2D animation is commonly used to create cartoons, advertisements, animated movies, games, marketing videos, and educational content. Research indicates that use of animated promotional videos can boost conversion rates by 20 percent. No wonder why some companies choose to hire animation experts for their marketing teams while others outsource this service to other companies that specialize in this domain. Animated videos create auditory, visual, and kinesthetic effect on the target audience and they can create long lasting memories. This article would walk you through the basic concept of 2D animation, how it is created, tips and tricks that you can apply, different types of software that you can use, and the online resources that you can use to create videos online.

So what is 2D animation?

Animation which features objects and characters that are produced in two-dimensional space is called two-dimensional animation. Such type of animation is characterized by height and weight. Introduced during the 1800s, this traditional style was created by using multiple frames together with each frame bearing a drawing that is slightly different from the sketch on the next frame. In every second, 24 frames were showcased one after the other. Some of the classic Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid and the Snow White and the Seven Dwarves were produced in this way. As the computer technologies progressed with time, the traditional technique got its digital makeover. Today, advanced software and computers are used to create characters and backgrounds.

The 2D Animation Creation Process

There are three main steps involved namely, pre-production, production, and post production.

  • Pre-Production

    In this phase, the team creates a story and develops a supporting script while describing characters and designs and creating a storyboard. The team decides on the color palettes, designs the backgrounds, and prepares the voice-over. This is a very important stage because it lays the foundation for the main procedure. The script should not only indicate the storyline, but it should clearly describe the visual actions. The script serves as the basis for the storyboard and it indicates the sequence of the different visual actions. When it comes to creating backgrounds and characters, the team would start off with the creation of sketches and detailed designs. The team would then choose color palettes, which would characterize lighting as well as various objects. Backgrounds play a crucial role in generating an overall feel and mood because backgrounds are where characters do different activities and hence, they are a vital part of the context and the content. At this phase, the team would create sketches of the background layout based on the descriptions mentioned in the storyboard.

  • Production

    In this phase, all materials are assembled together and scenes are produced. The various activities involved in this stage are coloring of the backgrounds, creation of character activities and specific scenes, developing rough animated versions, cleanups, inbetweening, deployment of 2D animation software to paint drawings, compositing, and finally export. Animators generate an exposure sheet that details out how each scene should be created. This sheet consists of five parts namely, actions and timing, dialogues and music, animation layers, backgrounds, and view perspective. In the next step, animators need to clean up and refine the rough animation that they have created. This is referred to as the tracing process and it can either be implemented in a new layer or over the same layer using diverse shades. The process of inbetweening is used to create a smoother outcome by incorporating more drawings between two frames. The frames that are not digital and are manually created are then scanned into a computer after they are completely ready. After this, the visual elements are put together based on instructions mentioned in the exposure sheet. The specialists then add backgrounds, sounds, frames, and special effects during the compositing phase. After this phase, the animated scenes get transformed into videos or movies.

  • Post-Production

    This is the final stage during which the outcome is enhanced by adding recording or sound effects that can boost the overall emotional appeal. Then the final outcome is rendered into different file formats.

Tips and Tricks to Master 2D Animation

Animations are lifeless drawings and it is the aim of every animator to ensure that they create realistic, memorable, impressive, and impactful outcomes. But how can you achieve this objective? Here are some really useful tricks and tips suggested by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson:

  • Squash and stretch: Make sure that your characters have weight and volume during movement.
  • Anticipation: Allow the audience to anticipate a major upcoming action.
  • Staging: Your characters should have poses or actions that would clearly indicate their intentions.
  • Be clear about the process you choose: You may either choose to draw the main poses and then create the transitional poses or you may create individual scenes one by one.
  • Look for overlapping actions: Observe the movements of the characters. It may happen that some body parts are found to make faster movements compared to the others. It might also happen that some parts may still remain in motion even after a character stops moving.
  • Solid Beginning & Solid Ending: It is a good idea to draw more frames at the start and at the end and to include fewer frames in between. This would make the scenes appear more realistic.
  • Arc: Consider incorporating somewhat circular movements to the characters’ actions.
  • Secondary Action: While you highlight the main action, consider using secondary actions as well that to make your characters appear livelier.
  • Timing: Set the scene timings appropriately; make them slower or faster as per your requirement.
  • Exaggeration: You can put spotlight on specific ideas by using exaggerations in the characters’ movements.
  • Solid Drawing: Even if your characters have two-dimensional characteristics, you should still put some effort to give your characters some bit of weight.
  • Appeal & Aesthetics: Your characters should appeal to your target audience; your characters should create long lasting impacts on their minds.

One thing which you need to note is that you should have a detailed plan of the project. This would be a step-by-step guide that would help you implement your project smoothly. You should exercise special care while adding facial expressions and body language to make your characters convey intended emotions. Observe how different characters interact with each other and how they exchange their emotions. Evaluate if these communications appear realistic to you. You can check this by seeing the final outcome once without the voiceover. You should also stay extra cautious during the cleanup phase to make sure that you are not losing important details.

Choosing the Right 2D Animation Software

Beginners may find it difficult to identify the most suitable 2D animation software that would not only be easy to use, but can serve their requirements as well. And this becomes even more difficult due to the fact that the market is flooded with ample options that are available at diverse price range. Two factors, namely skills and budget, would guide your decision to opt for a particular program. The good news is that premium programs offer free trials, so you can check if a particular program would suit your needs. If you are a beginner, you should consider using free software to sharpen your skills, after which you can switch to paid programs.

Top 5 Free Animation Software

  1. Synfig

    Synfig is a free program that is compatible with Windows, OSX, and Linux. It is ideal for beginners and offers more than 50 layers of content. It has a bone system that allows users to create cutout animations from bitmap images. It also supports the syncing of sound or narration to the video.

  2. Opentoonz

    This program is compatible with Windows and OSX. You can use a plugin to create wonderful effects without the need to do further editing. You can modify the source code to get specific features added. It comes equipped with a GTS scanning tool, features to add light effects and distortions, and ability to alter image styles.

  3. Pencil2D

    Compatible with Linus, Windows, and OSX, this software comes equipped with tutorials delivered in Portuguese, Spanish, and English languages. It has a minimalist design that allows for easy learning and users can create fun and engaging videos very easily. It is noted for multi-platform compatibility for free download.

  4. Maefloresta

    This software app is compatible with iPhone and Android devices. This is often used by students and teachers to complete fun school projects. It is compatible with smartphones and tablets. It provides tutorials and features an intuitive interface that users can access and use with ease.

  5. Blender

    Blender is compatible with Mac, Linux, and Windows and it allows for the import and export of files in diverse formats such as QuickTime, MPEG, and QuickTime. It has a Python API that supports faster scripting and personalization. This software supports the creation of 3D animation as well and it comes equipped with multiple modeling tools that you can use to create and edit your outcomes. It features a path tracer that supports realistic rendering.

When you champion the skills and become a professional, you may consider using advanced software such as Toon Boom Harmony, CelAction2D, Moho, StopMotionStudio, etc. Some of these are available as monthly subscriptions, some charge license fees while some have different fee structures for different plans.

Creating 2D Animation through Experts

Creating animations is a complicated and time-consuming process. If you have a large number of projects to handle, you may consider hiring the services of a professional 2D animation studio that can provide you with end-to-end support. It should have professionals who are capable of generating whiteboard animation, storyboard illustrations, explainer videos, motion graphics, and videos that are used for marketing and training purposes.