2D Animation Essay

Stop Motion Animation

Stop motion animation is the original form of animation, dating back to the early 1800’s, which is a method still used today. This form of animation composes of a series of images, one after the other, captured frame by frame. By stitching together picture after picture in a very short time period, it tricks the brain and gives the optical illusion that the subject is moving. This brain process is called the persistence of vision, based on the theory that the brain and eyes work together to retain the memory of the frame we last saw and patch it up to the next one, and so on.

To create this optical illusion, the brain needs to see approximately 15 FPS (FPS – Frames Per Second), meaning that for every second of the animation there must be at least 15 still images. The smaller the amount of frames per second, the less smooth and believable the animation becomes, so for a smooth, good quality animation at least 15 FPS is needed. For a professionally smooth animation, such as in cartoons, you would need to use 24 Frames Per Second.

Early Forms and Pioneers of Stop Frame Animation

John Ayrton Paris – Thaumatrope

Some of the early forms of animation were the thaumatrope, zoetrope, and the mutoscope. The thaumatrope consisted of a circular disk with an image on each side and a string through the middle. When rotated at a fast speed, the images appear to blend together. For example on one side there could be a person with their arm to their side, and on the next in the air so that when spun it appears as though the person would be waving. It was invented in 1824 by British physician John Ayrton Paris.



William Horner – Zoetrope

Another early form of animation device was the Zoetrope, invented in 1834 by British mathematician William Horner. This device was a cylinder that spun with slits in the side for viewing and a sequence of illustrations on the inside. As shown in the gif below, the image sequence could be a bird flying and as the cylinder spins, you can look through the slits so as it spins it shows the images in sequence making it appear as though they are moving.



W.K.L. Dickson and Herman Casler – Mutoscope

In addition to this another early form of animation was the mutoscope. This device was Victorian and was invented by Scottish inventor W.K.L. Dickson and American inventor Herman Casler. It was a series of cards (about 850) attached to a circular core much like a rolodex. The viewer would put in a coin and crank the machine and it would roll through the cards at a fast speed, like a flip note. It could only be viewed by one person at a time.



Eadweard Muybridge – Chronophotography and the Zoopraxiscope

One of the earliest pioneers of animation was a man named Eadweard Muybridge. He lived from 1830 to 1904 and collated together photographic images of animals and people moving, frame by frame, stitching them together creating some of the earliest stop motion animation. This technique is known as chronophotography. To do so he invented his own device known as the Zoopraxiscope, a key predecessor to the movie projector. It was made up from glass disks with images printed on them that move in sequence as the device was cranked by hand.


Eadweard Muybridge’s horse photographic animation

Developers of Stop Frame Animation

Walt Disney

Walt Disney was born in 1901 in Illinois and was an American pioneer and developer of cartoons. He was an animator, voice actor, film producer and entrepreneur of Disney Brothers Studios. He started his career as a professional film producer developing different directions that animation could take, from comedy to romance. His animation form was stop motion animation using cel animation. In the 1920’s he developed the infamous character Mickey Mouse which he himself voiced, making comedy sketches designed to make people laugh. These were short and though rewarding, Disney wanted to go further and make full feature length films in technicolour that could make the audience feel a wide range of emotion. The first feature length animation he produced with this goal in mind was Snow White. When it premiered in 1937, the audience found themselves captured by it’s many emotional turns. The film was a huge success, and so Disney went on to produce many other feature length films during this period such as Bambi, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. Since then his brand has become one of the largest brands in the world, winning many awards and some of his films are included in the National Film Registry.


Snow White (1937)

Willis O’Brien

Willis O’Brien was an American animator and special effects pioneer, born in California in 1886. In his early years he worked as a marble sculptor. He crafted a caveman and dinosaur and in his spare time, with the assistance of a local camera man, created a 90 second stop motion animation. It was viewed and praised by Herman Wobber who then commissioned him to make The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy. Thomas Edison hired him through Edison Films after being impressed by the film. In 1917 he then worked on the first animations to combine stop motion models with real actors – Nippy’s Nightmare and The Puzzling Billboard. He then produced the effects for, wrote, co starred and directed The Ghost of Slumber Mountain earning a box office sum of 100K. He worked on other films such as The Lost World, and after several cancelled film plans, developed King Kong in 1933, a well known film and concept in the cinema world.

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Willis O’ Brien working on an animation

Contemporary Animation

Aardman Animation

Aardman Animation formed in 1972 when David Sproxton and Peter Lord came together as school students with the ambition of becoming animators. They worked on small productions such as Take Hart, before being commissioned in 1982 by Channel 4 to produce Conversation Pieces. Then after they worked on a film called Early Bird, giving them the platform to show that characters can parody real people. In 1985, Peter and David met Nick Parks who joined Aardman full time, when he was working on the debut Wallace and Gromit film A Grand Day Out released in 1989. Working together with the direction of Nick Parker, they made many more Wallace and Gromit films, such as The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave which were both extremely successful and won awards. Since then, Aardman Animation has made many more films and won many awards with the partnership and funding of DreamWorks, such as Chicken Run, Flushed Away, and The Curse of the Were Rabbit. Awards include BAFTA’s, Academy Awards and Oscars.

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Wallace and Gromit

Genres and Forms of Animation

Flick Book

There are many different forms of animation depending on the effect you wish to create, or the time period it was made. One of these is flick books. Flick books are a compact form of animation, much like the mutoscope. It consists of a book with a large number of frames, each page containing a different frame, so that when the book is flicked through the images mould together in sequence giving the illusion of movement.



Rotascoping came about in the 1800s, when Eadweard Muybridge painted his chronophotographic images on disks. The art of rotascoping is where real motion picture is traced over as animation on glass panels. It is done frame by frame, and when the panels are put together in sequence and played on a projector or other device, they play out as an animation. It was developed by Polish-American animator Max Fleischer.

