Traditional animation is not dead

To spite the common assertion that traditional animation is “dead”, the truth is a little more optimistic. Whilst it’s true that we haven’t had a traditionally animated feature length film come out of Hollywood for quite some time (the most recent being Disney’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ in 2011 and previous to that, Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ in 2009) the art form is still very much alive and well elsewhere.

Many animated TV shows still use traditional animation, granted, it is often mixed with 2d computer animation techniques in the interest of saving time and money, but the point is it IS being used. “The Simpsons” for example is still pretty much completely traditionally animated “It’s still hand drawn and then it’s digitally inked and painted. And they use computer-y stuff for backgrounds and pseudo 3-D effects” – Matt Groening (read full interview here)

In Europe and Japan traditional animation is thriving. The 2014 film “Song of the Sea” from Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore was even nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature in 2015 and the Japanese animation industry continues to be predominantly focused on traditional animation (anime).

So, when people talk of traditional animation being “dead” what they really mean is “Hollywood feature length traditional animation is dead” however this also may not necessarily be true…

I have recently become aware of two really interesting crowdfunding projects that make me very optimistic about the future of traditional animation on the big screen.

Hullabaloo is a project started by veteran Disney animator James Lopez. Lopez describes Hullabaloo as “a 2D (hand-drawn) animated steampunk film that hopes to help preserve the dying art of 2D animation”. Lopez has gathered a team of both past and present Disney animators to make this a reality. The initial crowdfunding campaign aimed to raise the funds for the team to make 1 hullabaloo short film “We want you to join us in making a short film that will showcase the world of Hullabaloo, which we can show to investors to fund a full length 2D feature.” However, they have surpassed their original target and are now making 4 shorts!

Dragon’s lair was a 1980’s video game directed by animation legend Don Bluth. Now Bluth has teamed up with Gary Goldman to adapt the classic game into a full length traditionally animated feature film! I am particularly excited about this project because Bluth is a huge inspiration of mine. They offer some really cool rewards for contributing too, so I decided to contribute to the project and nabbed myself an animation cell from the film “All dogs go to heaven” signed by Bluth and Goldman, and  the “digital student bundle” that includes a selection of animation ebooks and video tutorials!

And finally, I can’t talk about the future of traditional animation and NOT mention Disney’s Oscar winning 2012 short film ‘Paperman’. While technically a CG film, Paperman utilised some traditional animation techniques with groundbreaking new software to give the animation a hand drawn look. Apparently this process is being pursued further at Disney and a Paperman style feature might be on the horizon. You can read more about how Paperman was made here.

Creating a short animation part 4: thumbnailing

I’m almost ready to start animating! But, rather than diving straight in I’m going to spend a little bit of time doing some thumbnails. Thumbnailing is a really important step because it helps you quickly work out all your key poses before you start animating. By thumbnailing out your poses you can find out which work and which don’t…. and it’s definitely better to find out a pose you had in mind doesn’t work before you have spent hours animating!

thumbnails do not need to be beautiful drawings, they don’t even need to be good drawings (mine definitely aren’t!), they are just about working out your key poses.

Here is a post on animator island (yes I’m linking to animator island… again!) about the importance of thumbnailing and how it will save you time in the long run.

And, here are my thumbnails


Creating a short animation part 3: character designs and making the background

The next step in creating my short animation was to finalise the ‘look’ of the project. In all honesty, I should have spent a lot more time on this than I did BUT I have a very limited amount of time to complete the animation so I want to start actually animating as soon as possible.

Since the story I chose to base my animation on is a childrens story, it makes sense that my animation should also be aimed at children. For this reason I wanted my characters and scenery to be bright and colourful to appeal to a young audience.

below are some colour tests I did. I decided to go with the third colour scheme because I felt that the contrast between the characters and the background wasn’t enough in the first two.


The next image is the background I have created for my animation. To allow me to pan the background I made it double the width of the screen size I will be using.


