Our 6 Favourite Animation Techniques

Aside from the entertainment it produces and the creativity it allows you, what makes animation such a great industry to be a part of? We think that it’s the constant innovation and development of new techniques that keeps it fresh and engaging.

This week we’re sharing some of the awesome animation techniques that never fail to blow us away.

Squash and stretch

Min Stora Dag from BRIKK on Vimeo.

This is a cool technique concerning how animators show action in their work. You’re definitely aware of this one if you’ve ever done any animating yourself, as it’s famously one of the “12 principles of animation” laid out by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their book The Illusion of Life.

Essentially, this is where an object’s elasticity and the flexibility displayed by movement and inertia are exaggerated. Take a bouncing ball, for example. Instead of retaining its spherical shape, an animator applying the squash and stretch principle would elongate (stretch) the ball slightly during the fall and rebound, then widen (squash) it upon impact.

When applied to a full animated video, the results are beautiful and entrancing. Or just plain disturbing if you catch an unfortunate freeze-frame

2D and 3D mixed animation

Salesman Pete from Salesman Pete on Vimeo.

Check out Salesman Pete and The Amazing Stone from Outer Space, a short by French studio STEAK Animation (love the food theme, guys). Notice how the style of animation switches, buttery smooth, between 2D and 3D and 3D animation. The cartoony style is so consistent that it’s sometimes hard to even tell where the transitions are.

We love mixing up 2D and 3D like this because it lets you get the best of both worlds: the expressive detail of 2D, plus the depth and dynamism of 3D. This technique isn’t anything new, it’s been around since at least 1985 when Disney used hybrid animation in The Black Cauldron. Still, there are plenty of innovators refining mixed animation media and it’s one of the coolest things we love to see develop.

Rotoscoping

This is essentially grown-up tracing for animators but that’s not to say that it’s a cop-out method! The name comes from a bonkers looking contraption invented by Max Fleischer. There’s an easel with a transparent tracing sheet in the centre which a projector is beaming live footage onto from behind.

It became the most efficient and consistent technique for animating on a large scale with many people working on the same project – Walt Disney and his animators rotoscoped sequences of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

The modern version does away with the physical trappings of this technique. Instead, animators are layering over live footage digitally, as can be seen in the movies Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly with their striking style which straddles both animation and live-action.

Cel shading in video games


This is a technique whereby you deliberately make an object non-photorealistic by using less shading gradients and replacing it with flat colours and shadows. Basically, this makes it look more cartoony.

Let me paint a picture for you: The year was 2000 and Nintendo was finally ready to show a next-gen, realistic The Legend of Zelda tech demo. This aired at Nintendo Space World and young Jamie was bouncing off the walls. Finally, a proper successor to Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask on the N64! Everyone was, as they say in the gaming community, hype.

Fast-forward to 2001 and another trailer for the next Zelda was announced, but things had changed massively since Space World. Instead of the hero we all knew and loved, a little impish, cel shaded, toony version greeted us.

The community was outraged, as they are when anything changes unexpectedly, but quickly embraced the new cartoony art direction. It was the first time that a game of this scope let you essentially play a cartoon. The resulting game: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker became one of the series’ most well loved and memorable thanks largely to the brave choice of cel shading by the developers.

Paper animation


Paper animation is one of the most striking ways of using stop motion animation. You basically create and cut out a load of pictures, drawings, any material you’re gonna use, before compositing them together.

Sometimes called ‘cut-out animation’, this is the very same technique that was used for the famous and very successful Dropbox animated explainer video. Aka: ‘the explainer that launched a thousand ships’, ‘the chosen one’, ‘the animation who lived’, etc. etc.

That being said, it does look rather dated nowadays, so check out this modern example of what paper animation can do when you have the time for the pre-production of content it demands. Thinking of creating your own? You might also want to save a bit of that budget for a hand model or two!

Hand painted animation

If you thought that watching the ‘making of’ footage from early Disney hand-drawn animation was beautiful, wait until you see how they made Loving Vincent. I’ll just give you a moment to scoop your jaw off the floor – It blew my tiny mind, too.

Here’s a milestone in animation, the first fully oil painted feature film, achieved by Breakthru Films, Trademark Films and their team of over 100 artists painting 65,000 individual frames.

“We painted the first frame as a full painting on canvas board, and then painted over that painting for each frame until the last frame of the shot. We are then left with an oil-painting on canvas board of the last frame.”

Just stunning, there are some really cool animators out there experimenting with other painted styles, like ‘aquarelle’ or watercolour. We can’t wait to see how this technique develops after the exposure it gets from Loving Vincent.

There you go, our favourite animation techniques. Or should we say: our favourite animation techniques so far. We can’t wait to see where this industry goes next.

Don’t forget to hit us up on facebook.com/fudgeanimation and @fudgeanimation to let us know your favourite techniques, too!