How to get started in animation

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Whether it was the very first time you saw a Disney movie, or a realisation which only hit you recently, if you have been inspired to get into animation, you’re probably wondering where to begin. Although animation is a complicated practice that can take years to master properly, it’s surprisingly simple to make animated videos from the comfort of your own home. You just need to know how. Fortunately, this guide will help you on your journey, covering everything from the different areas of animation, to the best types of software available.

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Learn the fundamentals

As with any new skill, it’s essential that you learn the basics of animation before giving it a go. This includes understanding the terminology, techniques, and the 12 fundamental principles of animation, which were outlined by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in 1982, and have since been dubbed the “bible of animation”. The list features principles such as arcs — the notion that life follows a curved trajectory, not straight lines, squash and stretch (only stiff objects remain still during motion), and staging, which ensures that the audience focuses on the most important aspect of the scene. To further bolster your knowledge, be sure to read books on animation and watch videos on the topic. You won’t be able to start animating yourself until you are completely clued up on the technical aspects.

Once you are au fait with how everything works, start watching as much animation as possible, taking into account what you’ve learned, and actively working out how things were done. Only when you’re confident that you understand what went into what you’re watching can you start animating yourself. At first, try simple tasks like making a flipbook, sketching run cycles or drawing a few character sheets, and then you can move onto doing more technical tasks in due course.

Identify the area you want to focus on

You now need to choose your animation speciality. While you could be a generalist, you may instead wish to pick a particular field of animation to focus on. Some of the main ones to consider are:

2D animation

The most classic and widespread form of animation, 2D animation involves creating the illusion of movement in a two-dimensional area. This is done by sequencing individual drawings together, either using hand-drawn images or through software, and it is most commonly used in cartoons and video games. Advantages of 2D animation include how quick it is to create, its low costs, and ability to be more story-focused, while drawbacks include the fact it’s not particularly dynamic, its lack of realism, and that it’s less in-demand than it used to be.

3D animation

Also called CGI (computer-generated imagery), 3D animation enables animators to create three-dimensional moving scenes which imitate live-action. While 2D animation can only move vertically and horizontally, an object designed using 3D animation techniques can move and rotate like it would in real life. The main benefits of this form of animation include its superior movement compared with 2D, its increased realism, and the greater demand for it in general. However, 3D animation is a lot more complicated, can be expensive to produce, and is often hard to stylise.

Stop motion animation

Stop motion animation involves photographing a series of still images of physical objects, and moving them slightly between each frame to create the illusion of movement. This is the type of animation used in media like Wallace & Gromit, Robot Chicken and Shaun the Sheep. Advantages of stop motion animation include its unique style and classic feel, and how inexpensive it can be to make. However, it’s not the easiest form of animation to master, taking a great deal of time to create, and the fact that it lacks the live-action feel of other types of animation.

Motion graphic animation

This type of animation is based around making dynamic presentations of moving texts and logos. Motion graphic animation can be in 2D or 3D, and is most commonly used for commercials, explainer videos and news content. All in all, it’s great for conveying information and relatively easy to make, which explains its increasing popularity. That said, motion graphic animation is generally less visually interesting than the techniques noted above, and isn’t character-driven. Indeed, it’s sometimes best harnessed in conjunction with other animation styles.

Choose the animation software you want to use

Although you don’t necessarily require software for 2D animation, it is essential for other types. You need to take into account the software’s functionality, ease-of-use and cost before settling on. Below are some of the best for each type of animation.

2D animation

Adobe Animate

Adobe Animate is arguably the most popular 2D animation software on the market, and played a big part in the early days of internet animations. Its intuitive interface and affordable price (£19.97 a month) make it an excellent choice for beginners.

Toon Boom Harmony

This is a more advanced form of 2D software, with vector drawing tools, and HD and 2K resolution, and can be used for both frame-by-frame and skeletal animation. The most basic version of Toon Boom Harmony costs €27 (£23.26) a month, with its Advanced and Premium packages costing €67 (£57.98) and €121 (£104.71) respectively.

Synfig

If you want a free 2D animation tool to get started with, then Synfig is your best bet. Good for small projects, it offers vector tweening, and various layers and filters to help you create your animation.

3D animation

Autodesk Maya

The industry standard 3D animation software, Autodesk Maya features modelling, simulation and rendering capabilities with an incredibly powerful integrated toolset. However, its level of functionality comes at a high price — the software costs £234 a month. But for those looking to make it as a professional animator, Autodesk Maya is the way to go.

Cinema 4D

Popular among pros and beginners alike, Cinema 4D is an incredibly intuitive piece of software that’s easier to master than most. That said, it’s not quite powerful enough for serious 3D film production. Cinema 4D costs £55.99-£119.99 per month depending on the subscription you opt for.

Blender

Like Synfig for 2D animation, Blender is a free-to-use software that’s perfectly suited to those starting out making 3D animations. It offers modelling, texturing, lighting, and video post-processing, and can produce images and animations on par with many paid apps.

Stop motion animation

Dragonframe

Dragonframe is the industry standard for stop motion animation, making it ideal for those looking to create professional-looking content. In fact, it’s been used for the likes of Isle of Dogs and Shaun the Sheep. The software costs $295 (£211.47) a month.

Filmora Pro

Filmora Pro is one of the most popular stop motion animation software options, and has plenty of simple tools to create great videos, including keyframing, which helps your stop-motion animation look much smoother. The software is free, if you don’t mind your video bearing the brand’s watermark, or $89.99 (£64.51) for a year and $149.99 (£107.52) for a lifetime.

Stop Motion Studio

Costing just $4.99 (£3.58) a month, Stop Motion Studio is a great low-budget stop motion animation software option. Highlights include its live green screen feature, and the fact that it can be used on all portable devices as well as desktops.

Motion graphic animation

Moho Pro 13

Costing $399 (£286.77), Moho Pro 13 is an incredibly versatile piece of software. Its features include bitmap and freehand drawing capabilities, vector animation tools, and a bone-rigging (skeletal animation) system.

After Effects

This Adobe tool is a great motion graphic animation software choice that lets you do any kind of animation you like except 3D modelling. After Effects costs £49.94 a month as part of the Creative Cloud, or £19.97 by itself.

Unreal

Unreal by name and unreal by nature, it’s truly remarkable that this tool is free considering how powerful it is (though a royalty fee is required for any commercial usage). A gaming industry staple, the software versatile enough that it is also regularly used in the TV and film sectors.