Here at Frantic, we are not surprised that the incredible world of animation has caught your attention. We create everything from 3D animation to motion design in our studio, and know just how exciting it is to see the ideas in your head come to life in front of your eyes. Every single one of our talented, professional animators was a beginner at one time, so we know what it takes to elevate your skills to the next level.

Whether you’ve already developed some basic skills, or you’re at the very start of your animation journey, it’s not always obvious what next steps you need to take. With that in mind, we’ve put together our five top animation tips to help you on your way.

1. Choose whether to generalise or be a specialist

There are many different types of animation, and you’ve probably already seen all of them in some form, even if you don’t know how to distinguish them by name yet:

2D animation

  • Animating elements on a two-dimensional plane without depth.
  • Can be hand-drawn or using computer-designed elements.
  • 2D animators should have good illustration skills to succeed.
  • A widely used form of animation, also known as CGI.
  • Involves animating objects and elements in three dimensions, allowing for huge flexibility.
  • Used across advertising, product design, computer games and films.

Character animation

  • Involves designing and animating human or creature characters in 2D or 3D.
  • Animators can create ‘rigs’ to move individual body parts.
  • No need to redraw a character for every frame.

Stop motion animation

  • Involves photographing a series of still images of physical objects.
  • Moving objects slightly and showing shots in sequence gives the illusion of movement.
  • Looks wonderful, but very labour-intensive, and requires a lot of patience.
  • Animating shapes, images and text, rather than characters.
  • Can be either 2D or 3D.
  • Typically seen in adverts, promotions, and film and TV title sequences.

As you can see, each type of animation is incredibly unique, with its own set of pros and cons, so spend some time considering the differences between them before you choose which you want to specialise in. However, since many of the skills used in each type of animation overlap, many animators are adept across several disciplines. And remember, as you’re a beginner still learning the ropes, you can always change your mind later on, and have easily transferable skills to apply to the next speciality you try your hand at.

2. Familiarise yourself with animation terminology

You’ll run into a lot of new vocabulary when you first make a start in animation. As you progress, you’ll start to learn more complex terminology, but the following definitions are the key ones you’ll need to know as an animation beginner:

  • Frame rate: Indicates how many frames per second (FPS) you’ll see.
  • Wireframe: Outline representations of the animated elements. Useful for seeing movement quickly without having to render.
  • Easing: The art of making things speed up and slow down in a realistic way.
  • Timeline: What an animator uses to see how the animation will move over time.
  • Keyframe: A point on the timeline where the animator sets the position, scale, rotation, or any other attribute of an object.
  • Modelling: Building 3D objects from scratch within a computer program.
  • Rendering: Where the computer exports the animation you have created into a finished sequence, ready to be composited. This is often a time-consuming process, requiring a powerful computer.
  • Compositing: Putting all the components together to create a final scene.
  • Rotoscoping: Cutting out a person or object from the background in live action footage, frame by frame.
  • Alpha Channel: A transparent background behind your animation, enabling compositing onto different backgrounds or live action footage.

3. Learn the 12 principles of animation

The 12 principles of animation were created by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, affectionately known as the ‘bible of animation’. These apply to all forms of animation, and offer a fantastic formula for creating lifelike animations.

  1. Squash and stretch

Objects are squashed when compressed by an opposing force, and stretched when they are pulled on. However, their volume does not change.

  1. Anticipation

A signal that a significant movement is about to happen, like a bend before a jump or a character looking towards an object before picking it up.

  1. Staging

An animator must ensure the audience’s attention is focused on the most important thing in the scene.

  1. Straight ahead and pose to pose

Straight ahead scenes are animated frame by frame in chronological order, whereas pose to pose starts with the key frames, and fills in the others later. The former is good for fluid, realistic sequences whereas the latter can help emphasise dramatic moments.

  1. Follow through and overlapping action

Different parts of a character typically don’t move all at once. For example, if a character was wearing a coat, the coat would keep moving and ‘follow through’ after the figure had stopped. Similarly, if a character was running, their legs may stop before their arms, which would ‘overlap’ the main action. The two terms are very closely related, and difficult to distinguish.

  1. Ease in and ease out

Objects will gradually speed up and then slow down when moving.

  1. Arcs

Most natural actions follow a curved trajectory, rather than moving in straight lines

  1. Secondary action

Secondary actions are smaller movements that help emphasise the main action, but never take attention away from it. For example, a character walking with their hands in their pockets or whistling would constitute a secondary action.

  1. Timing

This refers to the animator’s ability to control the speed of an action, as determined by the number of frames used.

  1. Exaggeration

Staunchly realistic animations can often look dull, but exaggeration can immediately add interest. This can be employed in varying degrees, and must not unbalance a scene and confuse the viewer.

  1. Solid drawing

Every form must be drawn with a three-dimensional eye, where there is a clear sense of weight, volume, balance, light, and shade.

  1. Appeal

The design and animation needs to be charismatic and compelling to watch.

4. Explore beginner’s animation software

Even traditional hand-drawn animation now relies on computers to bring creations to life. Therefore, you need to have the software for the job. There are many options to choose from, and you can even get some useful programs for free. Here are some of the best animation software for beginners and experts alike:

Free animation software

  • Blender (3D animation and motion graphics)
  • Synfig Studio (2D vector animation)
  • Trial versions: Many of the premium applications below have trial versions for beginners to practise with.

Premium animation software

  • Adobe After Effects (2D animation and motion graphics)
  • Cinema 4D (3D animation and motion graphics)
  • 3D Studio Max (3D animation)
  • Toon Boom (2D Character animation)
  • Maya (3D character animation)

Render Engines (for 3D animation)

  • V-Ray 
  • Redshift
  • Octane
  • Arnold
  • Cycles

5. Start small and simple

Even if you’re full of creativity and already have plenty of elaborate ideas in your head, it’s a good idea to start with a simple exercise in order to really develop your basic animation skills. Many beginners start by animating a bouncing ball to put the squash and stretch technique into practice, or making text move in and out of frame, as a way to master easing in and out. As for character animation, there are 51 animation ideas here for you to try out.

As straightforward as some of these animation techniques seem, it’s very important that you spend real time and effort to make each of them as lifelike as possible. Once you’ve gained more experience and nailed these exercises, then you can start thinking about tackling gradually more advanced animations and eventually bringing your dream creations to life as an animator.

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