The 17+ Top Animation Styles to Know [Updated for 2023]
Are you looking for fresh animation trends and styles to use in your video projects in 2023?
Animation is an ever-evolving and growing field — no matter if you’re just starting out or have been creating for years. Knowing the different animation styles and techniques available will help you make informed decisions about your creative work, whether it’s a 2D explainer video, a 3D model of a product, or an animated film.
This article covers 17+ popular animation styles that range from traditional cell animation to 3D models to whiteboard software, plus some new advances like AI-driven interactive videos!
Learn which techniques are best suited for your project objectives so that you can create more engaging visuals with impactful results.
Let’s get started!
1. Traditional Hand-Drawn Animation
The classic method of animation, traditional hand-drawn animation, involves painting each animated component on separate layers of transparent sheets. This labor-intensive technique allows for greater creativity but comes at a higher cost.
Digital tools like Adobe Photoshop and Krita have streamlined the process by enabling artists to create movement within a two-dimensional space. This style is popular for its nostalgia, classic look, and the ability to create detailed and expressive visuals.
Examples of traditional 2D animated movies include The Simpsons, Looney Tunes, and Disney movies like Pinnochio.
2. Multi-layered Cel Techniques in Hand-Drawn Animations
In traditional hand-drawn animations, multi-layered cel techniques are used to create depth and dimensionality. By painting different elements on separate cels (transparent sheets), animators can manipulate individual components without affecting others, resulting in smoother transitions between frames.
This was further developed with the advent of the multi-plane camera, developed in the 1920s and 30s, primarily by Disney Studios; and a similar device called a stereoptical camera or a setback, created by Fleisher Studios for their cartoons.
In short, the multi-plane camera uses several layers of artwork, stacked one on top of the other, and each moving at different speeds, with the camera mounted above them all, creating a greater illusion of depth than multi-layered cel animation alone.
The advent of digital software has made this process more efficient while retaining the artistic integrity of the original medium.
For many years, hand-drawn styles have been a mainstay in the entertainment world and layered cel animation has profoundly altered the art form and influenced other animation styles.
Examples include Snow White, Peter Pan, and The Little Mermaid (which was the last animated movie to use a traditional multi-plane camera).
3. Stop Motion Animation
Dating back to its invention in 1917 by Max Fleischer, stop motion is an exceptional animation technique involving frame-by-frame manipulation of physical objects such as puppets, clay figurines, or toys to give them the illusion of movement. It requires immense patience and skill but produces captivating results.
In puppetry-based stop motion, animators use intricately designed puppets with movable joints to create lifelike movements.
Famous examples include the masterful work of LAIKA Studios and Tim Burton, known for their respective films such as Kubo and the Two Strings and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
These movies showcase how puppetry can bring animated characters to life in a unique way that differs from traditional animation using hand-drawn or digital techniques.
4. Cut-Out Animation
Cut-out animation is a true marvel of creativity and ingenuity, bringing to life characters and stories in a way that is both simple and magical.
This remarkable approach to animation involves taking the simplest of materials – paper and card (as well as static photographs and illustrations) – and transforming them into vivid, dynamic figures that dance and move across the screen.
Not only is this technique phenomenally engaging and aesthetically pleasing, it is also uniquely helpful in terms of cost-effectiveness and accessibility, making it a go-to choice for producers of television shows, commercials, and other short-form projects.
From the irreverent humor of South Park to the anarchic satire of Monty Python and the endearing family-fare of Blues Clues, cut-out animation has proven itself as an endlessly inventive resource in the world of animation.
Claymation (short for clay animation) is an enchanting form of animation that has captured the hearts and imaginations of viewers for decades. This intricately specialized form of stop-motion involves using clay or Plasticine to create lifelike characters and objects that come to life through the magic of stop motion animation.
From quirky commercials to Oscar-winning feature films, Claymation has made its mark in the creative world.
Popular examples like Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Coraline showcase just how magnificent and visually stunning clay animation can be.
6. Flipbook Animation & Zoetropes
Have you ever wondered how those lively cartoons came to life in the pre-digital era? Enter flipbooks and zoetrope animation.
Flipbook animation is the art of creating the illusion of motion by drawing a series of images, each just slightly different from the previous one, and then flipping through them rapidly. It’s like a tiny moving picture book!
A zoetrope, on the other hand, consists of a cylinder with vertical cuts in the sides, and a series of successive images within, so when you look inside while it spins, it produces the illusion of motion.
The roots of this device go back thousands of years, while European inventors started using flipbooks as early as the 17th century, and since then, artists have been using it to experiment with motion and narrative. Take a look at Walt Disney’s classic 1928 short, Steamboat Willie, as the natural successor of these techniques.
Today, flipbook animation has evolved, and even with digital tools, it continues to be a popular way to create animations, frequently in the form of GIFs.
And with the rise of social media, a momentum is building for the revival of flipbook and zoetrope art, with artists finding new and exciting ways to express themselves and connect with their audiences. These artforms are truly a testament that no matter how technology evolves, there is still a place for the old-fashioned joys of zoetrope and flipbook animation.
