- Animation Styles
- Use Cases
The world of animation is dazzling in its diversity of styles and types.
It’s a wildly creative artform with seemingly no limits.
We’ve touched on explainer video animation styles before but for this blog post, let’s run down a more detailed and thorough list and explore each one.
They’re all different, unique, and are effective in specific ways.
If you’re planning on creating your own animated video, it would help to explore all the styles out there and pick the right one for your story or message.
So let’s break them all down!
Just as with most artforms (like music, writing, etc) each animation style has strengths and weaknesses and specific applications where it really shines.
Picking the right style for your video is just as important as any other aspect of creating it.
1. Traditional / 2D Animation
2. 3D Animation
3. Typography Animation
4. Infographics Animation
5. Stop-motion Animation
6. Claymation Animation
7. Whiteboard Animation
8. Japanese Manga Animation
9. Mixed Media Animation
10. Cut-out Animation
11. Rotoscoping Animation
12. Sand Animation
13. Zoetrope Animation
14. Flipbook Animation
This is what most people today think of when they hear the word “animation:” the televised cartoons from their childhood.
Traditionally, cartoons were drawn by hand by teams of artists on transparent plastic cels, placed over a painted background.
Each cel was shot by a special apparatus that recorded individual frames to film.
When played back, it would all come to life.
It was incredibly tedious and required specialized drawing skills, and an understanding of how the hundreds of individual drawings would create the desired effect of motion and life.
However, since the 1950s, cartoons were big business and the time and expense was justified.
The Walt Disney company pioneered the artform and brought it firmly into mainstream cinema, winning awards previously earned by big-budget live-action Hollywood movies.
Note that the iconic 2D look of animation can also be recreated using software as well, but the look and feel remains the same as the old classic cartoons.
Traditional cartoons were in two dimensions, drawn on flat paper, even though they usually depicted a more natural 3-dimensional world like the one we live in, albeit heavily stylized.
This is why there’s the distinction for 3-D animation videos, because here the animators use computers to create entire 3-dimensional worlds from scratch.
Characters aren’t outlines, they’re in 3-dimensions with width, height and depth.
A character in 3-D can be rotated and manipulated the same way you would manipulate a toy figure in your hands in real life.
A quick way to understand this is that Disney’s Lion King (1994) was hand-drawn traditional 2-D animation, while Pixar’s Wall-E (2008) is an example of 3-D animation.
Thanks to improvements in technology, software and ever-faster computers, 3-D has become mainstream and accessible, becoming the default format today.
It’s got a wide range of uses and applications apart from entertainment. It’s used in motion picture special effects, advertising, video games, and much more– too many to list, in fact.
In the world of business, it’s especially useful in the medical industry, architecture, engineering, and for training employees to use specialized equipment in many technical fields.
It’s especially effective in any scenario where you need to realistically depict real-world objects from multiple points of view.
For example, 3-D is all but mandatory for architectural walk-throughs of buildings and structures that have not been built yet.
Apart from movies and modern cartoons, probably the most common applications for 3-D are in the video game industry, where just about every product renders worlds in detailed 3-D.
They’re also a huge part of the motion picture industry with special effects, having slowly taken over practical effects using scale models and real-world stunts.
Also sometimes called “Kinetic Typography,” this is blending basic animation with words and text for dramatic emphasis.
It’s important to understand that Typographic animation isn’t just shots of text, but the text itself is animated, moving, changing size and perspective, etc.
The animation is focused on emphasizing the important words and adding that flair and liveliness to the script / voiceover, as you can see in the example.
Other elements might also be included, but the focus is very much primarily on the text, with other elements taking a backseat.
It’s lively and attention-grabbing, with the added bonus of being relatively inexpensive compared to most types of animation.
Infographics are a popular and stylized form of animation often used in business, similar to infographic animation.
It’s used in UIs and explainer videos where there’s a lot of information to convey.
It uses a mix of animation, visual graphics and text to diagram and break down complex topics and ideas.
In the business world, Infographic animation videos are probably the most commonly used format for videos.
But this doesn’t mean they can’t get really creative.
When done right, they can even be artistic and entertaining too!
Which of course, helps memory retention and brand visibility, which is always a bonus.
Stop-motion is when the animated elements aren’t drawn or rendered by computer, rather, the subjects are real physical objects that are basically photographed repeatedly with tiny incremental changes between each still frame.
