All You Need To Know About Traditional Animation: An Ultimate Guide

All You Need To Know About Traditional Animation: An Ultimate Guide
Traditional Animation

Traditional animation, also known as hand-drawn animation or cel animation, is a method of filmmaking where each frame is drawn by hand. In this technique, animated characters and objects are drawn on transparent celluloid sheets (cels) placed over painted backgrounds. When the frames are played in succession, the illusion of movement is created.

The History Of Traditional Animation

Traditional animation developed in the late 19th century. One of the earliest experiments was the zoetrope, a spinning drum with drawings inside that showed movement when viewed through slots. In 1888, celluloid film was introduced, allowing animation frames to be drawn on transparent sheets and exposed individually. This era saw animation experiments using objects, cutouts, and drawings.

Traditional cel animation came to prominence in the 1920s. Legendary studios like Disney and Warner Bros paved the way, releasing hugely popular animated films using traditional techniques from the 1930s to 1950s. As CGI emerged in the 1950s and computer graphics advanced, animated productions increasingly incorporated digital tools. However, traditional animation is still used, especially in Japan and Europe. Iconic films like Spirited Away (2001) showcase its continued popularity.

The Techniques Of Traditional Animation

In traditional animation, images are drawn by hand on paper or cel and photographed individually to create the appearance of movement. Each frame is a new drawing, with subtle changes from the previous to show motion. The process is complex and time-consuming.

Animators start with concept art and character turnarounds to develop models and styles. Background artists design stunning settings using paints to add depth. Layout artists plan scenes on storyboards. The timing and positioning of characters are tweaked to ensure smooth animation.

Clean-up artists trace the rough animation drawings onto cels in ink or paint to finalize each cel image. Cels are transparent sheets, originally made of celluloid. Characters are drawn on individual cels while backgrounds remain static.

The cels are placed over lit easels, below an animation camera. Each cel is meticulously photographed before moving to the next frame, exposing the film for a fraction of a second. Multiple exposure techniques are used for special effects.

Completed film reels show the sequential frames rapidly, creating the illusion of fluid motion. Traditional animation can produce vivid details but capturing complex motions is labor-intensive. Its biggest advantage is allowing animators creative freedom through direct manipulation.

Types of Traditional Animation

Here are the different types of traditional animation that you can consider for your different needs. Take a look:

1. Cel Animation

In cel animation, characters are drawn on transparent celluloid sheets (cels) placed over painted backgrounds. Animator Earl Hurd pioneered it and became the dominant technique in the studio era from 1914 1950s.

2. Rotoscope Animation

It involves tracing live-action film frames and redrawing them animatedly. Legendary animator Max Fleischer developed the process. Early Disney films like Snow White incorporated it.

3. Cutout Animation

Characters are constructed from materials like paper and animated by repositioning individual parts frame by frame, similar to silhouette theatre. South Park popularized this low-budget process. Frames are assembled in the order drawn to move.

The process

1. Storyboards

Storyboarding is the first step in planning visual storytelling in animation. Storyboard artists meticulously sketch each scene on paper in sequences to show the logical progression of events in the narrative. They include important details like character placements, expressions, camera angles, and transitional movements between panels. Action notes explain events to provide context.

The storyboard acts as a visual script to establish scene composition, pacing, and timing. Storyboard revision is an iterative process between directors and artists to refine scenes until an effective storytelling flow is established. This blueprint helps streamline production and ensures all departments visually interpret scenes uniformly to bring the animated film to life.

2. Voice recording

Capturing character voices and ambient sounds is crucial to animating with synchronization. Voice actors meticulously emote dialogue and sound in a soundproof booth while recording session engineers adjust audio levels. Actors may improvise different intonations and pitches to help animators.

Their performance is compiled into a temporary scratch track containing raw audio and notes. Editors refine the audio quality and cut dialogue appropriately. Sometimes additional cues are recorded to guide timing or mood. Animate works symbiotically, with voices occasionally re-recorded to match visual revisions. The finalized audio track becomes the blueprint to which animators precisely synchronize character lip movements and actions frame-by-frame.

Additional Read

What are the Types of Animation?

3. Animatic stage

At this stage, visuals from the storyboards and rough audio tracks come together as a moving preview of the animated film called an animatic. Editors assemble scene stills, and transition slides and audio via software into a video prototype. Directors evaluate pacing, comedic timing between scenes, and animation requirements. Feedback helps spot areas needing improvement or additional development.

The animatic acts as a working proof-of-concept to receive input before full animation begins. Visuals may need revising or scenes rearranging based on test audience response. Story changes are incorporated at this stage for efficiency. The approved animatic becomes the foundation for individual departments to follow in parallel during production.

4. Design and timing

Character designers develop individual personalities and silhouettes through turnarounds showing different angles. Reference sheets clearly outline distinguishing traits, uniforms, hairstyles, and facial expressions to maintain visual consistency. Background artists similarly design settings with depth, lighting, textures, and props. Their concept art and model sheets guide animators and scene work.

Timing specialists break down scenes into individual motion beats with precise start-end frames. Layout artists then plan character posing, camera movements, and scene flow by timing charts to seamlessly juxtapose visuals and audio. Collectively their preliminary work establishes templates for animators to populate with living drawings.

5. Layout

Layout artists create rough scene versions incorporating character poses and camera angles on layers for animators to follow later in the animation process.

6. Animation

Animators bring drawings to life through minute changes to possess between frames on paper or animation disks/cels to produce fluid character motions frame by frame.

The Future Of Traditional Animation

While 3D animation and CGI have advanced, traditional hand-drawn styles still have their place. Its nostalgic qualities are loved by many and Studio Ghibli continues to produce acclaimed full-length films this way. Independent animators also release short films using traditional methods. With technology, modern productions combine both styles effortlessly. 

While CGI allows complex renders, hand-drawn techniques give creative control and promote self-expression. Younger audiences exposed to webcomics and illustrations ensure the future of traditional styles. Its detailed, artistic qualities will always be appreciated. Whether in shorts, television or video games, traditional animation continues evolving creatively.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, traditional animation represents a rich heritage in visual storytelling. Through advancement in techniques over a century, it produced beloved classics. Its process trains persistence while allowing artistic liberty. While digitization influences the industry, hand-drawn styles retain nostalgic appeal and foster new talent. Traditional animation remains an integral part of cultural history and ongoing creative expression.


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