Animation is a fast-growing tool that is becoming more and more accessible for not only creators but also anyone with creative or technological inclinations. At the intersection of art and technology, animation can be incredibly useful for artistic expression, communicating ideas, and reinventing traditional media. With that said, it can be incredibly daunting to start. Today, we’re going to go over some ways to get started and some tools that can help you.
First, you’ll have to decide which medium of animation is right for you. Frame-by-frame free-hand? 2D motion graphics? 3D modeling and execution? To help make your decision easier, here’s a quick run-down of each type:
- Freehand animation usually involves drawing and editing each frame of an animation. While this allows you to be incredibly stylistic, it can also be very tedious.
- Great for people with traditional artistic backgrounds (painting, sketching, caricatures, etc.)
- Best Softwares: Procreate, Adobe Animate, Krita
- 2D and/or Motion Graphics
- Motion graphics and modern 2D animation use key-frames, speed graphs, and visual effects to create anything from informational videos to television shows.
- Great for people with technical backgrounds and experience with design software.
- Best Softwares: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator
- 3D modeling and execution
- 3D animation can be used for a lot of things from modeling characters and spaces to animating full feature-length films. While arguably the most difficult form of animating, it is very rewarding.
- Great for people with technical experience (computer programming, design software experience, etc.) and artistic backgrounds (sketching, sculpting, etc.)
- Best Softwares: Blender, Cinema 4D, Autodesk Maya
Anything speaking to you yet? Good! Now let’s talk about how you should start, learning trajectories, and resources to help you along the way.
Animating by hand is a very rewarding experience. You have a lot of autonomy to create whatever you want to; however, it does require some artistic inclination. One of my favorite tools for freehand animating is Procreate. Procreate is an application for IOS and Android that is best used with a tablet and a stylus or other electronic writing utensil. The app costs $9.99 CAD but has no in-app purchases. With that said, if you are interested in is also possible to purchase third-party additions like custom brushes or patterns. The Pigeon Letters has a fantastic beginner’s tutorial to get you started by creating a teacup gif.
The tutorial introduces you to some basic animation tactics. When animating by hand, it’s important to separate your layers and think about consistency. For some projects, you may be able to transform layers (position, scale, reflections, etc.) to achieve your desired look, but for others, you’ll have to make frame-by-frame edits. Another thing to remember is that films of all kinds work using frames. Usually, animations are about 18-30 frames per second; meaning, for every second you intend to have, you’ll need about that many frames. The teacup example above is an example of a low frame rate animation. As you can see, it’s a little choppier because there aren’t enough frames to capture all points of motion. How many frames, your animation strategy, and what software you try is all up to you. These are stylistic choices and playing around with different tools and approaches is the best way to learn!
I personally am partial to 2D software animation. While it might seem a little less hands-on, there is so much you can do with technology, and with some practice, you’ll be able to create pretty much anything you set your mind to. Adobe After Effects (AE) is my motion graphic software of choice. Often described as “motion-based photoshop”, After Effects is part of the infamous Adobe Creative Cloud. Now, at $52.99/month ($39.99 for students), the creative cloud is definitely an investment. However, if you’re serious about animating and digital design, I would argue that it’s worth every penny. With AE, you are able to use layers, key frames, and built-in effects to create beautiful, intricate animations. Pairing AE with Adobe Illustrator also allows you a lot of design freedom to create characters, scenes, and models that look exactly how you want. Once you become really comfortable with AE basics, you can also begin using custom expressions and simple commands to fine-tune your projects.
There are a few ways to get started using After Effects. Firstly, Adobe offers a ton of great tutorials ranging from beginner to advanced. Like this one, which teaches you how to animate objects on a path. You can also learn about all the other cool stuff AE can do (besides animating!). As you progress, you may want to transition to YouTube videos or online courses. Zimri Mayfield and Ben Marriott are both great channels to follow to learn new things and progress through your animation journey. School of Motion also has great videos and even courses online. Much like with hand-drawn animation, though, the best way to learn is just by trying new things. Playing around with the vast possibilities that AE presents you with and becoming comfortable with the layout and tools is a great way to bring your art to life and better understand your workflow.
Three-dimensional animation is somewhat of the behemoth of the animation world. While incredibly daunting, with a background in 2D (especially digital software animation), 3D animation can be really attainable. It is definitely the medium that takes the longest to master. There are constantly industry upgrades and new things to explore with 3D and even those who have worked for years on different software are constantly learning. With that said, you can definitely start making some cool things even with little experience. Software-wise, there are quite a few options. To start out, I would recommend Blender. Not only does it have the friendliest user interface, but it is also completely free to use. Blender Guru has a quite famous tutorial on creating and animating a donut on Blender that I found extremely helpful when I was getting started.
3D animation can have a lot of functions and what you’re trying to create will affect what software is best for you. For example, Cinema 4D ($79.99/month or only $2.99/month for students) is beloved for 3D motion graphics and gifs, whereas many companies use software like Autodesk’s Maya ($1700/year.. yikes…) to create feature-length films.
Cinema 4D – Fattu Tutorials
To get started on Cinema 4D, I would recommend jumping straight into YouTube videos. Fattu Tutorials is a great resource and also offers guidance for After Effects and Photoshop. Remember School of Motion? Well, they also have some great resources for Cinema 4D! Maya is definitely a little bit more complicated because there is SO much you can do. It sacrifices some of its user experience in order to offer extreme fine-tuning and detailed work. For this reason (and the steep cost), I only recommend Maya if you’re looking to work in the industry or use Maya as an upskilling tool for a related field. If you’re set on learning it, though, I would strongly recommend enrolling in a course like Udemy or Domestika as well as Autodesk’s own free design academy. There are some resources like the Maya Learning Channel and Autodesk’s Help Centre, but unless you have previous 3D experience, it might be a little challenging without specific tasks and guidance. With that said, I still encourage you to play around with whatever software you choose and try some stuff on your own! I think 3D software is the most complicated UI/UX-wise, so familiarizing yourself is the way to go.
Animation is a modern, liberating form of artistic expression. There is no limit to what you can do and make. It adds an immersive element to designs and it can also provide you with a lot of transferable skills to apply to other technological and artistic mediums. As I have said many times in this article, the best thing to do really is to try. I would recommend selecting a personal project, something as simple as a teacup or more complicated like character animation, and learning new techniques and tricks through doing! No matter what you do, don’t give up! Remember that people make careers out of learning and mastering these tools, so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Keep going and you will make something beautiful. As always, come back next week for more content on art, technology, and other fun stuff on Femonomic. Good luck!