The Art of 2D Character Animation

The Art of 2D Character Animation
2D character animation

2D animation has been around for decades and its appeal remains timeless. Emerging from the Victorian era’s zoetrope and praxinoscope, 2D character animation has evolved vastly since its inception. Yet underneath the technological advancements lies an essence that continues to captivate audiences of all ages – the magic of bringing drawings to life through fluid motion.

In this article, we delve into the techniques behind this craft and how brands are leveraging their storytelling prowess.

What is 2D Animation?

2D animation refers to the process of creating the illusion of movement through the manipulation of flat, two-dimensional images on a digital or non-digital surface. While traditional 2D animation involves hand-drawn cel artwork, today’s digital animation workflows allow animators to design characters digitally using specialized software like Adobe Photoshop and Toon Boom Harmony.

After conceptualizing the character’s design and traits, animators create each frame by making subtle modifications to elements like facial expressions, body positions, and backgrounds. When played sequentially at a rate of 12-24 frames per second, these static drawings appear to effortlessly flow from one pose to the next.

How do you animate a character in 2D?

Animating a character in 2D takes meticulous planning and execution of the following steps

  1. Character Design: The animator first designs the character and breaks it down into movable parts like the head, torso, and limbs for easier animation. Proportions, facial features, and clothing details are refined.
  2. Storyboarding: The sequence of movements, scenes, and expressions are mapped out through rough sketches to establish flow and timing.
  3. Keyframes: Important transitional poses that define motion are identified as “keyframes”. These act as guidelines for animators.
  4. Inbetweening: Intermediate frames linking one keyframe to the next are added, smoothing out transitions and varying properties like speed. More in-betweens result in fluid animation.
  5. Timing and Spacing: The time interval between frames regulates the rate of movement – closer spacing yields slowed motions while distant ones accelerate it.
  6. Clean-Up: Fine lines, colors, and details are cleaned and polished on the rough animation.
  7. Coloring: Characters are hand-painted or digitally colored.
  8. Background Integration: Scenes complementing motion are imported or designed.
  9. Testing and Refinement: Drafts are previewed for glitches before final rendering.

2D Animation Examples Worth Watching

Check out the essential examples that can help you with all the clarity to proceed ahead

1. McDonald’s – Drive Thru Car Free Day

This promotional video entertains with its charming 2D character animation of people using imaginative transportation modes like giant pendant rides at the McDonald’s drive-thru. Bright colors and simple yet fun character designs make it relatable for all age groups while communicating the eco-friendly initiative.

2. Mailchimp: Introducing Facebook Ads

Focusing on Mailchimp and Facebook’s joint mission to empower businesses, this animated explainer clearly illustrates Facebook advertising services in under two minutes. Playful visual metaphors aid new users’ comprehension of otherwise complex advertising jargon, bolstering the brands through creative education.

3. HubSpot CMS

HubSpot’s video tour of its content management system is a model example of how animation engages audiences at a marketing level. By personifying website properties as quirky characters and narrating their experiences in a fun tone, technical product details are seamlessly intertwined with an entertaining plot that maintains viewers’ interest.

4. Slack – Work, Simplified

This animation conveys Slack’s potential to revolutionize team communication through vibrant characters, intuitive persona-driven scenarios, and flawless 2D motion. The commercial paints an ideal picture that resonates with professionals across industries in just over a minute by bringing to life how its features play out in real work situations.

Additional Read

Best 2D Animation Software – The Ultimate Guide

5. Google Cloud – Navigating AI

Produced exclusively through stop motion visual effects, Google Cloud’s explainer deploys minimalistic graphic elements to outline its edge in artificial intelligence and data solutions succinctly. Without dialog, captivating transitions sequenced to a subtle score impart the brand message through sheer visual storytelling, proving animation’s ability to simplify even deep tech.

6. Prophesee

Prophesee’s animated corporate video juxtaposes intricate 3D rendered environments with delicate 2D animations of photons, electrons, and silicon circuitry to metaphorically depict the inner workings of its event-based vision sensor. Mesmerizing visuals accompanied by a poem recital beautifully capture the innovation and deep science behind the French startup’s tech.

7. Deloitte – Future of Mobility

Envisioning urban mobility, a decade into the future, this case study seamlessly blends 2D, 2.5D, and 3D techniques to transport the viewer through a futuristic smart city. Abstract elements personalized with Deloitte’s logo reinforce the consultancy’s visionary approach toward clients while attracting top talent excited by emerging technologies.

8. Etsy Plus

Etsy taps into the heartwarming essence of its marketplace through a charming animated introduction to its seller-oriented subscription service Etsy Plus. Textured paper collages of items for sale transition fluidly between illustrated shop environments, anchored by a compassionate voiceover that translates key features into benefits for small businesses on the platform.

9. Amazon Smart Home

Amazon’s smart home ecosystem is visualized here as a lively neighborhood where personified devices autonomously help preoccupied residents throughout their day, eliminating hassles through seamless cooperation. By anthropomorphizing appliances as quirky yet helpful characters, viewers are invited to envision the as-yet-unrealized possibilities of interconnected IoT networks beyond just consumer products.

10. CoronaVirus

Used widely by health organizations globally, this simple but haunting animation by Patrick Smith effectively raises awareness of COVID-19’s spread through airborne droplets. Stunning visual metaphors are melded with factual scientific representations of viral particles to drive an urgent yet sensitive message during uncertain times, exemplifying animation’s ability to educate audiences about serious issues.

Final Thoughts

From entertainment to education, promotion to progress, 2D animation continues revolutionizing how stories are told with each generation. By bringing drawings, data, and ideas to life through motion, this versatile medium has empowered brands and institutes alike to reach target audiences in immersive yet nuanced ways. Looking ahead, as technology invariably disrupts animation workflows, its heart – the art of instilling souls into mere sketches – will surely endure.


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