Animation Basics for Beginners

November 21, 2018

n this article I will reveal the basics of animation and I hope that after reading it will force you to take the first step towards the realization of your dream in creating animation.
This article was created for beginners, but if you are an experienced Animator who has not yet grasped these basics, this article will be an excellent starting point.

So let's start with the definition of animation.

Animation is a change of the position and shape of images or objects in time. It produces using different techniques that create the illusion of movement, replacing each other with a certain frequency.

In other words, animation is movement over time, which concerns visual changes.
In theory, this happens when the object was at one point, and after some time it shows at another. The object may not even change its position, it can simply change its external form, and has the time reference.

Before we start animating objects, let's consider its main types: 

  1. Traditional animation
  2. 2D vector animation
  3. 3D computer animation
  4. Motion Graphics 
  5. Stop Motion

Traditional animation, time-lapsed

Traditional animation is one of the old type animation, which appeared in 1877 with Praxinoscope, invented by french teacher of natural science Charles-Émile Reynaud.
To make an animation, you as an artist have to draw each image separately, which is often called “frames”, in order to create an animation sequence. An illusion of movement is created by quickly browsing these sequential patterns. Just like it was done for the old days of Disney.
In traditional animation, animators draw images on a transparent sheet of paper attached to a peg using a colored pencil, one frame at a time. Animators usually test animations using very coarse drawings to see how many frames they need to perform an action. After completion of the cleaning and intermediate drawings, next step of production starts from photographing each individual frame. It takes a lot of time and money to create a traditional, frame-by-frame animation. However, today this type of animation can be performed on a computer using a tablet and doesn’t require actual shooting of different frames.

Traditional animation Simple
Traditional drawing animation on paper

2D Vector Animation

This style of animation has become very popular in the last decade due to the availability of technology and the growth of online video. Flash is low-budget and easy to use, like the other vector animation programs.
2D animation is a term that is often used to refer to traditional hand-drawn animation, but it can also refer to computer vector animation, which uses traditional animation techniques.
Vector animations, meaning computer-generated 2D animations, use the same methods as traditional animation, but the benefit is the lack of physical objects, necessary to create traditional 2D animations, as well as the ability to use computer interpolation at once.
The type of 2D animation resides in addition to animation options created frame by frame, the animator creates characters snap and then simply moves the body parts separately instead of drawing the character again and again.
This flexibility gives inexperienced animators more opportunities when approaching animation, especially if drawing is a weak side, unlike traditional animation which requires a very strong drawing skill. 

2D Vector Animation

Useful Software:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Photoshop.
  • After effects
  • Adobe animate
  • Adobe premiere

3D Computer Animation

3D animation has definitely revolutionized the way animation industry looks today, and it all began in 1995 with Toy Story, directed by John Lassetter.
The type of 3D animation is not the same as traditional, frame-by-frame animation. At some points, they both use the same principles of movement and formulation of the composition, but we need completely different knowledge for each of the tasks if we want to work with it. Working with traditional animation you just need to be a cool artist, but if it’s computer 3D animation, you don’t need to be an artist at all. 
3D animation, also called CGI or simply CG, is created by generating images using computers. This series of images are frames of an animated picture.
The three-dimensional animation technique is similar to stop-motion, and has much  in common, since they both deal with modeling postures, and still fit the 2D animation approach, but this is much more manageable since it is in the digital workspace. 
Instead of drawing or model objects from clay, characters in three-dimensional animation are simulated with a digital look, and then a “skeleton” applies to them, which allows animators move these models.
Making this type of animation, you need to place 3D objects on some frames, and computer in order to create motion, will make the calculation itself and draw intermediate values ​​between these frames.
When modeling and / or animation is completed, computer will render each frame individually, which is pretty time-consuming, depends on image quality and the number of polygons in the scene. 3D animator will spend most of his time looking at the curves that represent the movement of various parts of the body over some time. Another important point of 3D animation is that unlike traditional animation, the character's body parts are always present and must be taken into account.

3D Computer Animation Jumping

Useful Software:

  • Cinema 4D.
  • Autodesk Maya;
  • Autodesk 3DS Max;
  • After Effects
  • Blender;
  • Houdini

Motion Graphics

Term “Motion Graphics” appeared along with computer video editing, because programs like Adobe After Effects and Apple Motion help editing images much easier and faster. Previously, before the computer editing appeared, it was a very time-consuming process, which forced it to become a high-budget production. Today this type is very popular in commercials, online videos, news shows and videos for social networks. 
Although animated graphics still considered as a form of animation, it vastly differs from other types of animation. Unlike the other types of animation noted before, this one is not a character or story. It is the art of moving graphic elements or texts creatively, usually for commercial or advertising purposes. Animated logos, video clips with explanations, application commercials, television promo videos or even movie titles. 
It’s not necessary to move skills for motion graphics into other types of animation, because we need to understand and know the body’s machinery or the actions, but they have some common features, such as an understanding of good composition and all important camera motion.
The programs used in Motion Graphics creation play great role, because programs used for editing video often have different settings, and even the user interface, but theidea is the same. Motion Graphics typically include the animation of objects, images, texts, or even video clips, using animated keyframes to ensure smooth movement between frames.

Motion Graphics

Useful Software:

  • After Effects
  • Cinema 4D

Stop Motion

Stop-motion animation was often used as special effects before the CGI-animation appeared, and therefore has a long history.
Movement can be stopped by taking a photo of the object, then move this object a little and take another photo. The process should be repeated, and when the photos are played one after another, they create the illusion of movement. This type has some similarity to traditional animation but instead of drawings real materials are used.
Stop-Motion can be referred to any animation that uses photographed objects in a certain sequence and makes the illusion of movement. The stop motion animation is a lengthy process because each object must be carefully moved inch by inch, and photographed frame by frame in order to create a smooth animation sequence.
Here are the different types of stop motion animations:


One of the most famous forms of stop motion animation is Claymation. Clay characters are often used because they can be easily manipulated for animation. Advanced clay processing (such as Neverhood or Armikrog) uses metal skeletons to form the clay on and make the firm drilling rigs.


Some animators use puppets instead of clay characters, usually made with some kind of skeleton. Faces of characters can be replaced based on expression or controlled inside the rig.

Cut off

Another popular form of stop motion animation is neckline. Building paper or cardboard characters are used and placed on the paper then they are shooted from above (this is how South Park was created before they switched to computers). Then the cardboard moves slightly frame by frame to create the illusion of movement.


Like the cutout animation, the silhouette animation uses cardboard or some kind of flat material, but all the objects are black and the image is depicted only with silhouettes. It is one of the oldest forms of stopping motion and is rarely used today.

Figures / Lego

Animated characters or character figures are used in this way of creating animation. This genre is very popular on YouTube, and many channels are dedicated to creating funny scenes with Lego characters. Robot Chicken is an excellent example of this. They use famous figures to make fun of pop culture.


Pixelation is a form of motion stopping that uses real people and real environments to create unrealistic videos. The stop motion method is used which allows to take still photos, move objects, and then take another photos but the object is usually real people, not puppets.

animated girl
animated letters

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