The final two images below are my character designs. I would have liked to spend more time developing these and creating full character sheets showing them from all angles and with a variety of poses and facial expressions but unfortunately I just don’t have the time to do this.

I have kept the design of the characters simple for two reasons, firstly to appeal to a young audience and secondly to make my life that little bit easier when it comes to animating (again a time issue). The colouring is flat for the same reason, due to the amount of extra time that would be needed to add shading to the characters on every frame I don’t think it would be a sensible decision.




Creating a short animation part 2: storyboarding

Now that I’ve decided on my story (see Creating a short animation part 1) it’s time to make a storyboard.

Storyboarding is an important step in making a short animation, it allows you to clearly plan the composition of each shot and should include all the main actions that will take place, camera moves and transitions.

I found this really great tutorial on storyboarding on And a nice tip for improving your storyboards on animator island.

here is my storyboard IMG_1241.PNG



Creating a short animation part 1: setting restrictions, finding the story and initial ideas.

So far in my efforts to learn how to animate, I have studied the 12 principles of animation and practiced them by completing a series of animation tests including the bouncing ball , falling brick , head turn  and biped walk cycle . I have also completed a few more animation tests that I will be discussing in future posts.

Now I want to do something with what I have learned. So I am going to create a short animation with an actual story!

I have a strict deadline for this project as it will be part of my hand in for my final semester on my illustration degree. I  have four weeks to complete this (a short time in animation land!) and other work to be done alongside it, so I’m going to need to set a few restrictions to help me stay on task and be realistic about what I can achieve in this time frame.

So, my animation will…

  • be a maximum of 1 minute long
  • feature only 2 characters
  • take place in 1 location

Now I need to decide on my characters and plot. I am not much of a writer, so rather than spending a long time coming up with an original story I decided to find an existing one and adjust it to fit the restrictions I have set out.

I knew I wanted my story to be about animals so I searched the internet for “short stories about animals” and came across “just so stories” which I remembered being read to us in primary school. After looking through the stories I decided to go with “the elephants child” (or “how the elephant got his trunk”).

you can read the full story here if you are interested but my simplified/ shortened version goes like this:

  • young elephant is drinking from river
  • crocodile watches menacingly
  • crocodile strikes, grabbing elephant by nose
  • a tug of war ensues and the elephants nose begins to stretch
  • elephant breaks free and now has a long trunk

here are some initial sketches IMG_1236


Animating walk cycles: biped walk

In this post I will be discussing how I animated the walk cycle below.

Step 1:


Draw the two contact positions. Right leg forward on the first and left leg forward on the second. Don’t worry about the arms for now, we will add them later. Note that if you want to animate the walk in place as I did then the second contact would be positioned directly on top of the first.

Step 2:



Now add the key poses between the two contacts. The top image shows the drawings spaced apart so you can see what is going on, but again, if you are animating in place the frames should be layered on top of each other as shown in the bottom image. Note that the head should Move in a linear up and down motion (a slight curve is fine but avoid circular motions as this can give an odd bird like effect) and the stepping foot should move in an arc.

Step 3:


Now it’s time to add the inbetweens. The timing chart above shows the positioning of the inbetweens, the key frames that we have already drawn are circled. The speed of a standard walk is about half a second per step, so 12 frames when animating at 24fps (frame 13 is the start of the next step)

It’s important to take care that the foot follows a smooth arched trajectory. The easiest way to do this is to pick a point on the foot (I used the heel) and actually draw the ark through this point on all the key frames, then when you add the inbetweens make sure the heel is always positioned exactly on this line.


The image above shows two different ways to animate the foot. There is nothing wrong with diagram 1 but it can look a little stiff. If you drag the foot as shown in diagram 2 it will give the animation more flexibility.

Step 4:

You have now animated the character taking 1 step. To animate the second step you need to follow the same process again but this time starting on the opposite foot. When you are done the animation should start and end in the first contact position.

