What are the five types of animation?

Five types of animation

It’s no coincidence that being ‘animated’ is synonymous with being full of life, vigour and liveliness; at Tricks Studio, we bring businesses to life everyday with our animation and motion graphic services.

Informed by three decades of collective experience, our accomplished team of creatives knows almost everything there is to know about animation.

From defining the exact meaning of animation to outlining the different types of animation, we can help you to find the perfect art form to meet your requirements.

Regardless of whether you want to streamline internal communications or showcase your products in a more entertaining and eye-catching manner, there’s no limit to the power of animation.

What is animation?

Before we delve into the five main types of animation, let’s explore exactly what is meant by ‘animation’. According to the Cambridge Dictionary’s animation definition, the animation is “moving images created from drawings, models, etc. that are photographed or created by a computer”, but what does this actually mean?

The exact definition will vary depending on the type of animation that you’re referring to.

For example, Traditional Animation involves hand-drawing each frame and is often what people will initially imagine. It’s worth noting, however, that animation comes in many different forms; the result and process will therefore change depending on the animation type.

What are the different types of animation?

Animation can be used to make everything from informative explainer videos to entertaining TV commercials and even viral social media clips. There are five animation types that are widely considered to be the primary forms.

This includes Traditional Animation, 2D Animation, 3D Animation, Stop Motion and Motion Graphics.

Below, we take a look at the benefits of each type of animation and what’s involved in the animation processes. We explore each in detail to help you learn which is best for your business. Incredibly engaging, and ideal for boosting conversion rates and driving social engagement, animation can achieve a wide range of professional goals.

Traditional animation

Traditional animation also referred to as cel-animation or hand-drawn animation, is perhaps one of the most well-known animation types. This traditional animation process involves drawing sequences of illustrations on transparent paper sheets a frame at a time. An animation tool called a peg bar is used by the animator/illustrator to secure the paper, helping to create the key drawings/frames in an animated scene.

The character layouts pinned behind the transparent paper act as a guide for the animator, allowing them to create various frames depicting movement. Often, an animator will prepare a pencil test – a rough version of the final animated scene. This test will typically lack detail and colour, but ensure that the overall character movement isn’t missing any frames and is in synch with the soundtrack.

Once the animation has been reviewed and pencil-tested, it can be sent to the editing suite where it will be ‘sweat boxed’. This process involves the scene being inserted into context with others. From here, the director can review the animated scene and either call for changes or approve it.

On approval, it will require ‘cleaning up’, which involves animators tracing the illustrations onto a new sheet of paper. All of the detail and colour previously left out in the pencil test will be included at this stage of the animation process. Any missing frames (also referred to as intermediate frames) between drawings will then be drawn in as part of a procedure called ‘tweening’.

These drawings will then be ‘sweat boxed’ again until they’re finally given the go-ahead and approved by the director. Throughout every stage of this animation process, any approved drawings are spliced into the Leica reel – a storyboarding device made from animated stills and arranged with recorded material. One of the best examples of traditional animation is Disney movies.

2D Animation

2D Animation, or Two-Dimensional Animation, is another way of referring to traditional animation. It is created when two-dimensional illustrations are sequenced in rapid succession to create the appearance of motion. Unlike the characters in 3D animation, 2D animations don’t move towards or away from the camera. They do, however, require plenty of illustration and expert drawing skills because every frame needs to be hand-drawn.

As a result, 2D animation teams are often composed of many members with each main character typically being assigned at least one animator. Some of the more prominent characters in animation projects may even have a team of animators assigned to them including a supervising animator, several key animators and even more assistant animators. Additional animators will also be required to animate any other objects and phenomena included in the project.

3D Animation

3D Animation (Three-Dimensional Animation), also known as CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), is an incredibly popular type of technical animation. Ideal for creating digital characters, 3D Animation involves creating movement in three-dimensional images using digital software. This type of animation is most commonly used in feature films, short films, TV and even video games.

As touched on above, 3D animation involves the movement of characters either towards or away from the camera, creating an immersive 3D effect for the viewer. Unlike traditional animation where drawing skills are essential, 3D-animated characters and objects can be given the appearance of motion through digital software alone.

There are three main stages of 3D animation which include modelling, layout and animation, and rendering. Modelling is the initial process of creating the characters, props and environments of a given scene. From here, layout and positioning dictate where these elements will be positioned and how they’ll be animated. Finally, rendering is the final stage that takes this raw three-dimensional data and transforms it into the final result.

Stop motion

Unlike both 3D and 2D animation techniques that require drawing, stop motion animation (also known as stop frame animation) is a filmmaking technique that involves physically manipulating objects very gradually. After each small change to the objects, a photograph is taken creating a sequence of frames that creates the illusion of motion when played back. Ultimately, this makes inanimate objects appear as though they are actually moving.