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Rotascoping – the B/W images are photographs, imitated in drawing for Peter Pan

Drawn On Film

Drawn on film animation is where animators draw and create images directly onto film strip. The film strip can be black, which must be already developed, and is either etched, sanded, scratched or punched. The film can also be blank – if it is blank it will be undeveloped, and can be painted, drawn on, stamped, or even glued. It is done frame by frame, so when it is produced it is shown in 2D sequence. Some famous practitioners of drawn on animation are Norman McLaren and Len Lye.


Drawn on Film


Claymation, also known as clay animation, is a malleable form of animation in which the subject is made from clay or sometimes plasticine. A set will be built (likely to be built from clay also), and the subject will be moved gradually, and a photograph will be taken for every frame. Then it is stitched together so that it looks as though the film is moving by itself. Some examples of famous claymation projects are Wallace and Gromit, and Shaun the Sheep.

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Shaun the Sheep

Cel Animation

Cel animation is a traditional form of animation. It is a hand drawn format, using transparent/translucent sheets of paper that can be drawn on and layered over each other. To save time and effort, the backdrop, and other elements that would be stationary for the scene, will be drawn first and then the characters will be drawn on other sheets and traced for each frame. It is very time consuming, so in 1937 when Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the artists were pushed heavily for time to meet the release deadline.

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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Time Lapse

Time lapse animation is where a large number of photographs are taken and compressed together into a short space of time. Cameras will have a function that allows a constant stream of photographs to be taken at once, without having to press the shutter every time for each shot. This can save time and the subject can move continuously without needing to stop. If you were needing to make a 30 second time lapse, you would need 24 frames per second to be professionally smooth, equating to 720 shots, so this function is highly useful and saves a lot of time. If not, each shot can be taken individually.

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Time lapse of a rose

What are the ways in which animation is used, and what form is best for each use?

Animation is a versatile form of imagery. It can be used to be both entertaining, and also educational. It can be used to make us laugh, cry and provide a platform for us to escape to and be imaginative. In terms of entertainment, you can find animation in television, cartoons, films, music videos and many more formats. On the other hand it can be used for educational purposes, to illustrate how things work, for example in primary school a teacher may use animation to show how photosynthesis works. It makes the lesson interactive and more engaging for kids.


There are many different uses and functions for animation. Idents are short animations of usually around 5-10 seconds that a TV channel will use in between airing programs. They are often used when a narrator announces the next program as an entertaining visual whilst they speak. They are also a form of identity – what the ident shows is often synonymous with the nature of the channel – it gives identity to the kind of content a channel shows. For example, the BBC 2 ident has a more formal relaxed image than the E4 ident – BBC 2 shows an animated ‘2’ that has shown different forms, to a tent opening shape or a robot. It targets the audience that is aged around 30 – 50. The E4 ident is a lot more active and fun because of the younger 15-30 demographic. It is a purple robot, but the difference is that this robot has been given a clumsy personality and features, making it more youthful for the audience.

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BBC 2 ident

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E4 ident

Children’s TV

Animation is a highly used form of entertainment on children’s TV. Animation as a visual style is exciting and often colourful, and so it is very engaging for children to watch. In addition to this, when it comes to animation, there is no limit to what you can create. You can create any character or setting in any style or appearance, so it gives a large space for creativity and imagination that couldn’t be used or found in the real world. Some examples of current children’s animation are Paw Patrol and Spongebob. They are popular amongst children because they are colourful, fun, engaging and funny for kids.

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Paw Patrol

Computer Games

Much like children’s TV, animation is consistently used in computer games as graphics. Computer games are very complex and require different actions for each choice made by the player, so it is far simpler to animate computer games than to film real actors. By using animation, there is no limit as to what the creator can make. The benefit of using animation over real image is that it can be as colourful and surreal as the creator wants. The more creative the more the audience will enjoy it, as many play video games as a form of escapism. In addition to this, as technology gets better, the better the graphics get and therefore more entertaining the game gets, and the more profit the game company gain.

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Skyrim (Bethesda) after being remastered – before and after

Music Videos

Animation can be used in many different ways in music videos to give the audience different vibes and show different creative flares in the artist. It might be used because the theme of animation runs in the song, or that the song has an imaginative twist and the animation represents that, or that the colours reflect or contrast the song. The reasons animation may be used in music videos are almost endless. Animation is a very versatile form of entertainment and art, so it can be used for many different functions such as music videos. For example, the Arctic Monkeys used animation as their music video for ‘Do I Wanna Know’ which reflects the grunge and sombre tone. This targets their target audience of around 15-30, focusing on mental heath and relationship issues.

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Arctic Monkey’s ‘Do I Wanna Know’


To create modern digital animation, you may want to use a modern animation software. For example, this could be After Effects, Anime Studio, Toon Boom Studio, etc. These software pieces are affordable for the general public and are capable of producing high quality, professional level products – Adobe After Effects costs just $19.99 a month as a single subscription. These software are very versatile, offering hundreds of different functions and ways to make your project even better. They are easy to navigate and any mistakes are easily rectifiable – with just a few tutorials and exploring, anybody can create a well rounded piece of material with these software.

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Adobe After Effects


In summary, animation has grown in leaps and bounds since it first began in the 1800’s. It has grown from Eadweard Mubridge’s chronophotography to the work of Willis O’Brien to modern Disney, producing multiple films in short spaces of time such as Moana and Inside Out. The advantages of making stop motion animation is that it is a lot less time consuming, because of the introduction of software such as Adobe After Effects and Animate, where the program does the animation for you. Prior to this the introduction of digital cameras made it possible to photograph clay models, (e.g. Shaun the Sheep) and each movement photographed creates a sequence.


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