Four Common Questions about Computer Animation

By: Benicio Brown


This article answers four common questions that people ask regarding computer animation. What is computer animation?, What is the difference between computer animation and traditional animation?, Why are there so many computer animation programs?, and What is the right computer animation software for me? Answers are written in a concise non-technical style.

1 - What is computer animation?

For several years animation has been exclusively within the realm of the entertainment industry. It used to be a process that demanded lots of time, people and equipment. Nevertheless, thanks to the ubiquity of computers, the animation process has turned much simpler. In the past, tens of animators with celluloid, paint and pencils were needed to carry through what today a single person is able to accomplish with just a computer and a piece of software.

Computer animation can be basically divided into two categories: 2D and 3D animation. 2D is the abbreviation of "two-dimensional" and as its name implies it is rendered in a two-dimensional space. Its most popular expressions can be found on television in the form of classical cartoons, or while you are surfing the web in the form of online ads or e-cards, to name but a few. 2D animation is also called "vector animation" and it is generally produced with software like Adobe Flash, among many others.

3D is short for "three-dimensional". 3D animations are rendered in a virtual three-dimensional space, utilizing polygons captured by several virtual cameras to film the animation. 3D animation can be seen in a wide array of environments that go from animated films, special effects in live-action films, and video games to architectural and medical presentations.

2 - What is the difference between computer animation and traditional animation?

Basically there are three main differences between computer animation and traditional animation: the tools used to create each type of animation, the effort and cost of each animation process, and the quality of the final result.

Although both 2D and 3D animation can be produced by mathematical interpolation between key frames or by frame-by-frame animation, they are totally different processes that require different steps and types of software.

Traditional 2D animation involves: hand-drawing several individual frames, transferring them to clear plastic celluloid, hand-paint them, and finally filming them in sequence over a painted background image. This process obviously involves a great deal of cleanup artists, painters, directors, background artists, camera crews, storyboard artists, script writers, labor, equipment, money, and of course, time.

Traditional 3D animation used to involve still-lifes of claymations filmed with stop-motion techniques, but the widespread use of computers has turned it into a more seamless process.

Nowadays, both in 2D or 3D animation, impressive results can be achieved with powerful computers, the right animation software, and a good designers. The process now requires less people, labor, equipment, money, and time. Generally the animation process can be completely achieved with computers, except in the case of 2D cartoon animations where the hand-penciling work is still required, before being scanned and digitally colored and sequenced.

3 - Why there's such an abundance of computer animation programs?

For the untrained eye it may look as if there are lots of computer animation software that basically do the same thing. But this is not correct. Computer animation can be broken down into two categories: 2D animation and 3D animation. There is software specifically created with 2D animation in mind, and the same holds true for 3D animation. In turn, within animation subcategories, each piece of software can be classified by purpose and functionality. Furthermore, computer animation is applied in a wide array of fields and that is why it is commonplace for computer animation professionals to develop their own software in order to cater to their specific needs.

4 - What is the right computer animation software for me?

This, of course, depends on what you would like to use the software for. In order to reduce the choices, first of all you should decide if you will work on 2D animation or on 3D animation. Then it's just a matter of knowing what your computer is able to run. Finally decide how much you can or are willing to spend in software.

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