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Character animation, 2D and 3D animation, motion graphics, and more.
There’s something special about seeing hand-drawn characters come to life when you add movement through animation. After all, there’s a reason we all loved cartoons so much as kids.
It can seem a little daunting if you’re more used to working with static images, but we’re here to show you just how easy 2D animation can be.
In this tutorial, you’ll learn the basics of what 2D animation is, how to start making your own creations, and the best 2D animation software for both complete beginners and more advanced artists.
To get us started, let’s look at the difference between types of animation and answer the question: “What is 2D animation?”
You’re probably much more familiar with this style of animation than you think. This type of work involves drawing two-dimensional characters and objects within a flat space. Think about it this way: Everything you draw only has a width and a height, but no depth (as that would make it three-dimensional).
So how do you get flat objects and characters to move? This is when the artist would move from the page or screen to specialist 2D animation software to sequence the individual images.
In a standard 24 frames per second (24fps) film, animations usually show one drawing for every two frames, meaning that there are a total of 12 individual drawings being shown within one second of the film. This can differ based on the style of animation, though. For example, anime usually operates on “threes” rather than the conventional “twos”. When you’re thinking about how to make a 2D animation of your own, think about the frame rate you’d like to use for the style of work you’re creating.
Classic Disney movies are great examples of how to create 2D animation for the big screen, but it’s not only in cinema that you can find this type of work. You might hear people asking “is 2D animation dead?” but it’s still used widely in commercials, corporate marketing and advertising, video games, and more.
Examples of 2D Animation
Want to see 2D animation at work? Here are a few examples.
The Little Mermaid
Most Disney films and cartoon shows now use 3D animation rather than 2D, but that wasn’t the case for some of our favorite classics.
The Little Mermaid was one of the first feature films to use the Pixar Computer Animation Production System back in 1989 after years of hand-drawn pencil 2D animation. This new tool was custom-made 2D animation software developed by The Walt Disney Company in an effort to reduce ink and paint costs in post-production.
As the longest-running American animated series, The Simpsons has a defined look and feel that hasn’t changed from the start, despite shifts in animation tools and techniques over the years.
The team uses Pencil Check Pro (which can run at around $400 to install, so not the best option if you’re a beginner looking for 2D animation software for free) to animate 15 scenes per episode that are based on static storyboard ideas.
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Like any other creative art form, animation can be as easy or hard as you want it to be. With 2D animation, all you need to get started is a pencil and some basic software. If you’re looking to create beautiful animated cartoons, the best first step is to work on your static drawing skills.
If you’re thinking about a career in 2D animation, being able to draw well quickly and precisely is a talent that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s costly for a studio to rework 2D drawings if the creative direction changes, so being able to draw and redraw the same character or object in thousands of different ways is crucial if you want to be successful.
Technology has helped to make the process of how to make 2D animation much quicker and much more accessible to beginners and amateur artists thanks to the rise of free 2D animation software. Even if you’ve never used animation software before, there are plenty of classes that can help you take those first steps into creating your own characters.
How Do You Learn It?
When you’re learning how to create 2D animations, the best place to start is to work out your timing, spacing, and animation path. As Skillshare instructor Smitesh Mistry says, “think of this as the skeleton for your animation.”
You can easily learn this technique using a tool like Procreate and the “Animation Assist” feature. This will help you to get a better understanding of why timing is important and how it will impact your final animation.
Once you’ve created a basic animation where the timing of the animation loop is even, try working with a varying animation path. This is where you’ll add layers of your animation at unevenly spaced intervals to change the timing and final look. You can use this same technique in more complex designs as your skills grow to help exaggerate certain features or characteristics of an animated character or object.
Timing and spacing are the most fundamental skills to learn when you’re learning how to do 2D animation, so don’t be in a hurry to skip through these classes and move on to more advanced work. Practice these techniques over and over until you feel confident in your final creations and are ready to invest in the best 2D animation software for your projects.
Speaking of software, let’s look at a few options to help you tackle your 2D animation projects.
Toon Boom Harmony
As the leader of the 2D animation industry, Toon Boom Harmony is perfect for frame-by-frame or rig animation. There’s even a handy tool that can take your hand-drawn illustrations and neaten the edges to create a smoother finish to your animations. The software can have a steeper learning curve than others if you’re new to animation. But, if you want to build a career in the industry, this is an essential tool to master. There are three different levels of subscription to choose from, depending on your comfort level with how to create 2D animations. The basic level starts at $25 per month.
Unity was originally created for game development and virtual reality, but its extensive features make it a great choice for animators. It’s a good idea to learn some basics of the software first before you dive into your Unity 2D animation as it can be a little more complex than other tools you may have used before. You can subscribe to the Plus package for $399 per year, or use their Personal plan for free with limited functions.
Like the other Adobe products, Adobe Animate is great for all levels when you’re learning how to make 2D animations. If you’ve started in another tool like Procreate, After Effects, or Photoshop, you can easily import your static drawings into the software to create hand-drawn or frame-by-frame animations. You can access Adobe Animate using the Adobe Cloud Subscription or buy the software on its own for around $20 per month.
When you’re first getting started, finding free 2D animation software is often the best choice. Usually designed for beginners, open-source tools like Blender 2D Animation will help you to learn the basics and grow your skills, before you feel ready to move on to more complex software and techniques. But don’t knock it because it doesn’t cost anything! Learning 2D animation in Blender will give you experience in rigging, modeling, motion tracking, rendering, and more.
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