The 20 Animation Styles You Need to Know About

Eoin Dowdall
Creative Director
 

The power of animation is that it’s not limited by reality. It gives you the freedom to find the best ways to communicate a message and engage an audience, with the only limit being your imagination.

It’s this freedom that makes animation such an effective tool for video marketing. It gives it the flexibility to handle any task – whether it’s fun and shareable films for social media or an explainer video showing the workings of a turbojet engine.

But this creative freedom also poses a challenge. With so many different styles and types of animation to choose from – how do you know which one to use? This guide aims to give you the information that you need to make informed decisions.

We will take a look at the most common methods used to make animated marketing videos while also taking a peek at some of the lesser-known styles that are out there:

1. 2D Vector Animation

This is one of the most common styles used for marketing videos. Images are created using computer software that uses vectors to easily animate shapes. Images can be modified and moved with the software automatically interpolating and updating the animation.

It’s an animation style that produces smooth, crisp and dynamic 2D visuals. It’s particularly good for simple storytelling animations and anything where you’re looking for a quick and accessible way to communicate an idea.

Along with its versatility, a major benefit of 2D vector animation is its cost-effectiveness. It’s a much more streamlined process than 3D animations – offering a fast and simple way to quickly turn concepts into videos that get results.

2. Hand-Drawn Animation

This is the traditional way that animations were created – before digital tools changed everything. It’s that classic hand-drawn look of the old Disney movies with each animated element being drawn by an artist.

It’s a personal touch that can add a warmth and character to the visuals that’s hard to recreate digitally. It’s especially good at anything character-based and for videos aiming to build empathy and engagement.

The hand-drawn nature of traditional animation has made it a slow and costly option in the past. Technology has helped to reduce this issue with digital tools being used for tasks such as colouring to recreate the same feel with a much faster process.

3. 3D Animation

Also known as GGI (Computer Generated Imagery), this has replaced traditional hand-drawn animation as the most common format for animated movies. It’s similar to 2D vector animation but instead of a flat image, you are using 3D objects – characters, props and locations.

Once these have been digitally created, animations can be quickly created with software interpolating the movements between each frame. The most common style it’s associated with is that of Pixar movies such as Toy Story and The Incredibles.

But as techniques and technology advances, 3D animation is now able to handle virtually any kind of look or style. It’s particularly effective with any kind of informational or illustrative videos that show off products or designs.

4. Motion Graphics

This is a kind of dynamic graphic design that uses shapes and text to tell a story or convey a message. Some of the earliest examples of this are seen with the work of Saul Bass in the 1960’s – creating the movie intro sequences for films like Psycho and West Side Story.

With digital tools, it has become one of the most popular techniques with a flowing mix of text, charts and graphs combining to engage and entertain. It’s an ideal way to turn dry data into a visually stimulating film that communicates your core message.

The use of dynamic text, fonts and simple shapes makes it a relatively low-cost technique but one that’s able to achieve a lot with little. Smart use of music and narration that are in sync with the visuals can make something that gets noticed.

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5. Rotoscope Animation

This technique was developed in the early days of animation. It works by tracing human movements from film images to create naturalistic animations. This is how the flowing movements of the character’s in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was achieved in 1937.

It was also used to create the distinctive look of the 2006 sci-fi movie, A Scanner Darkly. It’s a technique that still packs a visual punch, capturing the kind of realistic movements that would take weeks to create from scratch.

Digital tools can now automate the ‘tracing’ process with movements from video footage automatically tacked and turned into animations. Using this method, 2D sequences can be created that look as if they are in a 3D world.

6. Cut-out Animation

South Park is probably the most notable example of this method. Trey Parker and Matt Stone created the pilot episode by cutting out paper shapes to create the characters and backdrops which they animated using a stop-motion camera.

It’s a style that was used for many children’s shows, creating the feel of a storybook that has come to life. But while South Park has retained the same look, it’s no longer made with paper, scissors and patience – it’s all digitally created.

By creating a digital version of the paper cutouts, it creates a fast and effective way to create characterful animations. It’s a technique that’s often seen in explainer videos and narrative-based marketing videos which require simple character animations.

