What is Animation?

I’ve recently come to the realisation that not many people actually know what animation really is, or what an animator does exactly. I was at a friends place for a braai and was asked what I do, to which I answered: ” I’m an Animator “. The reply was: ” oh so like you make cartoons and comics “. On another occasion someone’s response to me was : ” oh so you draw pictures “.

Whilst their answers were paaaaartly true, I could see in their faces they had no clue to what it was that I actually did. It was the vague image in their head that was projected out in front of their eyes that tipped me off to their blissful ignorance. I wasn’t offended by any means, just a little surprised. Being in the animation industry I’ve become used to people just knowing what the art form is, precisely.

While the roots of animation is definitely in cartoon strips, it’s not the definition.

Animation is successive pictures displayed at a certain speed, where by the eye then perceives the images to be “moving” , through the phenomenon called persistence of vision.

There are a few forms of animation:

Traditional Animation

Also known as 2d or classic animation. Think early days of Walt DisneySilly SymphoniesSnow White and the Seven Dwarves, Beauty and the Beast to name but Three! There are a treasure of classic animation titles that were made during the 90’s

2d animation still carries on today rarely in Featurette form but more commonly taking form of Saturday morning cartoons and also Anime.

My first year animation project Doofus is considered Saturday morning style animation, although it’s very short 🙂

3d Animation

This is what is more common to what you might see in the cinemas today. The likes of all the Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky and Sony Pictures movies. Movies like : Kung fu Panda, Cars, Ratatouille, Megamind, Rio and How to Train Your Dragon are all 3d animated movies.

(This is the kind of animator I am, and the kind of movies I aspire to work on)


CGI is an acronym for Computer Generated Imagery. This kind of animation appears in normal movies and is integrated into live action footage to “seem real” Notably in Jurassic Park and nowadays in movies like Transformers and Planet of the Apes. Many more movies use CGI in more or less ways to get effects otherwise difficult or even impossible to shoot in real life.

Stop Frame Animation

This form of animation is the slowest, and most demanding in terms of patience required. Think of Aardman Studios, Walace and Gromit, Pirates (their new Feature Movie), Corpse Bride.

Performance Capture

This form is relatively new and is seen in movies like Avatar and Tin Tin. Actors are hooked up to censors that track their movements – performance – which is translated into the computer generated characters, they are then cleaned up by animators.

I hope this has shed some light on the subject of Animation and what it is and what forms it can take. Remember whether it’s Traditional, 3d, CGI, Stop Frame or Performance Capture, they are all still images that are being showed to you at a rapid rate to fool you into thinking the picture is moving. It’s all just a bunch of still images.

Until next time – persist with your vision 🙂



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