The Main Types of Animation

Animation comes in different shapes and forms, each with its pros and cons. As a business owner, marketing manager, or producer, it's important to understand them to hire the right animation studios and increase your return on investment.

9 months ago   •   8 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré
Photo by Sebastian Svenson / Unsplash

Animation comes in different shapes and forms, each with its pros and cons. As a business owner, marketing manager, or producer, it's important to understand them to hire the right animation studios and increase your return on investment.

We can distinguish 5 main types of animation: 2D, 3D, stop motion, motion graphics, and rotoscopic. Let's look into each one.

2D Animation

2D animation has been captivating audiences for decades, creating some of the most iconic pieces of art.

La Vie de Château - Miyu Production

What is 2D Animation?

2D animation creates moving images using a sequence of hand-drawn or computer-generated frames. Each frame represents a slight variation in movement, and when played in rapid succession at 25 frames per second, they give the illusion of fluid motion.

From Disney, Cartoon Networks, and Studio Ghibli to anime and Adult Swim, 2D animation is still going strong despite recent technological advances.

Pros of 2D Animation

  • Originality - Each frame in a 2D animated film is handcrafted with care, giving the artwork a unique and distinct feel that stands out from other animation styles. This originality allows for a more personalized and artistic touch to be infused into the final product.
  • Simplicity - While animation is far from a simple process, 2D animation often involves less complexity in terms of skills compared to 3D, leading to a more straightforward and efficient production pipeline.
  • Every frame a painting - One of the most cherished aspects of 2D animation is the artistic value it brings to every frame. Each individual scene is a work of art, with attention to detail and creativity poured into every element.

Cons of 2D Animation

  • Costs - 2D animation is labor-intensive. The frames require skilled animators, and the time and effort invested can result in higher production costs because animation assets aren't always easy to reuse and reproduce compared to 3D models.
  • Lack of flexibility - Unlike 3D animation where modifications to a scene can be relatively easier, altering frames in 2D animation can be more complicated and time-consuming. This can hinder the flexibility to make significant changes during the production process.

While 2D animation holds a special place in the hearts of many audiences and creators, it has faced challenges in the face of rising budgets and shifting audience preferences. Studios have often grappled with the decision of whether to invest in traditional 2D animation or transition to more cost-effective 3D animation.

By wisely managing their budgets, focusing on compelling storytelling, and leveraging the nostalgic appeal of 2D animation, some animated films and series still manage to strike a balance between financial success and artistic brilliance.

3D Animation

3D animation stands as a technological marvel, bringing to life breathtaking virtual worlds and characters that push the boundaries of realism.

3D Character by the Blender Studio

What is 3D Animation?

3D animation uses computer-generated graphics to animate images. Animators manipulate digital models in a three-dimensional space, allowing for intricate movements and lifelike interactions. This revolutionary approach has opened up endless possibilities, enabling filmmakers and storytellers to craft immersive worlds that captivate audiences like never before.

From the groundbreaking fantasy world of James Cameron's "Avatar" to the heartwarming friendships portrayed in Pixar's "Toy Story" series, 3D animation has showcased the power of technology in storytelling, pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation.

Pros of 3D Animation

  • Realism - The level of realism achievable in 3D animation is unparalleled. From rendering intricate details on characters to creating photorealistic environments, this technology allows filmmakers to craft worlds that feel tangible and alive.
  • Asset reusability - Once 3D models are created, they can be reused in different projects, reducing production time and costs for subsequent films or animations. This reusability fosters efficiency in the creation process.
  • Visual FX - The 3D capabilities allow to have no limit in creativity. Any visual effects can be implemented in 3D, whether it's a burning element or turning a character into a giant rainbow.

Cons of 3D Animation

  • Complexity - The creation of 3D animations requires specialized technical knowledge and skilled animators. Learning and mastering the intricacies of 3D software and techniques can be a time-consuming and challenging endeavor.
  • Rendering costs - Rendering, the process of converting 3D models into the final images, can be resource-intensive and time-consuming. High-quality renderings may require significant computational power, leading to increased production costs.

Stop Motion Animation

What is Stop Motion Animation?

Stop-motion animation involves the manipulation of physical objects or puppets, capturing movements frame by frame. Each frame is a photograph, and when played consecutively at 25 frames per second, the illusion of motion is achieved. This labor-intensive process requires precision, patience, and an unwavering dedication to craft characters and stories.

From the macabre world of Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" to the hilarious escapades in Aardman Animations' "Chicken Run" and more recently Del Toro's "Pinocchio," stop motion animation has proven its versatility in captivating audiences across generations.

The materials used have a big impact on the final result: cut-out animation involves using pre-drawn or printed characters and objects, which are then cut out and articulated with joints. This technique allows animators to create fluid movements while saving time on drawing each frame individually. "South Park" is a famous example of cut-out animation. Claymation, a variation of stop-motion animation, uses clay or plasticine models to create characters and scenes. These models are carefully sculpted, and their positions are altered slightly for each frame. The claymation process offers a charming and tactile aesthetic.

Pros of Stop Motion Animation

  • Low Cost - In comparison to other animation styles, stop motion animation often requires modest resources. The materials used for puppets and sets can be relatively inexpensive, making it an attractive option for independent animators or small production studios.
  • Unique Visual Appeal - Stop motion animation carries a distinct visual charm that sets it apart from other animation techniques. The tactile quality of physical puppets and sets adds a tangible, handmade appeal to the final product, resulting in a unique and captivating viewing experience.