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7. Live-Animated

This integrates digital images with real-world footage. This could be adding a floating label to an object or using animated arrows and markers to help explain what’s being seen in real-world footage. It’s a technique made simpler by the motion tracking abilities of modern video editing software.

It means on-screen images can be tagged with graphical elements – as the camera moves, so do the attached graphic elements. By removing the need to painstakingly track the movements, it unlocks a whole range of creative techniques that can be used.

With effective use, digital and real-world elements can work perfectly together. Embedding the information into a real-world setting can bring infographic data to life or help to visually explain how a product works.

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8. Pinscreen Animation

This was a kind of predecessor to computer graphics. The method was created by French animator Alexandre Alexeïeff in the 1930s, using a board containing thousands of metal pins to create his distinctive animations.

By embedding objects, the displaced pins recreate its image – much like the pixels of a computer monitor. Together with his assistant, Claire Parker, he used this method to create mesmerising and otherworldly animations.

Until recently, it has remained a rather niche technique but it’s one that’s being rediscovered thanks to digital methods. One particularly innovative use is with large digitally controlled pinscreen displays used at shows and events.

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9. Screencast Animation

Sometimes the simplest methods are the most effective. Screencast animations are a good example of this. It’s a way to turn screen captures into fun, engaging and informative videos.

The main use of this is to show how software UI works with captures of software or services being used. These can be packaged with overlays and narration to explain what’s happening and to create a more engaging experience than simply watching a screen.

It’s a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach that’s ideal for demonstrating digital services. Being able to see something in use can have a powerful impact on conversion rates and it’s ideal for any kind of informational or tutorial needs.

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10. Typography Animation

Also known as kinetic animation, this is a technique that brings words to life. It uses the animation and movement of text with visual effects. It’s a style that has the power to enhance the written or spoken word.

A variety of techniques can be used but it’s most commonly done as 2D vector animation. It’s a technique that’s often used to communicate statistical data or survey findings. It’s also used as a visual way to focus on inspirational or emotional recorded speech.

It’s a simple, accessible and cost-effective technique but requires a skilled animator to find ways to turn text into something visually stimulating. It’s a format that can create impactful results.

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11. Mechanical Animation

Mechanical animation will typically show how something works. It does this with a 3D visual representation of a product, device or service. It can delve inside the mechanisms, stripping away any visual clutter to clearly show what’s going on.

The obvious use case is to demonstrate technical products and services. It’s a way to quickly explain how engineering solutions enhance performance or to tackle a problem. It can convey complex technical information in a matter of seconds.

With voice-over and music, a drab technical presentation can be turned into a vibrant experience. Alongside promotion, it’s also ideal for any kind of training or informational films that need to share knowledge on how something works.

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12. Whiteboard animation

In 2007, global shipping company UPS launched a series of videos that explained their services via a presenter doodling images on a whiteboard. It was a simple and effective format that inspired a new genre of whiteboard animations.

While the originals were of a person drawing on a board, most of those that followed achieved the same look and feel with a digital process. It’s a style that’s particularly suited to explainer videos – using simple images to convey complex information.

It’s a style that has been the victim of its own success. Whiteboard animations, also known as doodle videos, became so common that they risked becoming something of a visual cliche. But the popularity is based on the fact that work. If you want a simple and effective way to convey information – they remain a powerful tool.

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13. Stop Motion Animation

This is a technique that can turn any real-world object into an animation. It’s the way that classic children’s TV shows such as The Clangers and Magic Roundabout were made with puppets repeatedly moved and photographed using stop-motion.

While digital processes have created faster ways to animate objects, stop motion has survived. This is partly because of the special ‘feel’ that’s captured by the process. It has a tactile and homespun quality that’s hard to recreate digitally.

Another strength is its accessibility and versatility. It can be used to create characters and narratives or to bring real-world products to life. The simplicity encourages creativity and exploring innovative ways to bring static objects to life.

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14. Augmented Reality Animation

This animation technique blends digital images with live real-world footage. An example of this is the live filter used by a service such as Snapchat, letting users view themselves as a pirate or try out virtual hairstyles.

This same idea can be used for anything that allows the digital world to connect to the real world – whether it’s a mobile phone, tablet device or VR headset. An example would be bringing a product life with animations triggered when a label or logo is viewed through a camera phone.

