but major studios are now finally back into producing films either completely animated using puppet animation or a highbred form using both puppets and computers.

Clay Animation / Claymation – Clay Animation has been around for over a hundred years. Like puppet animation it uses the technique of stop motion animation. The difference however is that clay animation involves the use of clay to make characters, sets, props, and environments. The beauty of this form of animation is that its cost can be fairly cheap, but also can get very expensive. Another advantage of using clay as a medium is that it can be mixed with waxes and oils to control its different properties as a medium. Clay was a major medium for animated children’s shows for close to 50 years. The various types of clay that are used would be Van Aken Clay, Newplast Modeling Clay, Chavant, and WED Clay.

Pixelation – Pixelation uses living humans as the objects being animated. This is actually one of the first form of animation students or individuals experiment with when studying or learning stop motion animation. Because of its simplicity it is considered one of the easiest forms of animation. Yet it is also one of the most popular.

Object Animation – Object animation is unique in the fact that everything is an object, but that object can’t be a puppet, human, or a ball of animating clay. Most people call this category “Found Object Animation”. This in many cases can be true but also this can be false. Since this animation form uses everyday objects like chairs, forks, tables, lamps, it can also take use of discarded toys, mannequins, and statues. This can confuse things even further since toys usually have their own category and technically become puppets once animated, and in fact an object becomes a puppet once it takes on the appearance of a character with in the animation. For the most part the objects in object animation won’t have armatures which puppet animation has, they also are not built for being animated. They are in the most common sense of the word everyday objects.

Paper Cutout Animation – Paper Cutout Animation can also be called just Cutout Animation and uses the technique of cutting paper or sheets of a material into objects and then animated in front of the camera using the stop motion animation technique. There are many films that may look like hand drawn animation but are in fact cutout animation. For example the Disney film Twice Upon a Time was a cutout animated film, another film to look into would be Hedge Hog in the Fog. This form of animation is also a very easily accessible form of animation due to its low cost and simple technique.

Toy Animation – Toy Animation actually is an umbrella category that covers any animation using toys. Examples would be Legomation/Brickfilm, Gundum Toy Animation, GI Joe Animation, etc…

Legomation / Brickfilm – Legomation / Brickfilm uses the toys known as Legos as its main medium of choice. This form or medium is one of the most popular in the world since it allow anyone the ability to start animating right away by using Lego Mini Figures and props to create creative and fun animations.

Sand Animation – Sand Animation is the use of sand being animated on a down shooter or Rastrum camera setup using stop motion. Often times this animation medium gets mixed into a categorized form of storytelling using sand and an overhead projector. They are two totally different things. Point is if it isn’t animated then it isn’t animation.

CGI / 3D Animation – CGI or Computer Generated Image is often called 3D Animation. It uses the computer as its main medium. The very basic explanation of this for of animation is a 3D model is built with in the computer and then animated. One misconception about this form is that it is soley a 3D image produced. There are actually many different softwares that allow the artist to manipulate objects in 3D space and then when finished the output can produce a 2D image similar to a handdrawn animation.

Pixel Animation – Pixel Animation or 8bit as it is often called is not to be confused with stop motions pixelation animation. Pixel animation is used in producing sprites or characters for video games. Originally this art form took birth in the 80’s with the release of various video games and systems. As the technology and demand for video games grew, pixel animation became an art from all to itself. In todays society 8Bit is a very popular form of animation used in storytelling which can mostly be found on the web as shorts or gifs.

Flash Animation – Flash Animation was originally designed to be used for web based advertising. This form of animation originally used the Flash Software which is currently owned by Adobe to produce short animations for websites. Once the technology grew then so did the techniques for animation using this software. Eventually Flash animation would replace hand drawn animation as the medium for choice in television and film productions. Today there are numerous softwares on the market that have taken the lead as the softwares of choice for the industry. Those would be ToonBoom Harmony, Toonz, and TV Paint. Adobe also has replaced Flash with a newer version called AnimateCC.

VR / Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality – This is probably the newest form of animation. VR requires a viewing device to be able to see 3D objects in a virtual environment. While Augmented Reality requires a viewing device to see 3D objects in a real environment. All forms of animation can actually be used in coordination with the Augmented and VR techniques.

In Conclusion I would like to point out that this list is ever growing. Animation is a very relevant and important part of story telling in modern filmmaking and television. All productions be it big or small have some kind of animation in their productions. The fact is it is never going to go away and is most likely going to grow beyond what we can imagine now in todays world. Because of it’s depth and limitless bounds it is one of the most powerful forms of communication in our world. Not only can stories be told, but emotions can be felt, perceived and interpreted. Many animated films have been produced to bring us closer to each other and to ourselves and that is a true sign of a beautiful art form.

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