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5 techniques to create an animation

The animation techniques used by the film and advertising industry are manifold, but the most important are these five techniques.

Here is the list of the 5 animation techniques that we propose in this article.

Traditional animation (Cel animation)

Historical notes

It has a very complex history, with indefinite nuances and linked to the tradition of magic lantern shows (17th century), positioning itself as the natural evolution of the same. Over the years, through the invention of the zootrope (1834), the praxinoscope (1876-1877) and the optical theater (1888), it gradually assumes its specific form until it is defined as a real genre in most international cinemas ( among which the American, Japanese and Russian ones stand out).

The first work done with this technique dates back to 1908; it is Fantasmagorie by Émile Cohl, considered by many to be the first cartoon in history. The technique has evolved over the years, reaching a key point in 1937 with the release of the first feature film in cel animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a romantic and lighter reinterpretation of the Grimm brothers’ novel of the same name, as well as the first film produced from Walt Disney Productions.

It is a very rudimentary technique, practically abandoned by most studios (among the few exceptions it is necessary to mention the Studio Ghibli of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata)

How does it work?

This technique consists of drawing on a transparent support every single frame of the sequence of images; the drawings reproduced in sequence, therefore, create the illusion of movement. The support on which the animator draws is the cel, a transparent cellulose acetate sheet that is placed on a table and illuminated from below. The sheets, stacked one on top of the other, are filtered by light, thus allowing the animator to see the previous drawings of the sequence and consequently to be able to draw the subsequent tables in a consistent manner with respect to the previous ones, leaving unchanged the parts that do not participate in the movement (such as backgrounds, foreground objects, or other static elements).

It is generally a type of animation in step 2 (a different design every two frames), characterized by the use of 12 designs per second, doubled to obtain the frequency of 24 frames per second. Some sequences are made in step 1, making 24 designs per second (one different for each frame) to create particular dynamism effects.

2D animation (Vector-based animation)

Brief history 

It began to take shape in the late 1990s, playing a fundamental role in the production of content distributed via the Internet. In 1997 The Goddamn George Liquor Program was the first animated series produced exclusively for the network and created with Adobe Flash.

How does it work?

This is the technological progression of traditional animation, as it consists in applying the same techniques of manual drawing - tweening or overlapping, morphing, onion skinning, rotoscope - to drawing done on the computer. The use of programs such as Adobe Flash Professional (now renamed in Adobe Animate ) or Adobe After Effects has introduced a considerable simplification of the work of the animator, introducing new techniques and functions, such as the puppet tool and the interpolation between the frames (or for better to say, the keyframes ).

3D animation (Computer animation, CGI)

<< To infinity and beyond! >>

[Buzz Lightyear, from Toy Story]


The year was 1995 and a young film production company, Pixar Animation Studios, taken over by Steve Jobs in 1986 by a division of Lucas Film and driven by the skilled animator John Lasseter - former author of Tin Toy (1988), the first short film in CGI to win the prestigious Oscar Award - in collaboration with Walt Disney Pictures. He made the first animated feature fully developed in computer graphics: Toy Story - The world of toys, directed by Lasseter himself. From that day on, the film industry and the world of animation would never be the same again.

How does it work?

Animation occurs through the movement of objects in a three-dimensional space. In detail, these are three-dimensional models composed of polygons (morph target animation) that the animator can freely animate by going to act on a scheme similar to a skeletal system; this system is called rigging and allows to segment objects or parts of the body in order to produce their articulation and movement. The skeleton is subsequently covered by a surface layer called texture, to which it is possible to associate one or more materials that allow giving a verisimilitude effect to the surface of the objects. This type of two-part representation - surface part (skin, mesh or texture) and deep part (rig or skeleton) - is known as skeletal animation.

Scheme of a three-dimensional element made in computer graphics

Unlike 2D animation, the protagonist subject of the movement is always present throughout the animation phase, as it is a modelable three-dimensional object and not a drawing created from scratch every 1-2 frames.

In the field of video production, it is possible to insert three-dimensional objects in real environments through the motion tracking technique. It is also possible to recreate real landscapes or create scenographies that are, in all respects, plausible with the matte painting technique.

Also interesting is the integration of 3D models with motion capture, a technique that involves the use of sensors which, connected to a subject, allow the movement, as well as facial expressions, to be digitized, leading to more realistic results than those obtained with skeletal animation.

Motion Graphics

Motion graphics, unlike conventional animation, are characterized by the absence of characters or a story that acts as a common thread. Instead, it presents abstract objects, geometric shapes, logos, and textual elements that are animated to create acronyms, bumpers, gifs, presentations, and various audiovisual contents intended for the advertising industry. It is often made with flat design elements (especially as regards videos destined for the web and in particular for social networks), but it is also widely used in its 3D version for advertising spots. 

Stop Motion

Historical notes

Stop motion began to be experimented in the late 1800s by the film industry to insert objects that moved "as if by magic" into films; among the many experimenters, it is necessary to mention George Méliès, considered by many to be the father of special effects. But the primacy as the first short film in history made with this technique belongs to The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898) by Albert Smith and James Stuart Blackton. In our opinion, it will be the film King Kong(1933) directed by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack to definitively consecrate this technique, making possible the movement of the gigantic gorilla protagonist of the film. Speaking instead of animated feature films, emblematic cases date back to recent years, with masterpieces of the caliber of Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and La sposa cadavere(2005) produced by Tim Burton, Fantastic Mr. Fox(2009) by Wes Anderson, Anomalisa (2015) by Charlie Kaufman and The Little Prince (2015) by Mark Osborne.

How does it work?

It is a type of animation that involves the physical manipulation of an inanimate real object in order to simulate its movement over time. It is an animation in step 1, as a different photograph is taken for each frame. In this procedure, it is necessary to use miniature scenographies, modeling puppets, and particular cameras with macro lenses (with reduced focusing distance). The parts of the subjects 'bodies are articulated between one photograph and the other, and the models are moved to the three-dimensional space of the scenography, in such a way as to simulate both the movement of the subjects' bodies and their interaction in space.

<< You can imagine, create, and build the most wonderful place on Earth, but people will always need to make a dream come true. >>

[Walt Disney - 1901-1966]

We conclude the article with this wonderful quote from Walter Elias Disney, perfectly in line with the animation. Also here in Lotrèk, we agree that before creating fantastic - or digital worlds - the presence of real people, of humans, is necessaryanimation, human Before Digital.


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