Different types of animation – what short filmmakers need to know

All types of animation have pro’s and con’s so here’s a breakdown of the top choices you’re likely to consider when choosing between the different types to decide on the best medium for you. You will know your budget, the story, your time scale and, of course, the talent you have to hand.

2D: Hand Drawn

All of the Disney classics such as ‘The Little Mermaid’ or Miyazaki’s wonderful ‘Spirited Away’, even ‘The Simpson’s’ use this traditional form of animation.  Don’t be tempted into thinking this is an outdated medium, with Netflix in production on Sergio Pablos’s ‘Klaus’  hand drawn animation continues to re-flex its muscles.

Hand drawn animation at this level is no less expensive or time-consuming to produce than CGI so it’s likely the choice to go this route would be style.

2D Cut Out

South Park is a prime example of cut out animation used to great effect. Many children’s content producers use cut out animation because of its simplicity. It has obvious restrictions visually but if that can work for your story it involves considerably fewer people-days – so tends to be quicker and cheaper to produce.

Stop Motion

This involves objects or characters being moved in small increments between photographed frames so they appear to move when played as a run.

Claymation

A variation of stop motion that uses clay figures and props which is highly malleable and so a great medium to quickly bring stills to life. It’s a rewarding medium for more tactile filmmakers who like to physically rather than virtually create their work. Top animation studio Laika produced ‘Missing Link’ which  sees a host of stars including Hugh Jackman and David Williams breath life into a superb example of claymation. The creators of Wallace and Gromitt, Aardman Productions even produce a handy stop motion toolkit which is ideal for students and bedroom animators.

CGI

It is hard to mention CGI without mentioning Pixar’s short film ‘Luxo Junior’ or the first CGI feature Toy Story when between them they started a revolution in animation. CGI has now matured as a medium and CGI has made the impossible possible through animated features like ‘Spider-man:Into The Spiderverse’.  This  is currently blurring the lines between animation and live action with remakes of the old classics The Lion King and The Jungle Book.

If you don’t have a budget the size of your ambition be wary of treading the CGI path because the technology and people hours involved makes this medium out of the realms for most.  Many fall into the idea that all CGI is king when quite the reverse – poor CGI could be the death of your film where using other forms of less expensive animation could have yielded far better results.

Blender animation

Open source software such as Blender provides a new world of computer animation for film makers as the tools that used to be only available at major studios are now free on the open market.  Blender is an open source (basically a public project rather than private initiative), made by thousands of people globally ranging from studios and individuals to students, VFX professionals, gaming animators, artists and many others.

How to choose between the different types of animation

Animation is really only limited by the filmmaker’s imagination – yes budgets are usually stretched but nothing is impossible if you keep an open mind and are prepared to be flexible.

Keeping animation short is the most efficient way of bringing down the budget dramatically and, fortunately, suits the medium perfectly.

So my top tips would be – do your research and watch as many different types of animation as possible and dig into how it was created you may be surprised.

If you budget is tight and you don’t have the skills to do the job yourself look for alternative ways to tell your story.

Keep your animation film short and sweet