7. Sand Animation
Sand animation is a unique form of animation that creates stunning visuals that are dream-like and mesmerizing.
This technique involves drawing images in sand, which are then photographed to create the illusion of movement. With sand animation, artists are able to create a sense of fluidity and seamless motion that is truly captivating to watch.
It’s no surprise that this method is often used in short films and commercials, where the goal is to create something visually engaging and memorable.
Some notable examples include Caroline Leaf’s Peter and the Wolf and Co Hoedeman’s The Sand Castle.
Pixilation is a type of stop motion animation where live actors are photographed in each frame to create movement. This technique is often used to create surreal visuals and can be used for both short and long-form projects.
Harkening back to earliest film, this stop motion method was often used in visual effects, before evolving into a standalone animated artform.
Examples of pixilation include the music video for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer and the Bolex Brothers’ film, The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb.
9. Rotoscope Animation
If you’ve ever wondered how animation studios are able to seamlessly merge live-action footage with animated characters, the answer is rotoscoping.
This innovative animation technique involves tracing over recorded video or film frame-by-frame to create intricate animations that blend realistically with their live-action counterparts. In other words, by tracing human movements, animated objects and characters are given naturalistic animations and realistic movements.
Some of the most notable examples of rotoscope animation in film include the Fleisher classic Gulliver’s Travels, the dystopian A Scanner Darkly, the mind-bending Waking Life, as well as Ralph Bashkie’s animated classics Fire & Ice and American Pop, among countless others.
Anime is a popular form of adult-targeted Japanese animation with its distinct style that often features dark colors and elements reminiscent of manga comics. It has garnered an incredibly loyal fandom worldwide and stands out as a unique subgenre within the broader realm of 2D animations.
The aesthetics of anime are characterized by large, expressive eyes, exaggerated facial expressions, and highly stylized hair. These visual elements help convey emotions and create memorable animated characters. The settings in anime can range from fantastical worlds to realistic urban environments.
The animation process often includes limited movement for secondary actions or background characters to focus on primary character movements and storytelling.
Anime has had a significant impact on global pop culture through various mediums such as television shows like Pokemon or films like Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
11. Motion Graphics
Motion graphics is an incredibly dynamic and versatile type of animation that uses a combination of 2D and 3D elements to create visuals that pack a punch.
Its ability to communicate a message quickly and effectively means that it has become a popular choice for commercials, title sequences, and other short-form projects.
Just think of the iconic title sequences of Dexter and Mad Men or the inventive opening credits to BBC’s Good Omens.
What sets motion graphics apart is its ability to capture your attention and keep it, making it the perfect technique for anyone looking to create engaging visuals.
12. Vector Animation
Vector animation is an amazing technique that is gaining more popularity day by day. It’s a type of 2D animation that creates incredibly smooth and precise visuals. What’s more, it’s perfectly suited to a wide range of design projects, from web and mobile applications to video games and motion graphics.
One of the most impressive things about vector-based animation is that it uses mathematical equations to create its beautiful visuals, which makes it ideal for designers and developers who need quick, high-quality images.
Some great examples of vector animation include the opening sequence for Monsters Inc., the intro to Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, and the game Crossy Road.
13. Draw-On-Film Animation
When it comes to animation, draw-on-film is a lesser-known technique that can yield fascinating results.
This method involves drawing directly onto a filmstrip or celluloid, thus creating a distinctive look and feel that cannot be replicated through other types of animation. With its roots in the earliest films, such as George Méliès’ 1906 film, Le Dirigeable Fantastique, where the only option for color was to paint it by hand onto the black and white film strips, draw-on-film is now more often used for experimental and avant-garde projects, and has produced some amazing results in the past.
If you’re looking for more contemporary examples, check out the short films Cameras Take Five and Linear Dreams. Draw-on-film animation can be time-consuming, but the results are well worth it for animators who want to create something truly unique and handcrafted.
14. 3D Computer Animation
3D computer animation has revolutionized the world of animation, allowing for incredibly detailed and realistic visuals that were once unimaginable.
This popular animation style uses computer-generated imagery to create lifelike characters, settings, and objects that can be used in a variety of media, from feature films to video games.
Some of the most beloved and iconic animated films of all time, such as Toy Story and Encanto, were created using 3D computer animation.
15. Whiteboard Animation Software
Whiteboard animation is a visually engaging technique that uses hand-drawn illustrations and animations to tell stories and convey information. It’s a popular choice for explainer videos, educational content, and corporate training.
This unique form of animation has gained popularity due to its simplicity and effectiveness at holding viewers’ interest throughout the presentation process.
- Animated characters: The use of animated characters adds personality to your message, making it more relatable and memorable for viewers.
- Ease of understanding: Whiteboard animations break down complex topics into easily digestible segments that help audiences grasp key points without feeling overwhelmed.
- Versatility: With applications ranging from product demonstrations to educational tutorials, whiteboard animations cater to various industries seeking effective communication solutions.
These days, we’re seeing a shift in the use of whiteboard animation, with more companies incorporating the technique into their branding and marketing efforts. The animation is becoming more visually dynamic and interactive, allowing for deeper engagement with the audience.
