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The bouncing ball animation (below) consists of these 6 frames.
This animation moves at 10 frames per second.

Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. It is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision. This could be anything from a flip book to a motion picture film.

Early animation

There is no single person who can be considered the "creator" of the art of animation, as there were several people doing several projects which could be considered various types of animation all around the same time. (Short, hand-drawn animation scenes could be presented with the Phenakistoscope, the Zoetrope, and other optical "toys" already in the early 1800s.)

The following is a brief listing on those who are often acknowledged as significant to the development of animation. Note that this list is by no means a comprehensive list of contributors to early animation.

Georges Méliès was a creator of special effect films, such as A Trip to the Moon. He used many techniques – one of which was to stop the camera rolling, change something in the scene, and then continue rolling the film. This is a very similar idea to that of stop-motion animation. Méliès accidentally happened upon the technique when his camera broke down while shooting a bus driving by. When the camera was fixed, a horse happened to be passing by just as Méliès continued to film. The result was that the bus appeared to change into a horse.

J. Stuart Blackton was possibly the first filmmaker in America to use the techniques of stop-motion and hand-drawn animation. Introduced to filmmaking by Edison, he pioneered these concepts at the turn of the 20th century, with his first copyrighted work dated 1900.

Émile Cohl began drawing cartoon strips and created a film in 1908 called Fantasmagorie. The film largely consisted of a stick figure moving about and encountering all manner of morphing objects, such as a wine bottle that transforms into a flower. There were also sections of live action where the animator’s hands would enter the scene. The film was created by drawing each frame on paper and then shooting each frame onto negative film, which gave the picture a blackboard look.

Winsor McCay created detailed animations that required a team of artists and painstaking attention for detail. Each frame was drawn on paper, requiring backgrounds to be redrawn, as well characters to be animated. His films such as Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) were of an impressive scale, although The Sinking of the Lusitania used cels.

Otto Messmer, in 1919, created the character of Felix the cat for Pat Sullivan's animation studios. The importance of Felix lies in the character's strong personality, created largely through gesture and actions.

Animation techniques

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.

Traditional animation

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, or 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, either by directly copying an actors outlines into an animated drawing (e.g. Ralph Bakshi), or use rotoscoped material as a basis and inspiration for a more fluid and expressive animation (e.g. Disney).
Examples: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gulliver's Travels, American Pop

Stop motion

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. There are many different types of stop-motion animation some notable, examples are listed below.

Clay animation
Often abbreviated to claymation, this is a type of stop-motion animation using figures made of clay or a similar malleable material. The figures may have an armature or wire frame inside of them, similar to puppet animation (below). Alternatively, the figures may be made entirely of clay, such as in the films of Bruce Bickford where clay creatures morph into a variety of different shapes.
Examples: Wallace and Gromit; Dimensions of Dialogue by Jan Švankmajer; The Amazing Mr. Bickford; The Trap Door
Cutout animation
In this type of stop-motion animation, the animation is formed by moving 2-dimensional pieces of material such as paper or cloth.
Examples: the animated sequences of Monty Python's Flying Circus (often referred to as Dada animation, named after the Dada art movement[citation needed]); Tale of Tales; early episodes of South Park
Silhouette animation
A type of cutout animation where the viewer only sees black silhouettes.
Example: The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the world's oldest surviving animated feature film, from 1926.
Graphic animation
Model animation
In this form of animation, model animated characters interact with, and are a part of, the live-action world.
Examples: The films of Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts) and Willis O'Brien (King Kong)
Go motion
Object animation
Examples: Neighbours
Puppet animation
Puppet animation typically involves puppet figures interacting with each other in a constructed environment, in contrast to the real-world interaction in model animation (above). The puppets generally have an armature inside of them to keep them still and steady as well as constraining them to move at particular joints.
Examples: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Robot Chicken, The Tale of the Fox

Computer animation

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 versions of traditional animation techniques such as of tweening, morphing, onion skinning and interpolated rotoscoping.
Examples: A Scanner Darkly, Jib Jab
  • Analog computer animation
  • Flash animation
  • PowerPoint animation
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
  • Cel-shaded animation
  • Morph target animation
  • Skeletal animation
  • Motion capture
  • Crowd simulation

Less common techniques

Drawn on film animation
A technique where footage is produced by creating the images directly on film stock.

Paint-on-glass animation
A technique for making animated films by manipulating slow-drying oil paints on sheets of glass.

Pinscreen animation
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 animation
Sand is moved around on a backlighted or frontlighted piece of glass to create each frame for an animated film.

Other techniques and approaches

See also

  • Animated cartoon
  • Animation software
  • Anime
  • Avar (animation variable)
  • Cartoons
  • Computer generated imagery
  • Digital acting
  • Famous names in animation
  • International Tournée of Animation
  • List of animated feature films
  • List of computer-animated films
  • List of stop-motion films
  • List of animated short series
  • List of animated television series
  • List of animation studios
  • List of motion picture topics
  • List of movie genres
  • Motion graphic design
  • Slideshow Animation
  • Stick figure
  • Traditional animation
  • Wire frame model


  • Ball, R., Beck, J., DeMott R., Deneroff, H., Gerstein, D., Gladstone, F., Knott, T., Leal, A., Maestri, G., Mallory, M., Mayerson, M., McCracken, H., McGuire, D., Nagel, J., Pattern, F., Pointer, R., Webb, P., Robinson, C., Ryan, W., Scott, K., Snyder, A. & Webb, G. (2004) Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, the History of Cartoon, Anime & CGI. Fulhamm London.: Flame Tree Publishing. ISBN 1-84451-140-5
  • Crafton, Donald (1982). Before Mickey. Cambridge, Massachusetts.: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-03083-7
  • Solomon, Charles (1989). Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation. New York.: Random House, Inc. ISBN 0-394-54684-9

Further reading

External links