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Primary animation

Animation techniques

There are four basic techniques used in animation. These are:

  • Drawn animation
  • Cut-out animation
  • Model animation or stop motion animation
  • Computer animation or computer generated imagery (CGI)

Drawn animation

This covers any form where one drawing is replaced by another in a sequence. Each drawing is slightly different from the one before. It works the way a flipbook does. These animated films are made up of thousands of drawings which are shown on screen very quickly one after the other.  It takes a very long time to film from start to finish and requires many animators to complete the work.

Cut-out animation

This covers any form of animation where cut-out shapes are moved around or replaced by other cut-outs. Flat objects like buttons, matchsticks and string can also be used in this form of animation. Cut-outs can also be laid on top of drawings.  It is very quick and easy to do but difficult to have more than one or two objects moving at the same time. Cut-out animation can appear very stiff and awkward.

Model or stop-motion animation

This involves the filming of three-dimensional models. The materials used could include plasticine, clay or wire - in fact anything that can be bent or formed into another shape. The puppets are positioned and filmed before being moved ever so slightly and filmed again. These shots are put together as a piece of film and will give the impression of the models moving.

Models can be used over and over again and copies made of them to shoot different scenes at the same time so that the filming takes less time.  This type of animation needs a lot of time and hard work. The makers of 'James and the Giant Peach' were only able to complete 45 seconds of stop-motion animation a week - 10 seconds a day. This was because each puppet had so many joints that needed moving for each frame - the centipede alone had 72!

Computer animation or Computer Generated Imagery (CGI)

This refers to the drawing of three-dimensional models and sets on the computer. Images can be scanned into the computer using digital photography or made within the computer itself. Human characters can be built from clay whilst sets and furnishings are modelled using design systems similar to architects drawings. These models are scanned into the computer as wire-frame models, which are gradually built up into a coloured and textured form.

Computers have become cheaper and easier to use than traditional animation. The computer animated film Toy Story cost $30 million to make and used 110 animators. The Lion King using drawn animation cost $45 million to make and used 800 animators.

Ask pupils what animated film and television they watch and what kind of animation it is.  Introduce them to stills of some animation they might be unfamiliar with.  Are they drawn, cut-out, stop-motion or CGI?