Popular stop motion films and franchises include the likes of Wallace & Gromit, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and Chicken Run. A more simplistic process than 3D animation, stop motion involves just three stages; placement, photography, and repositioning. The first stage, placement, simply involves setting up the scene and positioning the objects where you want them. Next, you’ll need to photograph the frame and then reposition the characters/objects ever so slightly to take another photograph. Once all of these frames have been sequenced, you should see the characters come to life!

Motion graphics

Motion graphics (also referred to as motion design) involves the use of animation techniques to create moving imagery with a heavy focus on text – an element that many forms of animation rarely feature. Quite simply, a motion graphic is a graphic in motion. Often paired with music, motion graphics are designed to have a particularly impactful effect on their target audience. You can find examples of motion graphics throughout everyday life including on billboards, phones and smart appliances.

To create a motion graphic, you’ll need to start with writing a script that details the direction and purpose of the story you’re trying to tell. Consider the target audience, the purpose of the animation and the kind of feelings you want to evoke while deciding on the visuals, onscreen text, voiceover script and audio. After this first stage has been completed, you can move on to pulling everything together in the storyboard stage.

As you begin to bring the visuals together with the script, the motion graphic will start to take shape. This is the perfect stage to test out ideas and decide what works and what needs cutting from the script. Once the storyboard has been approved, the detailed design stage can get underway. Anything approved at this stage will be used in the following animation stage so it’s paramount that everything you want to be included in the motion graphic is given the green light at this point.

Finally, you’ll be able to move onto the animation stage of creating a motion graphic. This is where movement is added to the detailed designs in your choice of animation style as well as any sound effects and audio to complete the project. You should also pay attention to your timings to ensure any text can be easily read by your audience without the graphic lingering so long that it becomes boring.

Which type of animation is best?

There are several factors to bear in mind when you’re trying to pick the right animation to meet your business requirements. This includes the nature of your brief, your budget and the deadline for your project. Below, we explore each one of these factors and why they matter when it comes to choosing which type of animation is a good fit for your business.

Business requirement

Different types of animations lend themselves to achieving different goals. For example, motion graphics is often best for improving the quality of internal communications due to text being a major component. However, if one of your business targets is to increase conversions for luxury products, 3D animation ensures a more immersive and ultra-realistic experience for the audience.


When it comes to choosing an animation type based on budget, the most cost-effective option is often 2D animation. This is because 2D animation typically requires less time, less software and less physical equipment than other animated filmmaking techniques such as 3D animation and stop motion. The most affordable areas within 2D animation are widely considered to be typography and graphic vector style.

Project deadline

If you need to pull an animation project together quickly, then there are certain types of animation you should avoid. Stop motion, for example, is a meticulous and time-consuming process that often won’t be suitable for animation projects wanting a quick turnaround. Motion graphics, on the other hand, are typically much faster to put together. It’s worth bearing in mind however that the production time of the motion graphic will naturally vary depending on its complexity.

Ultimately, there is no all-out ‘best’ animation type. The right type of animation will depend on the variety of factors outlined above. If you require additional guidance when it comes to picking the perfect animation project for your business, then why not get in touch with a highly-experienced and knowledgeable member of the Tricks Studio team?

Animation services at Tricks Studio

Considering adding animated content or motion graphics to your website or internal communications? Here at Tricks Studio, we provide tailored animation services for a wide variety of our clients to help bring their business to life. Our tight-knit and talented team can expertly package your company beliefs, core messages and complex ideas into easily-digestible and attention-grabbing animation.

To ensure that our valued clients are impressed with the quality of our work, we’re dedicated to meeting a specific set of self-imposed high standards. If you’d like to find out more about our customers’ overall experience working with Tricks Studio, then please don’t hesitate to explore our extensive case study collection and customer testimonial page.

With 30 years of combined experience in this industry, we can propose a range of effective animation projects that work with both your budget and timeline. Eager to discover how animation could take your business to the next level? Why not give us a call on 01244 560 537 to discuss your animation requirements with an expert member of our creative team?

Alternatively, you can always send us your enquiry to [email protected] or get in touch using our handy online contact form. However you decide to contact our team, you’re just a click away from creating a more connected business with impactful animation.

Thanks to our marketing expert for sharing his insights on his own viral experiences. Are you keen to go viral on social media? We’ve crafted a wide range of paid and organic social campaigns for our clients over the years. Get in touch with us to find out how we can increase your engagement and overall performance through high quality design and animated content.

What are the five types of animation?

Gordon Barry

31 July 2022

10 minutes read