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Principles of 2D & Hand Drawn Animation

We see animation every day of our lives – from beloved classic movie characters, to advertising, to TV, to explainer videos, to in-app software experiences! Do you ever wonder how people create great animation? It all comes down to a series of drawings. Hand-drawn animation is a form of animation in which each drawing is created by hand with a pencil, pen, paintbrush, or digital stylus! Also known as traditional animation, cel animation, or frame-by-frame animation. This technique has the potential for incredibly fluid, organic movement and dominated the industry until the arrival of digital drawing technology. Even though computers have reduced the time and effort required to create hand-drawn animation, it still remains a long labor of love for an animator to achieve.

The Production Process

The typical production pipeline for digital hand-drawn animations at Explainly begins with research and script writing before sketching static storyboard panels to roughly map out what the video’s scene compositions will look like. We then refine, illustrate and assemble the storyboards into a timed animatic video. Which are blended along with music options and voice-over. This allows our clients to better visualize how the final film will transition from scene to scene and provides animators’ length reference for when an X-sheet or a timing director is not present.

After approving the storyboard animatic, we write a detailed shot list and commence the animation stage! Traditionally, animators would draw sequences of frames on transparent pieces of paper, one frame at a time. Then animators would refine and re-paint these frames on thin plastic celluloid pages called cels and photographed by film cameras.


Modern Hand-Drawn Animation

While modern hand-drawn animation is drawn frame-by-frame, those frames are typically digital and created in software like Adobe Flash/Animate, ToonBoom Harmony, or TVPaint. These animators use plastic stylus pens on computer screen tablets, such as Wacom Cintiq devices, iPads, or Huion tablets.

Computer animation can aid in creating the illusion of motion, but not always having to draw every single frame, but instead using software to manipulate how one drawing moves. Software also gives the advantage of onion skinning. Which allows an animator to see several of the previous and following frames of animation all at once. This makes it significantly easier to see if the lines of each frame are correctly aligned in order to create smooth motion. 

In the words of Tomm Moore, director of the award-winning movies Song of the Sea (2014) and The Legend of Kells (2009), “With technology, we’re offered the opportunity to make hand-drawn animation in a way that we weren’t even fifteen years ago. Today’s computers enable hand-drawn animation on a feature scale with smaller teams and budgets. This approach maintains a personal touch compared to high-level CG, which demands more resources. Through technology, hand-drawn animation has actually become more accessible.


Fundamental Principles of Realistic Animation

While an animator could draw straight-ahead, by creating one drawing after the next, it’s common to first draw several keyframe poses that represent the most distinct, strong stages of a movement. In-betweening is the process of drawing frames between keyframes to achieve fluidity. At the most pivotal point of a motion path, an animator draws a notable inbetween pose known as a breakdown. There are typically more inbetweens just before and after keyframes, to give the feeling of ease-ins and ease-outs. By slowly accelerating and decelerating, an animated motion can have a more realistic look, weight, and feel.

Another key principle is the use of squash and stretch. Which entails applying a contrasting change of shape to give a sense of momentum, flexibility, and life in animation. By adding natural maluability to a bouncing ball or a shocked expression appearing on someone’s face, a movement can look less rigid and more fun. These basic principles of creating physicality and realism in animated movements is one of many.  They also apply not only to characters, but also to animating objects, icons, text, liquids, and more.


Frames Per Second & Cel Cycling

While videos typically play at 24 frames-per-second, animation is often drawn and played at 12 fps – or even less. To animate “on ones”, “on twos”, or “on three’s” refers to how many frames a single drawing is repeated, to decrease in-betweens. Animation at or above 24-30 fps would be considered extremely smooth. However it is also not very efficient or necessary in most cases. To save time and move, elements of certain frames can be reused or repeated multiple times, or “cycled.” Looping “walk cycles” are a fundamental aspect of an animation student’s training. However another common instance often used in anime or TV is to “cycle” or “hold” a facial animation with a unique mouth movement layer animated on top. 


Lip Syncing Dialogue

The task of lip syncing mouth movement to recorded audio is a sometimes challenging but integral part of animation. It makes or breaks the liveliness of a character. Each sound that our mouths make create different mouth shapes. Animators then draw these shapes ins sequential order to create the illusion of speaking. 

Some TV productions create a series of all possible phonetic syllable shapes called a “mouth pack,'” in order to easily lip sync audio by replacing existing shapes. In quality animation, mouth shapes in reality often blend together, requiring in-betweening and relaxation rather than being cookie-cutter. Facial expressions, eyes, jaw motion, body language, gestures, and overall character acting combined with mouth shapes play a massive role in naturally flowing lip sync as well.


Character Rigging & Software Tools

Modern software can help an animator create character rigs without redrawing every single frame. The software allows animators to control the movement of a skeleton of shapes, limbs, and joints like a moveable puppet. Animators can combine rigging with 3D or hand drawn elements to enhance videos even further.

Many professional software provide revolutionary advantages, allowing animators to easily make complex changes across multiple frames. Some features include rigging, pegs, nodes, coloring, camera movement, re-sizing, and tweening. Real mediums such as fabric textures, acrylic paints, watercolor or airbrushes are difficult to emulate digitally. However, new technologies make digital brush heads more effective and realistic every year.


How To Get Started!

2D animation has come a long way since the beginning of the medium’s explosion in popularity nearly a century ago. And it’s here to stay in all types of films, shows, ads, explainer videos, demos, and much more! Explainly always strives to perfect the videos we produce, from the strong initial story writing to the final visual polishes.

At Explainly, we create custom, frame-by-frame business animation videos, just for you. No templates, no drag and drop software, and no cutting corners. Ready to learn more and boost your business’s video presence? Reach out to us at explainly.com!

Customer Service in Video Production

Customer service is extremely important when clients are vetting which agency they want to partner with. At Explainly, we provide all of our clients with ‘white glove’ customer service. Meaning that we work in tandem with them to become an extension of their team, whether it be marketing or internal communications. All our project managers are equipped with the tools to provide seamless project management service to every client, even down to tailoring our communication styles to meet our clients’ preferences.

3 Tips to Utilize Animation Source Files

All digitally animated videos are created in softwares like Adobe After Effects, Adobe Animate, or ToonBoom Harmony. But no matter the software, there is a series of data, drawings, and files that make up every project. These networks of interconnected data, known as source files, collect files, working files, or art files, can enable edits or tweaks for years beyond a project’s completion. Wondering how you can utilize your animation source files? Here are three main steps to better understand your project files!

How to Color Correct a Video

Whether you’re filming on your phone or on a DSLR, no camera can fully capture colors like our eyes do. Tweaking and refining colors in post-production is vital to enhancing any video. Major live action and animated film productions even have colorists. These colorists ensure that a film’s colors and final look are reflecting the tone of the overall feeling and tone of the film’s story.

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