3: Lines Talking In Process Workflow experiments

Animation approaches and styles

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.
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

Other techniques

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

Zemniimages Moving Image blog for OCA Module Animation

Traditional cell animation

Frame by frame animation drawing or painting on each frame of film or plates that are then photographed and projected in rapid sequence. This is very time-consuming – at 24 frames a second a 1 minute animation requires 1,440 drawings. Maintaining consistency as well as dynamic movement between frames requires very good drawing skills. There are techniques that can be used to streamline the process, and contemporary independent animators have produced work using this technique. But long block-buster films like Disney and Ghibli have large studios with many people involved.

Early animation

  • Winsor MCKay 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur was one of the earliest animations made on film. Each drawing was redrawn on each page and captured on film and then projected at a rapid rate. McKay presented his animation as a stand-up show with live narrative. Written text is also included on some of the frames.
  • JR Bray Dachshund: introduced the background shot and discovered use of celluloid sheets for layering where only certain elements changed each time.
  • Raoul Barre: Dreams of Hercules and Crazy Cat uses write on text.
  • Willis O’Brien stop motion animation of a prehistoric world.
  • Paul Terry move the background to show movement.
  • Fleischer rotoscoping to create realistic movement Clown and ink
  • Pat Sullivan Felix the Cat

Traditional Cel animation: to reduce the amount of drawing required each image was constructed using multiple overlaid layers of drawings on transparent sheets of celluloid (cels). In this way, the background scenery for say, Mickey Mouse could be drawn once for use in a scene, while Mickey would be re-drawn multiple times. Typically, an animated feature would require over 100,000 hand-painted cels. These would be photographed one by one onto a painted background using a rostrum camera – a specialised camera used to animate still objects.

Common visual conventions include:

  • Use of lines radiating from eye to show noticing something.
  • Lines out of mouth for noise
  • Dream bubbles.
  • Use text screens and build-up text to drive the narrative. These screens move up and down to continue the feeling of movement from the animation.
  • Music of different moods and tempo
  • Whole screen moves up and down like camera shake. On old films the grit and scratches also flicker to give movement.

Gertie the Dinosaur, Winsor McCay
1914 Produced for a Vaudeville Act it took McKay a year to draw the thousands on pictures needed for this film.
Uses cycles and loops. When Gertie raises her feet, right and left in a little shuffle dance approximately 8 minutes into the film, the same sequence of drawings were used in a loop.


flip book or flick book is a book with a series of pictures that very gradually change from one page to the next, so that when the pages are turned rapidly, the pictures appear to animate by simulating motion or some other change.

Flipbooks work on the same principles as frame-by-frame animation. They can be made in very many different styles. Software packages and websites are available that convert digital video files into custom-made flip books.

In addition to their role in the birth of cinema, flipbooks have also been commonly used in marketing of items like cars and cigarettes. Vintage flip books, especially rare ones from the late 19th to the early 20th century have been known to fetch thousands of dollars in sales and auctions.

For more on contemporary Flipbooks and my own experiments see:

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.

Stop motion

Stop motion animation is frame by frame capture of moving elements using eg Claymation, Cut- outs, Silhouettes, Lego. This is very time-consuming for long films like those produced by Aardman or Eastern European animators. But is often been used by independent animators using software like Dragon Frame, or iPhone and iPad software like Stop Motion Studio. It is particularly popular in advertising of items like clothes and food because it can makes actual objects do unexpected fantastical things to tell a story.

For more details see:

3-D computer animation
or CGI .

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.

Motion graphics

Digitally moving elements in space using similar principles to cut-out and silhouette Stop Motion and abstract frame by frame animation. This is often used commercially, but can also be used artistically.

Scratch video

manipulation of video and other elements to tell a different story.


Key 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.