Animation is not the art of making drawings move, but the art of drawing movement. Based on the persistence of vision, animation, like all film, is an illusion of fluid movement, when in fact it is a series of static drawings moving so quickly, twenty-four frames a second, that they give the appearance of movement. While there are many forms of animation, we are going to focus on the three most prominent.
2D. Classical. Hand-Drawn Animation
This is the oldest and simplest (but not easiest or cheapest) method, having been around since the beginning of the 20th century. With the advent of technology, pencils were traded in for stylus’ and paper exchanged for Cintiq’s and Wacom tablets. The principles of drawing remain the same, but the technology has changed. While technical tools are making it easier and more accessible, some of the greatest animators alive still employ pencil and paper to draw their animation.
3D. Computer Graphics
This form of animation only became possible with innovations in computer graphics in the 1990s, and has become massively popular since then. The computer graphics allow the animator to create photo realistic images that Classical Animation can’t. Also, powerful animation software allows for in-betweens, lighting, building crowds, environments and more. Because of this, it has become the most common form of animation used in the film industry today.
This is the oldest form of animation and one of the most interesting. This form involves taking individual photographs of physical models, objects, puppets or people as they are moved around, one frame at a time. It’s the most uncommon because of how labourious and time consuming it is to create the objects and sets, and to take individual pictures for every frame.
Pixar was the first company to popularize the 3DCG method, starting with the release of Toy Story, the first fully computer-animated theatrical feature film in 1995. Every animated film starts with an idea, a story, and a character. However, many people don’t realize that at Pixar there are as many artists working in traditional media - hand drawing, painting, pastels, sculpture - as are in digital media. Most of this work takes place during the development of a project, or pre-production, when they’re working out the story and the look of the film. This development stage, the time before the digital assets are built, is the time to explore as much as possible, to give their imaginations free rein. In turn, their art inspires the storytellers and filmmakers to new heights. Storyboarding is a part of this process. Similar to laying a comic strip on the wall, storyboarding allows the animators to “read” the whole film visually in pre-production, from beginning to end. It also allows animators to see where the film is strong and where it is weak and then re-work those areas. Animators then create the digital character models in a computer program and move them into different positions that are known as “keyframes”, and the computers can be programmed to simulate them moving between those points. But in order to get the final product that you see in the movie, there’s an entire “pipeline” - a line of different groups that each scene passes through. Each group handles a single different aspect of the scene. For example, one of them adds the sets and environments that the models move around in, another adds details like hair and clothing that move independently, another adds virtual light sources into the scene to make it look like it should.
That’s the simple idea behind it. But it’s this combination of art and technology, creativity and skill, that opens up the story worlds and gives form to the visions that drive the animated films that we love today!