Just like regular animation, the magic happens when you take all these frames and play them like a video and you get motion and movement.
Stop motion has a unique and natural style and feel to it.
This is a fairly popular format and chances are you’ve already seen stop-motion films in your time.
Examples include the hit TV show Wallace and Grommit (which uses claymation, more on that next), and the satirical Adult Swim show Robot Chicken, which uses toys and action figures.
Stop-motion can even include human subjects. But the most common form uses claymation.
Claymation is the use of clay figurines and models combined with stop-motion animation.
The models are hand-molded and manipulated, often using armature wire as a “skeleton” to keep the model rigid where it needs to be.
It’s wildly creative and artistic, with a unique charm, look and feel that sets it apart from other formats of animation.
Probably the best examples of claymation would be the work of Nick Park and Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep.
Whiteboard animation is what it sounds like: a hand drawing simple images and text on a plain white board, just like the real-life version.
It’s unusually attention-grabbing and effective at breaking down and conveying a lot of information without getting overwhelming to the viewer, and the message stays fresh in their memory.
As a bonus, it’s also relatively cheap as a form of animation.
As a result, Whiteboard is quite a popular style in explainer videos for businesses.
The history and development of Japanese animation, known as Manga, is simply too much to go into enough detail here.
But suffice it to say, Japanese entertainment pioneered in comics and animation from as early as the 1970s onwards, with a distinctive style unique to their culture and audience.
It was also notably often aimed at a more mature and adult audience, not “just for kids” compared to comics and cartoons in the rest of the world.
Eventually, this went mainstream and worldwide, with an international audience appreciating it wholeheartedly.
There are many lesser-known styles of animation that most novices are unaware of, but they deserve a place on our list too. Here are just a few:
This is when animation is blended with live-action film footage, with real-world actors interacting with cartoon characters.
It’s not often done, as it's quite complex.
The most famous examples of this are the motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the music video for Paula Abdul’s Opposites Attract.
Cut-out animation is when images are created using paper cut into specific shapes.
The most common example of this is the TV show South Park, where the initial seasons were created this way.
The biggest advantage of this type of animation was the speed.
Early season South Park episodes could be created from conception and writing to finished production in just two weeks!
Compare with earlier episodes of The Simpsons where each episode took about six months.
As a result, Trey Parker and Matt Stone could create episodes that dealt with ongoing current events while they were still fresh in the news.
Later, the team then had a much bigger budget to work with and switched to computers.
Rotoscoping is a form of animation that blends drawn art with film.
Essentially it’s drawing or painting over existing film footage to combine live action film with art.
The film adaptation of the Philip K Dick novel A Scanner Darkly is probably the best mainstream example of this unique style:
Sand animation is just what it sounds like.
Sand is poured over a transparent backlit surface, and the sand is manipulated by hand to draw shapes and forms.
It’s arguably the only form of animation that can be done live in real time, although it also can be done the more traditional way, taking multiple shots to create a sequence.
It’s not a very common form of animation but mesmerizing and graceful in a way that’s hard to describe.
Consider the example below:
Zoetrope is probably the oldest form of animation in history, existing even before the invention of film itself.
Basically, it’s a mechanical setup where physical objects are manipulated (usually spun on a mechanism like a disk or carousel) and sometimes viewed through slits.
This creates the illusion of the same image moving on its own, rather than a rapid series of different images.
Flipbooks are probably the simplest form of animation out there.
It’s pretty much what it sounds like, you draw on the edges of a book and then “flip” through them rapidly, creating the illusion of motion in the images.
Some of us remember creating them as kids.
While it’s not really used in any commercial application, it’s a fun way to dip your toe into animation because anyone can do it with little time.
And did we mention they’re fun?
This was by no means an exhaustive list of every animation style ever attempted, but a good introduction to the most popular styles out there.
We hope you enjoyed it!
Like the different genres and styles of music, there’s a dazzling variety and each and every one of them has their own unique advantages and strengths.
And just like any artform, none of these styles are “better” than others, it’s all in how the artist visualizes and uses them for their message.
Animation truly is an artform in and of itself, especially in that you’re ultimately only really limited by your imagination.
If you can visualize it, you can make it real.
Which style was your favorite? Was there anything we missed? Let us know in the comments!
Till next time, don’t stop creating!