It’s still a fairly new technology but augmented reality animation has already established itself as a format within children’s books, allowing story characters to literally jump out from the page.

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15. Retro Animation

Retro animations look to tune into the nostalgic power of animations from yesteryear. It could be the heavily pixelated look of old arcade games or recreating the style of a popular children’s television show.

It’s an approach that can be particularly effective when a specific demographic is being targeted. It’s a way to connect to people using a visual style that they have an affection for.

While a retro animation can pack a nostalgic punch, the simple styles are something that digital tools can easily recreate. Hit the right note and you can harness the power of an affectionate blast from the past.

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16. Isometric Animation

This is a style that’s familiar from the world of video gamers with 2D images used to create the impression of a 3D world. It creates a distinctive look – a neat, clean look that can make complex things easier to understand.

It’s often used in explainer and informational videos and the sense of depth that isometric design adds makes it particularly effective for anything involving maps or building layouts. The neatness of the style also helps to convey efficiency and order.

It offers something of a best of both worlds solution – the visual engagement of a 3D world but without the costs. The benefits have to be balanced against the limitations of a fixed perspective.

 

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17. FlipBook Animation

It’s an endearingly simple way to communicate. This is just about as basic as animation gets with illustrations being hand-drawn onto the pages of a flipbook.

Each image is updated slightly to create a flowing animation when the pages of the book are rapidly flicked through. Flipbooks are typically no longer than around 15 seconds but it’s a limitation that makes them ideal for short-form social media sites such as TikTok.

It’s a style that delivers a personal touch, something that can stand out in a world of swish graphics and dazzling marketing visuals. It’s also a cost-effective approach – the only requirements being a pencil, paper and an animator.

 

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18. Claymation Animation

Claymation animation creates characters and worlds using plasticine clay. The stop-motion method is used to film incremental changes in the positioning of the models to create the movement. It’s the technique used for all of the early Aardman Animations films.

And despite digital animated models now providing a much simpler alternative, claymation is still going strong. This is thanks to the feeling that comes from objects moulded by human hands. It’s the slight imperfections – the occasional wobbliness and fingerprints on the clay models.

It’s a format that can work for a young target audience and for anything that sets out to create a warm and comforting feel. With improvements to digital modelling, the claymation ‘feel’ can now be created digitally.

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19. Minimalist Animation

People are drawn to simplicity and clarity – something that’s not bombarding them. It’s delivering this fuss-free and zen-like experience that minimalist animations are designed to deliver.

It’s an approach that aims to remove any visual clutter and provide only the images and animations needed to communicate your message. It’s an approach that suits products and services that aim to achieve similar goals – digital apps and services that make things simple.

While clean visuals make it technically simple to make, the challenge comes in finding engaging and effective ways to say a lot with a little. It’s an approach that can help to hone your message – what’s important?

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20. 360 Animation

Instead of watching an animation, what if you could be inside it? This is the kind of thing that’s possible with 360 animations that take place in virtual reality worlds. It’s a technology that’s being pioneered by the gaming industry and the experiences designed for devices such as the Oculus Rift.

It unlocks a new form of ‘metaverse’ where anything is possible – animated characters and avatars can exist in recreations of real-life locations with interactive objects floating around. But it’s just as effective for something simple, such as letting people tour a building or facility that’s not yet been built.

It can be used for training and instructional purposes or to create the kind of special experiences that are delivered by making animated worlds and spaces that people can become a part of.

How do you know which format to choose?

With so many different ways that animation can be used to communicate and connect, it can feel a bit overwhelming. The benefit of working with a good agency is that you gain access to a team with the knowledge and experience to find the best ways of saying what you want.

This starts with a brief that sets out the message you want to convey and the response you hope to achieve. The brief will also indicate the budget and timescale that the agency needs to work within.

The creative team will use the information to suggest the most appropriate styles and formats. This will be based on what will work best creatively as well as factoring in what can be practically done within the budget and timescale.

Storyboards and moodboards will be used to give a feel of what the end product will look like. It’s a collaborative process that ensures both sides are happy before the production process starts and the animations are created.

The Kartoffel Animation studio has created every type of animated video for some of the UK’s most reputable organisations. It has created a team with the experience and creativity to find the best ways to achieve the end goal of each client.