Step 5:IMG_1232


Now we can add the arms. The above image shows the key poses for a swinging arm. Our walk starts with the right leg forward and left leg back. The arms should be the opposite, right arm back, left arm forward. Instead of just having the arm straight on frame 7 you can “break the joint” so it bends the wrong way, since it is only bent this way for one frame (don’t bend it on any of the inbetweens) the viewer won’t register it but it will give a feeling of flexibility to the animation. You can also drag the hand like we did with the foot.

Step 6:

Fill in the inbetweens for the arms and you’re done!



Animating head turns

In this post I’m going to be talking about animating head turns.

Things to remember:

  • Things very rarely move in straight lines in nature, so if you want your animation to look natural, all movements need to follow an arched trajectory (unless of course you want the movement to appear mechanical) for a head turn, this means we need to dip the head down slightly on the breakdown drawing (tilting the head up can also work).
  • Most of the time things move fastest in the middle of the action. So, in animation we ease in and ease out by adding more drawings closer together at the beginning and end of the action. There are times where another force may be acting on your character so a little bit of common sense is needed with this principle.
  • When we turn our heads we tend to blink.

My head turn animation:

How I did it:

Step 1:IMG_1209

First draw your two keys and the breakdown in between them. Notice that the head is tilted down and the eyes are closed on the breakdown. I have separated the drawings on the top image for clarity. The bottom image shows how the drawings should actually be placed. The positions of the head should form an arc as shown by the blue line.

Step 2:

Now add the inbetweens. This timing chart shows the placing of the inbetweens, the keys are circled and the breakdown underlined. We are animating on twos, which means every drawing will be exposed twice.

You can find a detailed explanation of animation timing charts HERE

You can also take a look at THIS blog post from animator island which was helpful to me for this exercise.

Animating a falling brick

This is a simple exercise but there are still a couple of things to keep in mind when animating a falling brick. We need to convey that the object is heavy and also that it is made of a rigid material.

There is some great content on on weight and centre of gravity in animation.

Here is my falling brick animation.

And here is how I did it:

Step 1:

Draw the key frames 

Step 2:

Add the inbetweens. More inbetweens spaced closer together at the start of the action for an ease in.

Step 3:

Finally, I added a slight wobble and the brick falls on its side.

Bouncing ball animation: the first thing you should learn to animate

It may seem simple but the bouncing ball is actually the foundation for every animation. So when I decided to start learning animation seriously, the bouncing ball was the logical place to start. Completing the bouncing ball exercises really helped develop my understanding of some of the core principles of animation, such as squash and stretch, timing and spacing, ease in and ease out, and arcs.

Animation test 1: ball bouncing in place.

How I did it:

step 1:

Draw a line for the ground and the ball in its starting position, this is the first key frame.

Step 2:

Now on a new frame draw the ball at the point it touches the ground. Make sure that you keep the volume of the ball the same in every frame (this is harder than it sounds if you are drawing by hand but it is very important.)

Step 3:

Add a frame in between the first two frames. In this drawing stretch the ball slightly to give a feeling of elasticity but remember the overall volume needs to stay the same.

Step 4:

Add a new frame in between the top two positions.

Step 5:

Add the next two inbetweens shown in green for clarity.

Step 6:

Add the final inbetweens, shown in orange.

Step 7:

Add one more drawing after the contact position, this time you want to squash it slightly.

Step 8: Finally, repeat all the frames backwards so that your animation starts and ends with the ball at the top position. This way you can loop your animation, and now we are done!

Animation test 2: ball bouncing across screen.

How I did it:

step 1:

The method for animating a ball bouncing across the screen is pretty much the same. However, this time the ball will be animated across an arched path. It is a good idea to draw out the path first.

Step 2:

Draw in the high points and contact positions.

Step 3:

Now add the frames where the ball is stretched.

Step 4:

Add the first set of inbetweens.

Step 5:

Then the next set of inbetweens.

Step 6:

And finally draw the squashed positions.