What animation method is best for my project?

When it comes down to it, all that matters is the final look and style you desire, though there will be many ways of achieving that goal. There will not necessarily be a “best” approach, but you may have a preference once you compare the different types of animation available. So to help identify the difference between 2D, 3D, VFX, stop motion or motion graphics, we have some video links below to illustrate each approach. If you prefer a quick visual method to explore and learn more about dozens of style choices, try our animation style guide.

2D Animation

2D animation is generally associated with a hand drawn approach but the majority of modern 2D animation is produced on a computer using specialist software, with Toon Boom and Cel Action being the most popular. These software allow artists to work in a traditional manner, drawing frame by frame, as well as working with “rigged” characters, that can be manipulated between poses for a faster workflow. Here are a couple of examples of 2D animation and their methods.

Traditional ‘hand drawn’ 2D animation.
2D ‘vector based’ animation.

3D Animation

Also known as computer animation or CGI, 3D animation as we know it today began development in the 1960s and early 70s and it is all based on 3D mathematics to create 3D shapes which are then usually ‘rendered’ out to a sequence of 2D images which ultimately create the illusion of motion video. With computer animation now a staple of the modern cinema with the likes of Pixar, Dreamworks and even Disney having largely turned their back on the traditional 2D approach, 3D animation has become the new standard when speaking about animated projects.

The Pixar style

With the 3D approach you have a huge range of styles to choose from a flat cartoon look (similar to the vector 2D approach), the highly popular ‘Pixar’ style, through to ultra realism and absolutely anything in between.

3D with a traditional 2D look

The sheer flexibility and potentially limitless choice within 3D animation (with the right budget!) means innovation in this field is constantly finding new ways for artists to utilise their imagination to its full potential to bring any animated project to life.

A realistic approach. This leads us into the next section on VFX

VFX or Visual Effects

In a modern context, VFX is an extension of 3D animation in many ways. Also employing a variety of 2D techniques as well, visual effects is the art of using computers to integrate fantastical elements into real life video. This is nothing new as visual effects have been working along side special effects (practical, on set effects) almost since the very beginning of cinema over 100 years ago. The difference now is the ability to integrate VFX into live action film seamlessly. There are often thousands of VFX shots in modern films, commercials and TV the majority of which go entirely unnoticed.

RocketJump Film School did a fantastic job of explaining the real essence of VFX use in modern film and video.

Motion Graphics, Motion Design and 2.5D

These terms cover a wide range of styles and could in themselves involve elements of 2D and 3D animation. Common uses for these terms would include animated typography, on screen information graphics and animated logos. Explainer videos would often fall under this category.

2D and 3D motion graphics example.

The term 2.5D fits quite appropriately here as rather than creating full 3D assets, motion graphics often employ the use of 2D elements, but animated as if in a 3D space. A common application of this is with motion tracked text that moves as if embedded in real life.

Motion graphic text, analysed by Every Frame a Painting.

Stop Motion

When the subject of stop motion animation comes to mind, the term is synonymous with the world renowned animation company Aardman, most famously known for their characters Wallace and Gromit and the highest grossing stop motion film of all time, “Chicken Run”. This method is far more labor intensive, requiring real physical models built historically out of clay or Plasticine like materials, or more modernly constructed from metal armatures and even employing 3D printing to create characters ready to be hand animated frame by frame. There is little room for retakes/ changes to shots so it could not be considered a very “client friendly” animation method, however when done right, the results are fantastic.

Stop motion talent at it’s finest behind the scenes of ParaNorman.

So now you know where to find animators and what animation style you are looking for, move on to the last page covering how to get a quick and accurate animation quote.

Click here to continue to page 3.

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