As you may know, there are different types of animation, and today I am going to focus on the types of animation that you can do in 2D. Frame by frame, rotoscoping, cropped animation, and characters manipulated with inverse kinematics.
1. Frame by frame
This is also known as Classic Animation, Traditional Animation, or Flip Animation. What you do here is quite simple, you draw each frame. Say oh! Simple, right? I know. But wait, there is a way to do it. First you have to know your frame rate, which in the following example will be 12 fps (frames per second), and for that we will have to make 12 drawings per second.
How to do it: You can do this by having the correct timing of the movement. First, you need a sample (if you’re animating a character jumping, then you need a video of someone jumping).
Once you have the video, there are many ways to calculate the time and convert it to frames. My favorite is: Stop Motion Works Stopwatch (link at the end of this article). In my example, it will be a jump of 8 frames.
What you do is: You draw the keyframes of your character’s skeleton and then continue drawing the frames in between. Let’s do an example of a woman jumping (just the action, i.e. no anticipation or sequels, to keep this simple and friendly). Draw the starting pose (frame 1), then the character in the air (frame 5), and finally the landing pose (frame 9).
After you have those 3 drawings, draw the middle frames. A drawing between the initial pose (frame 1), the pose in the air (frame 5) and the landing (frame 9). In other words, she draws frames 3 and 7. And finally, she draws the missing frames. Easy enough? After animating the skeleton for all the frames, add details frame by frame, some body shaping, then a more detailed head in each frame, then the right arm in all the frames, and so on. You continue until you have a detailed character in each frame.
Advantage: Your limit is your own imagination. Characters can do anything you want, have any facial expression you want, and any pose you can think of.
Cons: Takes a lot of time. Animating 1 second can take a couple of hours.
Rotoscopy is another form of frame-by-frame animation. What it does is take a piece of footage and import it into your favorite 2D animation software. Now, all you do is draw the silhouette of each frame. Then you replace those drawings with some details that make up your character. Big noses? Long hair? Fat? Slim?
Advantage: You work a little faster, because you don’t have to draw the keyframes and then the keyframes in between, you just follow each frame; and the movement is very realistic, because you just follow the footage frame by frame.
Cons: Although it can be a bit faster than traditional animation, it still takes a lot of time to do it, because you have to draw every frame and also, you start to have limitations: the character will only do what the person in the footage does.
If you need it to do more than what you have on the footage, you’ll have to switch to traditional animation, drawing the keyframes first, then the in-betweens.
3. Cropped animation
This type of animation requires preparation. You take every angle of your character (front, sides, and back) and “cut” the character into its parts (hence the name Cut Out Animation). For example, if I were to animate the front side, I’d have the head on one layer, the arms, right, and hands for each side on a different layer, and so on. This takes time to set up, but the nice thing is that you don’t have to draw every frame, you just set up once and then animate the character like a puppet.
Advantage: It’s much faster to animate, because you don’t have to draw every frame, you just draw your character and each facial expression once, and after the “puppet” is ready, you can start animating.
Cons: It can take some time to prepare and the character is limited by the platform. That means you can’t put her in any position you can imagine, only the ones you can achieve with the platform. Another downside is that it’s not the fastest way to animate, because if you want to move his hand, then you need to rotate the shoulder, then the arm, then the forearm until you get the hand where you need it.
4. Characters rigged (using inverse kinematics)
This type of animation is the fastest to achieve. Software like Toon Boom or Animation Studio have many tools that help you manipulate a character with inverse kinematics and automate facial expressions.
Inverse Kinematics is the opposite of Forward Kinematics (used in Cut Out animation). In the Cut Out animation, if you need the hand to be in a position, you need to rotate the shoulder, then the forearm, and so on. Inverse kinematics lets you click your hand and move it to the position you want, and the positions and rotations of your shoulder, arm, and forearm are automatically calculated using mathematical formulas.
Advantage: You cheer at top speed. With just a few clicks and drags.
Cons: It takes longer to prepare than cropped animation, but it reduces your work time exponentially. Another disadvantage is that you have limits, you can only do what the Rig allows you to do. You cannot move the character to any position you can imagine, but only to those allowed by the platform.
You can’t have it all. Either you have unlimited movement, but a large investment of time, or you have limited movement with little investment of time. These are the options you have. And for the record, Disney movies use frame by frame, but the shows you see on TV, because they’re scripted, use a mix between Character Rigs and Frame by Frame, depending on what shot they’re working on.
My advice is to learn how to do frame by frame animations and rigged characters, you need them both. But if time is a big issue, you should definitely master Rigged character animation. You can find courses online.
Here is the link for the Stop Motion Works stopwatch