In the Golden Age of animation, individuals such as Walt Disney, Ollie Johnson, Ub Iwerks, and Frank Thomas all drew their animation by hand. The technology back then involved drawing on paper fastened to peg bars, then transferred to flammable celluloid, called cels, painted, and then filmed with a camera. It worked well and timeless classics were made from this process. A person can get a good idea of how they did it by visiting the Walt Disney Vault DVD’s. These films are a great source of animation history a definite recommend to any aspiring animator.

Today, computer software is used to produce both classically drawn and CG animation. The rise of computer technology has enhanced the way the art form is created. Many animators still draw by hand using an animation light table with rotating disc and peg bar. The drawings are then scanned into the computer software program. In some cases, proprietary software allows the artists to draw directly on screen. Most use a Wacom Tablet to draw inside the software program verses on paper. Toonboom Studio is one example of animation software used for creating the 2D classical type. If 2D is your passion ToonBoom is a great and cost effective choice.

Types of Animation

A prospective student may wonder what animation software they need to learn to get into the industry. The best way to answer this is to first define the types of animation being used, and secondly, to establish what your focus is in the industry.

Stop Motion Animation

3D Animation

2D Classic hand drawn animation

Paper Cut Out

Stop motion animation, as used for the Wallace and Grommet and Davie and Goliath series, is the most challenging and time consuming of them all. Animators work with clay or plastic characters, objects, and generally hand created sets all of which have to be moved by hand (even using robotics in stop motion requires hand intervention). Meticulously they photograph each pose set by hand. At 24FPS (frames per second) or 30 FPS one can see how tedious this type of animation can really be. Individuals that work on stop motion film projects are literally getting “hands on” animation training.

3D animation, also called CG animation is created solely using the computer. All characters, lights, cameras, and sets are modeled inside the computer software, animated, and then rendered as a complete film. In 1995, Toy Story became the very first feature length computer animated film to hit the big screen. Films such as Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron combined both 3D and 2D classical animation.

Classical animation, such as used on Pinocchio and Snow White, is the original type of animation. This art form has lots of history and was made possible in the late 1800’s with the invention of the movie camera and perfected throughout the 20th century. All animation was hand drawn, later painted, and filmed one frame at a time. Although CG has taken the movie industry by storm, in no way has it made obsolete classical animation. Many still use this type of animation for cartoons, commercials, and web graphics. There are other forms like Flash animation one can get involved with. Flash is mostly used for the web.

The type of animation software a person needs to learn depends on what form of animation they are passionate about.

Do you like drawing?

Do you like working with the computer?

Do you like the hands on as with stop motion?

Types of Animation Software

Animation software is used to create such things as TV commercials, films, cartoons, interactive web sites, graphics, and video games. Perhaps you are reading this with the question ringing in your mind, “What animation software do I need to learn?” First of all, wherever you go to school the primary focus will be to learn animation. This is important so let it get embedded in your brain. Once you learn the principles it really doesn’t matter which software you use after. A person will be able to animate regardless. If an individual bounces around form studio to studio there is a good chance multiple software’s will be learned. The types of animation software available today are as follows:

Autodesk Maya

Autodesk 3DS Max


Lightwave 3D

Animation Master

To name a few…

The most common animation software used for making animated films is Maya. Maya is a complex but extremely powerful tool. A student will have a nice learning curve with it. Again, most schools will teach you as you go. If you are learning on your own then stay close to the tutorials. Maya animation software is also one of the most expensive. The interface is user friendly but densely populated.

3DS Max is a simpler animation software by comparison. It is highly used for the gaming industry although not limited to. The action film Lost In Space was created completely with 3DS Max. The interface is friendly and as with other programs can be altered to fit your style. This is also a pricey animation software, but as with other things, give it time and the price will come down. Another animation software used by many for gaming is Softimage. Here is a link to the price sheet for these three products by Autodesk. 

The choices continue with many software packages to choose from so don’t despair.

LightWave is a full 3D solution for modeling, rendering, and animation. The price range is much more feasible to the student at around $900.00. Hash’s Animation Master is also a software popular among home users which allows the individual to easily model, render, and animate. The price is $300.00. AM is a great package to use if you are going to monkey wrench with the idea of becoming an animator.

In conclusion, what gets a person a job in animation is not necessarily software skills but the following:

Good drawing skills

An understanding of the principles of animation

A demo reel that shows good story telling, acting, and body mechanics.

Knowing how to use a particular software package is good but not most important. Many animation studios have their own programs an animator will learn once they get hired. The most important thing is learn animation. Computer software’s and light tables are just tools to aid the animator during the animation process. What animation software do I need to learn can be answered like this, “Whatever one the school is using, or your area of interest requires.”

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