Cons of Stop Motion Animation

  • Time-Consuming - Stop motion animation is a time-consuming process. The creation of intricate movements and the attention to detail demands a significant investment of time and effort, making the production timeline more extended compared to some other animation methods.

While stop-motion animation's low-cost advantage is appealing, it still faces the financial challenges shared by all animation styles, and the labor-intensive nature of crafting each frame and the time required to complete a feature-length film greatly influence production budgets.

Despite these challenges, stop-motion animated films have proven to be successful at the box office, drawing audiences with their unique visual allure and captivating storytelling. By striking a balance between creativity and prudent budgeting, stop-motion animators have demonstrated that even in a world dominated by digital animation, the artistry and charm of this method continue to captivate and resonate with audiences.

Motion Graphics

Motion graphics involves the use of animated graphics, text, and visual elements to convey information, tell stories, and create engaging visual experiences.

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell (Youtube channel)

What are Motion Graphics?

Motion graphics is a dynamic form of animation that blends design elements, such as typography, illustrations, and icons, with animated movements and transitions.

It is commonly used in various contexts, including advertisements, explainer videos, title sequences, and presentations. Motion graphics effectively blend artistry and information, making complex concepts more accessible and engaging to audiences.

From informative explainer videos that simplify complex topics to visually captivating advertisements and stunning title sequences for films and TV shows, motion graphics have permeated various aspects of visual storytelling.

Pros of Motion Graphics

  • Low cost - Motion graphics often require fewer resources compared to other animation styles. Since they often involve manipulating existing graphics and elements, the production process can be more cost-effective, making it a popular choice for projects with budget constraints. YouTube has become a hub for motion graphics content, with creators using the medium to engage audiences on various topics. From educational channels breaking down complex concepts with visually compelling graphics to captivating animated intros for popular YouTubers, motion graphics have found a place in the digital landscape.
  • Simplicity - The clean and minimalist aesthetic of motion graphics makes it an effective medium for conveying information concisely and clearly. Its simplicity allows viewers to focus on the message being conveyed without unnecessary distractions.
  • Flexibility - Motion graphics can be adapted to suit various styles and tones, from corporate and professional to playful and creative. This adaptability makes it a versatile tool for different types of projects.

Cons of Motion Graphics

  • Not as visually appealing or artistic - While motion graphics excel at conveying information, they may not always have the same level of visual appeal or artistic depth as other animation styles, like 2D or 3D animation. The focus on conveying information may sometimes overshadow more intricate artistic expression.

Rotoscope Animation

Rotoscope animation is a unique and captivating animation technique that intertwines the real world with the animated realm to create a semi-realistic and dreamlike experience.

What is Rotoscope Animation?

Rotoscope animation bridges the gap between live-action and animation by incorporating real-life footage as the foundation for the animated sequences. Artists meticulously trace over each frame of the live-action footage to create fluid and lifelike animated movements. This technique allows for a unique blend of realism and artistic expression, blurring the line between the tangible and the imaginative.

Classic Disney movies like Cinderella, Pinocchio, and Alice in Wonderland leverage rotoscope animation to create ethereal and thought-provoking visuals. The fluidity of movement and the infusion of surreal elements in these films have left audiences mesmerized. More recently, Loving Vincent and Prime's Undone also proved successful.

Pros of Rotoscope Animation

  • Visual appeal - Rotoscope animation possesses a distinct and visually striking aesthetic. The combination of real-life footage with hand-drawn animation results in a dreamlike experience for the audience.
  • Semi-realism - Rotoscope animation allows for a unique blend of realism and artistic interpretation. By capturing real-world movements and expressions, the animated characters and scenes can exude a level of authenticity that traditional animation styles might not achieve.

Cons of Rotoscope Animation

  • Not so used nowadays - While rotoscope animation has a rich history and has been used in notable films, it is not as commonly employed in modern animation. The labor-intensive nature of the process and advancements in other animation techniques like 3D may have contributed to its diminished usage.
  • Style - The style can be appealing but it is very tied to the technic. So the audience may consider it's not "real" animation.

Given the limited use of rotoscope animation in recent times, direct box office comparisons might not be readily actionable. The financial considerations for rotoscope animation can vary significantly depending on factors such as the complexity of the project, the number of frames to be traced, and the expertise of the animators involved.

Combine animation styles with Kitsu

It is not unlikely you'll need to use different animation styles for different projects, or even combine different types of animation to come up with something unique. Whether you're working with different studios or handling several projects in parallel, using a tool like Kitsu to keep everyone aligned is key.

Kitsu is used for all types of animation to track production progress, store assets in one central location, and quickly iterate on ideas:

Whether you're working in 2D or 3D, Kitsu syncs with your favorite digital content creation tool to help your team get work done faster.


Each type of animation brings something unique. Traditional hand-drawn animation allows for artistic expression and a unique style but demands significant time and effort.

3D animation offers realistic visuals and efficient manipulation of virtual objects, yet it can be complex and resource-intensive.

Stop-motion animation grants a charming, tangible feel to characters, but it demands meticulous attention to detail.

Motion graphics enable a wide range of possibilities and visual effects, although it may lack the organic charm of traditional methods.

Picking the right style for your animation project is crucial to connect with your audience, so don't overlook it.

We also run a Discord community where you can connect with more than 1000 CG professionals to share tips and ideas. No matter where you come from, join us―we will be happy to help you with your projects!

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