Our guide to animation
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to animation

First published date October 30 2013 Amended date November 20 2015

We’ve all seen cartoons on the TV, watched films at the cinema or played games on a console – but how many of us think about how those products get produced? In one way or another, these will have all used some kind of animation to get them onto our screens. Interested to know how it works? Whether you’re a film buff fascinated by the way that a movie is made or a techy looking for some extra knowledge, there will be an animation course for you.


Where it all began...

Luckily for animators, technological improvements mean that the days of hand drawing every frame of film (it could take as many 30 frames to fill just one second) and put them all together aren’t so frequent. The Disney classics like Bambi and Pinocchio were all produced in the original way and although that’s now rare, putting together an animated production can still be a lengthy process.


The different types of animation

Know the difference between Rotoscoping and Maya? We thought not, but it’s good to understand the various types of animation in use within the media. Here are just some of the many ways an animated film can be produced:

Computer-generated imagery – We’ve all seen the animation work on Toy Story, which back in 1995 became the first full-length computer-generated (or CGI in technical speak) film ever produced. Nearly two decades on, CGI has revolutionised cinema and gaming, with computer graphics and specialist animation software now used more than ever to create images and special effects.

Hand-drawn imagery – Some traditional animation films still get produced today, with cartoon movies such as SpongeBob SquarePants and the Simpsons movie two fairly recent examples of those still using the pencil drawings for each frame.

Stop motion – Another painstakingly long way of putting together films and TV programmes. It’s where figures (usually made out of Plasticine) have to be moved tiny amounts by hand, with every frame then photographed and put together, so it looks like the figurines are moving normally. Wallace & Gromit is a famous example of a programme that used this method to produce it.

Rotoscoping – The method combines real life filming with hand-drawn cartoon characters, which are then traced frame by frame over the film so that the two worlds combine. Confused? Well, two examples to explain its use clearly are Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Space Jam, where actors and cartoon characters are connected together.


Amazing animation

Improvements to animation has boosted the film industry massively, with all but four of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time being produced since the introduction of computer-generated imagery. Want to know if your favourite film is in that list? Find out how many of the all-time top ten money makers you’ve seen (all of which have used computer animation in some way):

1. Avatar (2009) - £1.72 billion

2. Titanic (2007) - £1.35 billion

3. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) - £933 million

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) - £828 million

5. Iron Man 3 (2013) - £749 million

6. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) - £693 million

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - £691 million

8. Skyfall (2012) - £684 million

9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) - £669 million

10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) - £658 million


What to do next?

For those looking to pursue their passion further, animation undergraduate courses are available, with many of these accredited by the Creative Skillset (the organisation that supports people working in the creative industry). But whatever level of animation course you sign up to, you’ll have gained some extra computer skills and got an insight to how your favourite movies are made. 

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