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What is Animation? Definition, Examples, History

From traditional hand-drawn animations to modern computer-generated imagery (CGI), animation has evolved over the years and now dominates various industries, including entertainment, advertising, education, and gaming. It allows storytellers to transport audiences to fantastical realms, evoke emotions, and deliver compelling narratives. 

Comprising iconic classics like Disney’s “Snow White” to the cutting-edge wonders of Pixar’s “Toy Story,” animation continues to enchant and inspire people of all ages, preserving the magic of storytelling through mesmerising visuals and imagination. Probably why the global animation industry is set to touch a whopping $528.8 billion worth of market value by the year 2030.

Let’s explore what is animation and the various types of animation techniques embraced by cartoonists and artists all around the world. 

What is Animation?

Animation involves capturing a series of consecutive drawings, models, or puppets to give the impression of movement in a sequence. Our eyes only hold onto an image for about 1/10 of a second. So, when numerous images are shown rapidly, our brain merges them into a unified moving image.

The traditional animation process was relatively slow and laborious in the early days of animation. They relied on the “frames per second” technique to move objects and characters, but completing just one frame took a lot of time and effort. Sometimes, animators worked tirelessly for days or weeks to finish a single sequence.

Fast forward to today, the popular animations we enjoy now combine traditional animation styles and computer-generated imagery. This amalgamation allows for more efficient and captivating storytelling.  

Let’s now delve into the history of animation and where it derived from.

History of Animation

The history of animation dates back to ancient times when simple optical illusions were used to create motion. In the late 19th century, developing devices like the zoetrope and the flip book laid the foundation for modern animation techniques—the first animated film, “Fantasmagorie,” created by Émile Cohl in 1908. The 1920s saw the rise of traditional hand-drawn animation with iconic characters like Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse.

In the 1930s, Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” revolutionised animation as the first full-length animated feature. The 1950s saw the advent of stop-motion animation with Ray Harryhausen’s work.

The 1960s brought about innovations like limited animation and the first computer-generated animation by Ivan Sutherland. The 1990s witnessed the resurgence of 2D animation with Disney’s classics like “The Lion King” and the rise of 3D animation with Pixar’s “Toy Story.”

Today, animation thrives in various forms, from traditional hand-drawn to computer-generated imagery (CGI), playing a significant role in entertainment, education, and communication.

Types of Animation

Just as art forms exist globally in different forms and shapes, animation itself is a distinct form of art which exists in myriads of forms. Let’s explore some of them. 

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Traditional Animation

One of the oldest forms of animation in film is known as cel animation, often referred to as traditional animation. In this technique, animators draw objects and characters on transparent celluloid paper, creating each frame by hand. It’s similar to flipping through a flip book but on a larger scale to create a movement sequence.

Most traditional animation is 2D, and classic films like Aladdin and The Lion King are prime examples of this style. In the early days, animators used tables with built-in lights to see their previous animation frames as a reference while working on new ones. However, the traditional approach is less commonly used today, and animators often work digitally using tablets for drawing.

Rotoscoping

An interesting animation method called rotoscoping, commonly called “roto,” involves tracing over real-world video pixel by frame. Max Fleischer, an animator, is credited with developing rotoscoping in 1915 to produce more realistic animations with fluid and lifelike movements.

Animators had to draw each frame by hand before the advent of rotoscoping, which was tedious and time-consuming. However, the ability to trace over live-action sequences drastically sped up the entire animation workflow and revolutionised the animation process. 

Anime

It is a captivating Japanese animation style that has gained popularity worldwide. These animations are distinguished by their striking visuals, dynamic characters, and engaging themes like sci-fi, romance, and supernatural elements. 

One of the most recognisable features of anime is its unique art style. Characters are often portrayed with large eyes, wild hair, and elongated limbs, which allows for expressive emotions and adds to the distinctiveness of the genre.

Cutout

As one of the oldest and most straightforward animation techniques, cutout animation involves crafting 2D animations using characters, props, and scenes from materials like paper, cards, and fabric. These materials are cut into smaller shapes, assembled, and placed on a flat background. The illusion of movement comes to life when captured through small, incremental movements and filming.

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What is 3D Animation? 

3D animation is creating moving, three-dimensional images and placing them within a digital environment. This dynamic process involves specialised software explicitly designed for 3D animation, allowing animators to breathe life into objects and characters by simulating realistic movements.

The entire process of animating these objects can be divided into three main stages: modelling, layout and animation, and rendering.

