The 4 types of animation used in film.

Animation is an art form that captivates audiences by bringing stories to life through mesmerizing visuals. From hand-drawn animated classics like Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 3D masterpieces like Pixar’s Toy Story movies, animation has the power to turn an artist’s imagination into reality.

While animation techniques have evolved tremendously since Émile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie introduced the world to this now ubiquitous medium, there are still plenty of worlds left to imagine and stories to be told.

In this blog, we’ll explore the various types of animation techniques used in the film industry, along with examples that showcase their unique characteristics.

Animation as an art form.

Animation is a unique and versatile art form with distinct characteristics that set it apart from other visual mediums. There are a lot of different animation styles, some rooted in the culture and traditions of the people who practice them. 

For example, anime is a distinctive style that originated in Japan. It’s known for its diverse range of genres and visual aesthetics. It often includes exaggerated character expressions, intricate backgrounds, a broad color palette, and complex narratives that incorporate culturally relevant symbolism.

Read on to learn more about the four key types of animation.

Traditional animation.

Traditional animation, also known as hand-drawn or cel animation, is a classic and time-honored technique. It involves creating the illusion of movement by drawing a series of individual frames, each slightly different from the previous one, and then playing them in rapid succession. These frames can be hand-drawn or created using digital tools. 

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937, was the first feature-length film created using traditional animation techniques. Its success established animation as a legitimate and profitable form of entertainment. 

2D animation.

While traditional animation holds a special place in the history of film, the industry has evolved to embrace new and exciting animation styles. 2D animation, short for two-dimensional animation, is a style of animation that creates the illusion of movement in a flat, two-dimensional space.

In 2D animation, characters, objects, and backgrounds are typically represented as flat images without the depth and volume found in 3D animation. 

The 2D animation process looks like this:

  • 2D animators often start with pencils and paper to create their initial sketches and drawings. 
  • Animation paper, with pre-printed guidelines, is commonly used to maintain consistency in frame size and spacing. 
  • In modern 2D animation, artists use digital drawing tablets and styluses to create drawings directly on a computer screen. 

The Little Mermaid, released by Disney in 1989, is considered a prime example of 2D animation. The movie captivated audiences with the charm of hand-drawn animation and excellent storytelling.

Creators commonly use tools like Adobe Animate for digital 2D animation.      

3D animation.

As technology advanced, so did the possibilities in animation. The movie industry shifted toward 3D animation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

3D animation is a technique that uses computer graphics to create the illusion of three-dimensional objects and scenes in motion. Unlike 2D animation, 3D animation involves the manipulation of digital models in a three-dimensional space. 

The 3D animation process looks like this:

  • 3D animators often begin by creating digital 3D models. These models are digital representations of objects, characters, and environments. 
  • Animators apply textures and shades to 3D models to give them realistic surfaces and materials. These elements simulate effects such as reflection, transparency, and lighting to enhance the visual quality of the animation. 
  • Video design mastery is required next. To animate 3D models, animators will often apply a virtual skeleton-like structure, called a rig. The rig includes bones, joints, and controllers that allow animators to manipulate the model's movements. 
  • The animator or editor renders the final frames in software once the animation is complete. 

Directed by John Lasseter and produced by Pixar in 1995, Toy Story was the world’s first feature-length 3D animated film. It marked a significant technological advancement and introduced audiences to a new era of animation. The film's success established Pixar as a substantial player in the animation industry and ignited the 3D animation revolution.

Stop-motion animation.

Animation techniques continue to evolve, with new styles and approaches pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Stop-motion is one of the most notable animation styles. 

Stop-motion animation is a filmmaking technique in which physical objects or puppets are manipulated and photographed one frame at a time. When the individual frames play in sequence at a standard video frame rate, typically 24 frames per second, our brains perceive the rapid sequence of slightly different images as continuous motion.

You can create your own digital stop-motion animation project using apps like Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Photoshop

While not entirely a stop-motion film, King Kong (1933) features pioneering stop-motion animation. 

Animation in other industries.

Animation has expanded beyond film to various other mediums and industries. It plays a significant role in advertising and educational content. It also brings video game characters to life by giving them realistic movements, expressions, and behaviors. 

Apart from filmmaking and gaming, animation can improve ecommerce by enabling sellers to showcase products from multiple angles and demonstrate features and benefits in engaging ways. 

Animation also features in user interface design, making visual transitions more intuitive and appealing. The visual language companies use in their products becomes a part of the brand identity. For example, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the Apple interface without animated transitions. 

Types of jobs in animation.

The animation industry is diverse and multifaceted. Here’s an overview of some of the key roles and positions:

  • Animators are the heart of the industry. They create the movement and behavior of characters, objects, and scenes.
  • Storyboard artists are responsible for creating a visual blueprint of the animation. They draw or illustrate the key scenes and shots in a sequence, helping to plan the overall flow of the animation.
  • Character designers specialize in creating the look and feel of animated characters. They develop the overall appearance, including clothing and facial expressions.
  • Layout artists work on the composition and placement of characters, props, and backgrounds within a scene. They ensure that everything is arranged properly for animation and camera work.
  • Special effects artists use software to create various visual effects, such as explosions, fire, water, and magical spells.
  • CGI artists create digital characters, scenes, and effects using computer-generated imagery.
  • Editors are responsible for post-production editing, where they arrange animated scenes for pacing and storytelling purposes. 

Stay at the cutting edge with Adobe Certified Professional.

Getting your animation career off the ground takes hard work — from mastering the relevant software and building a standout portfolio to landing your first role and dedicating yourself to evolving your craft.

Obtaining credentials like Adobe Certified Professional is one way to stand out from the competition. Whether you’re a master video editor or an expert animator, the certification gives you the knowledge and experience you need to make your mark. 

Frequently asked questions.

What are the different types of animation?

Traditional animation, 2D animation, 3D animation, and stop-motion animation are the four key types of animation. 

What is the most popular animation style?

3D animation, particularly in the form of CGI, has become immensely popular. It’s the hallmark of studios like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination. 

What are the career opportunities in the animation industry?

The animation industry is a diverse and multifaceted field with a wide range of roles and positions. If you like creating animated characters and objects, you can become an animator. You can also explore a supporting role, for example by becoming a rigging artist who’s responsible for adding digital skeletons to 3D models. The great thing about the animation industry is that you can choose to work as a full-time employee or break into freelancing

What certifications are helpful for careers in animation?

Given that Adobe’s creative apps are used across animation workflows, Adobe Certified Professional can give you the skills and credibility you need to advance your animation career.

Which tools are used in the professional animation industry?

It depends on the animation style you want to practice. If you’re working on 2D animation, you’ll likely use Adobe Animate. But if you want to practice 3D animation, explore tools like 3ds Max, Blender, or Cinema 4D.

Can I go into animation without a degree?

Yes, but building a solid portfolio, gaining practical experience, and networking within the industry are essential for success.   


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