Some popular animated whiteboard software programs include Videoscribe, Animaker and Doodly.
16. Typography Animation
Typography animation is the art of bringing text to life with the help of animation techniques. It involves the creative manipulation of text, making it move, change size or color, and dance on the screen.
Some examples of clever and engaging typography animation include movie titles sequences, advertising campaigns, and music videos.
Typography animation has come a long way over the years, evolving from simple animated graphics to now incorporate complex 3D modeling, augmented reality, and virtual reality.
One of the most exciting aspects of the evolution of typography animation is its interdisciplinary nature, which requires collaboration between animators, designers, and developers.
Examples include the iconic opening crawl in Star Wars, and the hand-rendered titles of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
17. Virtual Reality Animation
Virtual reality animation is a revolutionary technology that combines advanced computer graphics, sound effects, and motion capture to create an immersive virtual experience.
With the help of specialized headsets and controllers, users can move freely within a completely computer-generated environment, interacting with objects and characters just as if they were there in person.
From exploring distant planets to climbing virtual mountains, there are countless applications for virtual reality animation that are already changing the way we experience media.
Cutting edge examples include Gran Turismo 7 and Half Life: Alyx.
As this technology continues to evolve, we can expect even more seamless and realistic experiences, with enhanced sensory input, improved AI behavior, and more intuitive controls.
18. Augmented Reality Animation
Augmented reality (AR) animation is a technology that blends digital content and real-world environments in real-time. It allows users to interact with virtual objects and animations as if they were present in the physical world, via mobile devices or headsets like Microsoft HoloLens.
Pokémon Go is a popular example of augmented reality animation that took the world by storm a few years ago. However, the technology has evolved significantly since then.
Nowadays, AR animation has expanded into industries such as education, healthcare, and gaming.
For instance, some museums and art galleries use augmented reality to bring exhibits to life and enhance visitors’ experience. In healthcare, augmented reality is used to assist surgeons during complex procedures.
Popular platforms such as Google’s ARCore and Apple’s ARKit enable developers to integrate this cutting-edge technology into their marketing campaigns effectively.
The technology is constantly evolving, and we can expect to see even more innovative applications of augmented reality animation in the near future.
How to Choose the Right Animation Style
Choosing the right animation style for your project depends on its specific needs and target audience. From films to training videos, commercials to marketing videos, corporate videos to multimedia projects, and video games to completely AI generated videos, the applications are endless.
You need to consider factors like budget constraints and artistic preferences to decide on the best approach that will help you achieve your desired results effectively while keeping your audiences engaged throughout the visual journey you present to them.
Assess Your Project Requirements
To choose the most suitable animation style, it is crucial to first assess your project requirements. Consider factors like story complexity, message delivery, and intended emotional impact on viewers.
For instance, if you’re creating a marketing video, motion graphics or whiteboard animations may be more effective in conveying information quickly and engagingly than traditional hand-drawn animations.
Balance Creativity with Practical Considerations
In addition to considering project requirements, striking a balance between creativity and practicality is essential when choosing an animation style.
While some techniques like stop-motion or virtual reality offer captivating experiences for audiences, they can be time-consuming and expensive to produce compared to simpler methods like 2D digital animations or motion graphics.
- Budget: Determine how much you are willing to spend on your animation project before exploring different styles that fit within this range.
- Timeline: Assess how long you have for production; certain techniques require more time investment than others due to their intricate nature (e.g., stop motion).
- Audience preference: Research your target audience’s preferences and consider which animation styles resonate best with them.
Common Questions About Animation Styles
What are all the animation styles?
There are numerous animation styles, including traditional hand-drawn, stop-motion, computer-generated (2D and 3D), vector-based, cutout, motion graphics, claymation, puppetry, and rotoscoping. Each style has its unique characteristics and is suitable for different types of projects.
What are the 5 types of animation?
The five primary categories of animation include: Traditional Hand-Drawn/Cel (e.g. classic Disney films), Computer Generated Imagery – CGI (e.g. Pixar movies), Stop Motion (e.g. Wallace & Gromit), Vector-Based/Web Animations (e.g. Flash animations on websites), and Motion Graphics/Typography Animations (e.g. explainer/how-to videos).
What are the four different animation style categories?
The four broad animation style categories are: Hand-Drawn or Traditional Animation, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), Stop Motion Animation, and Vector-Based/Web Animations. These categories encompass various techniques and styles used in the animation industry.
Animation is a versatile and captivating art form that offers endless creative possibilities. From traditional hand-drawn animation to cutting-edge VR animation, each style has its unique strengths and can help you bring your vision to life in exciting ways.
Whether you’re a professional animator or just starting out, it’s worth exploring different styles to find the ones that best suit your needs and artistic sensibilities. With so many options available, there’s no limit to what you can achieve with animation.
You might also want to check out the new AI animation generators that will help you create an animation video quickly and easily!
We hope this list of top 17+ animation styles has inspired you to try out something new and take your animation skills to the next level!