Modelling is the initial phase where objects or characters are generated. This can be achieved through modelling tools or scanning real-world objects into the computer. Once the models are ready, textures are added to enhance realism and give the models their unique character.

In the layout and animation stage, the models are positioned and animated within a particular scene. The process involves creating a set, arranging objects, and animating characters by assigning various animation variables.

The final stage, rendering, brings the scene to life and generates the finished image. This step requires specialised rendering software as it can be quite resource-intensive. The rendering process can be tailored to achieve a more realistic look or to apply a specific art style.

What is Stop Motion Animation?

Stop motion animation is sophisticated and captivating, reminiscent of an advanced flipbook-style technique. The process involves capturing photographs of carefully arranged objects within the frame and manipulating them physically. When these frames are played sequentially, the illusion of movement is created, making the objects appear to be animating independently.

Over the years, countless stop-motion animations have become beloved British daytime TV fixtures and earned prestigious accolades like the Oscars, cementing its position as a widely recognised and cherished animation technique.

What is Motion Graphics?

Motion graphics refers to the fusion of graphics and movement, a transformative technique that revolutionised graphic design in the mid-20th century. In motion graphic design, artists combine text and design elements that come to life through animation. 

However, it’s important to note that motion graphics animations are not full-length animated films like those produced by Disney. Instead, they generally consist of shorter animated pieces that entertain or convey information. For instance, 3D motion graphics are commonly used in advertisements to captivate audiences.

Why is Animation Important in Multimedia?

Multimedia technologies allow the interactive presentation of information by seamlessly combining various elements like texts, images, animation, sounds, and videos. Animation design stands out as an excellent option for enticing and engaging users. 

With the help of such technology, animated design strives for perfection in engaging audiences by providing a variety of fascinating approaches to meet their preferences and wants.

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Key Benefits of Animation

Wondering how animation has drawn significant attention across industries? Let us explore some of its most prominent benefits to see why. 

  • Deepens Visual Understanding: Animation surpasses traditional images in enhancing visual comprehension. It offers an experiential journey through art, enabling others to grasp and develop ideas using diverse techniques.
  • Efficient Communication of Ideas: Animation swiftly and sharply conveys ideas, knowledge, and narratives. It serves as an exceptional tool for communication, employing clear visuals to make ideas accessible to others.
  • Cost-Effective Communication Strategy: Animation proves to be a cost-saving communication tactic. Compared to other methods like live-action filming with actors, animation requires fewer resources and expenses.
  • Entertains and Engages: Animation educates, entertains, and engages the audience. It presents ideas enjoyably, making the learning process engaging and effective.
  • Real-Life Scenarios for Learning: Animation design incorporates real-life scenarios, facilitating compelling learning experiences. It efficiently portrays various emotions and experiences, tapping into the audience’s emotions and creating a positive brand perception.

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Conclusion

In a nutshell, animation is an art form that brings static images to life, imparting the illusion of movement and storytelling. From its humble origins in optical illusions to cutting-edge CGI, animation has evolved to dominate diverse industries, delivering captivating narratives across entertainment, education, and communication. 

Animation is a cost-effective, engaging tool that resonates universally, shaping how we perceive and interact with the world. As we journey through time, animation’s allure remains undiminished, weaving its magic into our visual experiences and transforming the art of storytelling.

FAQs

What are the key characteristics or elements of motion graphics?

The core characteristics of motion graphics entail diverse visual and design elements that come together to create a distinct medium for directing stories. These characteristics include animated movement of graphics and texts, usage or typography, dynamic transitions and usage of audio elements that complement stories.

What is CGI animation, and how is it different from traditional animation techniques?

CGI animation stands for Computer-Generated Imagery animation. It differs from traditional animation as it is entirely created and manipulated using computer software. Whereas, traditional animation involves drawing each frame by hand or using physical objects like puppets or models.

What are some well-known examples of CGI animation in movies or video games?

Some well-known examples of CGI animation in movies include Toy Story, Frozen, and Avatar. In video games, famous examples are Fortnite, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and League of Legends.

How is 3D animation created, and what are its applications?

3D animation is created using computer software to generate and manipulate three-dimensional objects and characters. Its applications include films, video games, TV shows, advertisements, architectural visualisation, product design, and educational simulations.

What are some notable 3D animation movies or animated series?

Some of the notable 3D movies worldwide include: Finding Nemo (2003), The Lion King (1994), The Nut Job (2014), Tangled (2011) and Frozen (2013)

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