3: Independent animation approaches

visual narrative
  • iPad
  • professional software

What is animation?

Animation is a process and the malleability of time is its primary material.

‘Time is what prevents everything from being present all at once’ Henri Bergson.

The animator seeks to control at what pace, rhythm and direction things appear.

“What happens between each frame is much more important than what exists on each frame” Norman McLaren, Computer Animation

It is not the image, drawing or shape of each frame that matters in animation, rather it is the difference between the frames that generates the illusion of movement in animation.

It is the animator’s ability to control and play with these intervals between frames that matters. It is important to think in terms of intervals, rates of change and flux, rather than thinking in terms of still images or compositions.

There are two main forms of animated movement: manipulation and replacement. These can be used and combined in a number of different ways.

  1. Traditional cell animation.
  2. 2D digital animation
  3. Rotoscoping
  4. Stop motion
  5. 3-D computer animation or CGI .
  6. Motion graphics moving elements in space
  7. Scratch video manipulation of video and other elements to tell a different story.

Independent animation

1) Digital 2D animation

is the main approach used here for animating the drawings. See:

2) Rotoscoping

is used for integrating other contextual material like photographs and video. See:

Rotoscoping Styles and Methods

3) Visual narrative techniques

including use of natural media and Stop Motion are explored in more detail on:

Zemniimages Moving Image blog for OCA Module Animation

2D Digital animation

Most contemporary independent animation uses digital software. A wide range of approaches and styles can be produced. This can use frame by frame digital drawings that follow the same principles as traditional animation. It can also use vector drawings for tweened animation and Inverse Kinematic skeleton rigs that can be manipulated like puppets. The main professional software is ToonBoom Studio, TVPaint and Adobe Animate. With free software like Flika and tablet software.

Mark Baker
Pencilmation using Adobe Animate


Rotoscoping involves drawing and painting on and manipulating video or photo sequences to produce animated frames. This can be done using natural media on cinema film or digitally in any professional 2D animation software. This is not an easy option to drawing. Drawing mechanically on top of photographs and video produces robotic and uninteresting animation – unless that is the effect required. Producing dramatic animation requires in-depth understanding of keyframing and movement to select the frames, and good drawing/painting skills to select and reproduce elements on each frame. But it is possible to produce very beautiful work this way that also plays on distinctions between fantasy and reality.

Visual narrative inspiration

Stop Motion

Eastern Europe: framing, colour, sound

3-D computer animation
or CGI .

Humour. This creates 3D digital puppet rigs that can be digitally manipulated following similar principles to Stop Motion. Most cinema animation is produced in this way. But there are also independent animators using software like Maya, or free Open Source software like Blender. This can be hyperrealistic or output in various illustration styles to produce animated short films like these from Film Bilder.


suspense, framing

Software reviews

My list of key things to look for when choosing animation software:

  • Drawing tools vector drawing tools for creating motion and scaling and/or pixel-based tools for more artistic effects. Including image import so that backgrounds and other features can be created from photographs, artwork or imported images from other drawing and painting aps.
  • Symbols or re-usable elements, including import from other software.
  • Puppets and rigs : ability to create characters with movable skeletons and bones that can then be manipulated for action as in 3D animation.
  • Tweening or smoothing/interpolation of animation between drawn key-frames, including control of the number of before/after frames, colouring and opacity.
  • Onion-skinning: viewing of previous and following drawn frames to facilitate accurate drawing of current frames
  • Layers to be able to create scenes with background, foreground and multiple animated elements with different animation rhythms.
  • Timeline features: control over frame speed and duration, easy addition and deletion of frames.
  • Audio features to import music, narration and sound effects – preferably onto separate layers for multiple sound effects, music and/or voice over.
  • Text features to add titles, captions, credits and additional text overlays.

I started by experimenting on the iPad with different software, to experiment with different styles and basics of short animation:

But I found the professional software on a pc with bigger screen and much better timeline automation features much more user and RSI-friendly for my work. I was already familiar with Adobe Animate, used for some of the diagram animations on this blog. But after looking through tutorials and reviews on You Tube, I decided on:

  • TVPaint because of its drawing and painting features.

Bloop animation review of the main professional software: 3D from Autodesk (3DMax, Maya and?); Blender (free 3D); Cinema 4D; After Effects; Adobe Animate; Photoshop; TVpaint; Toon Boom. See also https://www.bloopanimation.com/animation-software/
Overview of free and professional software: MohoAnime Studio (free); Synfig (free) ToonBoom Harmony (professional used by Disney); Opentoonz (free Open Source used by Ghibli for Princess Mononoke) Cel Action (free no drawing tools); pencil 2D (minimalist traditional FbF); Tupi Pen Source tweening; Flipbook imports drawings from a scanner; Sprinter Pro to import and animate bones; Stop Motion Studio for Stop Motion.

!!Software comparison Excel chart to be done


On-line Resources
  • You Tube
  • Howard Wimshurst YouTube channel and tutored courses on Animator Guild
  • Proko – A channel which specializes in teaching observational figure drawing.
  • FilmMaker IQ – So much of Animation is linked to Film Making. This channel is a fantastic resource for film makers of all kinds.
  • Striving for animation – for those who are specifically focused at working in the Japanese Anime industry, this channel gives excellent advice and training.


  • Animator’s survival kit – Widely considered to be the cornerstone book for animators
  • The Illusion of Life – This covers the principles of animation in a lot of depth as well as being a valuable insight into classic Disney-style animation and drawing.
  • Drawn to Life – Another good book for learning animation and drawing
  •  Framed Ink – A fantastic book on dynamic composition
  • Framed Perspective – A lot of people get hung up on perspective. If you are one of them, this book explains it very well and gets pretty advanced in book 2.
  •  Force: Dynamic life drawing for animators – This book helps you to understand gesture – getting energy into your drawings!
  • Directing the Story – Highly recommended. Explains very simply how to tell a story with drawings – it shows you that you don’t need to have mad drawing skills to be able to convey a compelling story.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – For breaking bad drawing habits and learning to draw what you see.
  • Atlas of the Human Anatomy – contains good pictures and diagrams if you want a deep dive into anatomy and proportions.
  • Color and Light – an inspiring book which teaches all about colour and lighting for artists.