Introduction to Animation in Film

Animation in film have been a staple of the entertainment industry for almost a century. They are enjoyed by both children and adults alike and are a testament to the creativity and skill of the people who make them. Modern-day animation, as you know, is done on computers. With CGI taking over movies like Shrek, Toy Story, and Despicable Me, animation has moved far from the humble roots of a moving drawing. Still feeling clueless? We’ve got you! In this blog, we will give you a rundown of the history of this artform and how it has grown into a billion-dollar juggernaut with companies like Pixar. Also, we Sri Lankans have successfully released our very first animated movie, titled “Gajaman 3D,” in 2023. What better time to dive into the vivid world of animation? So, here we go!

#1. History of Animation Films

As inventions like the zoetrope were made in the late 1800s, animation began to take shape. It was a cylinder that was rotating and had a ring of images inside of it. You could see an image that was moving, resembling a galloping horse, when you twisted it and peered through the openings. These were gadgets that displayed a succession of illustrations or photos quickly to provide the impression of motion.

However, it was not until the 1900s that animation began to take shape as we know it today. With tools like the video camera, animation could finally hit the big screen. One of the earliest pioneers of animation was Winsor McCay, an American cartoonist who created a character called Little Nemo in 1905. McCay’s cartoons were the first to use animation techniques to bring his drawings to life. He would draw each frame by hand and then photograph them to create the illusion of movement.

“Gertie the Dinosaur,” the first animated motion picture, was published in 1914. Winsor McCay directed the highly successful movie. That was the first time a personality and set of character qualities had been provided to an animated figure.

Walt Disney produced “Steamboat Willie” in 1928 to include the recognizable Mickey Mouse. Mickey aspired to be the captain of the riverboat he was a sailor on. The soundtrack, which was closely related to the animation’s activities, was another quality of this animation. Walt Disney’s films Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs transformed the animation business in the 1930s. These films were a huge hit and the first to employ synchronized sound and music. They paved the way for other animation studios to produce feature-length films.

Over the next few decades, animation technology continued to evolve. New techniques were developed, such as cel animation, which allowed animators to create characters and backgrounds separately and then combine them to create the illusion of depth and movement.

#2. The Five Types of Animation

There are many different types of animation, each with its own unique style and techniques. The four main types of animation are traditional hand-drawn animation, stop-motion animation, computer-generated animation, and 2D vs. 3D animation.

1. Traditional hand-drawn animation

This is one of the older forms of animation and is often referred to as “cell animation.” The animator draws every frame in the animation sequence (just like they used to at Walt Disney). It’s like drawing a sequence in a sketch book and flipping the pages fast so all the images create the illusion of movement. Nowadays, even traditional animation is mostly done by computers, using a tablet like the Wacom Cintiq.

2. 2D animation (Flash)

What we mean by 2D animation is vector-based animation, like the ones done in Flash. This style has become very popular due to the accessibility of technology. Flash is cheap and easy to use, like other vector-based programs. This differs from traditional animation (even though it is 2D) because you could move a character’s body parts individually. This eliminates the work of drawing the character repeatedly.

3. 3D animation (Computer animation)
3D animation

This is the most common form of animation used today. It can be described as playing with puppets as opposed to being a skilled draftsman. The animator moves the character in a 3D program with special controls for each body part. Movies like Shrek and Toy Story are great examples of 3D animation and how successful it can be if done correctly.

4. Motion Capture

Motion capture helps enhance the realism of 3D animations. It’s used in movies like Avatar and Lord of the Rings and video games like LA Noire and Grand Theft Auto. Actors wear bodysuits containing special sensors and act out a scene. The motion capture animation software translates the motions from the sensors into a digital version.

5. Stop Motion
Stop Motion

Stop motion is a special form of animation that combines live-action filmmaking principles with traditional character animation. Stop motion is done by taking a photo of an object, then moving it just a little bit and taking another photo. The process is repeated like this, and when the photos are played back one after another, it gives the illusion of movement. This differs from traditional animation because it uses real-life materials instead of drawings.

#3. The animation production process

1. Pre-production

In this stage, the visual style of the film is developed, and the characters and settings are designed. Storyboards are created to map out each scene, and animatics (rough animated sequences) are produced to help plan the timing and pacing of the film.

2. Production

This is where the actual animation takes place. The scenes are broken down into individual shots, and the animators create the character animation and special effects. Voice acting and music are also recorded and added to the film at this stage.

3. Post-production

Once the animation is complete, the film enters post-production, where the shots are edited together and any necessary visual effects are added. Sound design and music are also finalized during this stage.

#4. Animation in Sri Lankan Cinema

The much-anticipated first fully animated Sri Lankan film, “Gajaman 3D”, graced cinemas in early 2023. The film, directed by Chanaka Perera, received critical and fan praise and was a resounding success at Sri Lankan cinemas. Gajaman used motion capture animation technology to animate its characters..

The film trailer was released at a press conference held at the National Film Corporation’s Tharangani Cinema in April 2018. Due to complications with COVID-19, the release was delayed until 2023. Gajaman excelled at the local box office, grossing SLR 500,000,000 (USD 1,555,000) with a production budget of only SLR 75,000,000 (USD 233,625).



Animation in film has come leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings to a multimillion-dollar industry in the present day. We can expect this form of filmmaking to be around and evolve in the years to come. With developing countries like Sri Lanka also getting into the mix, there is infinite potential for anyone pursuing animation as a career path as well. We hope you have a more informed idea about animation films and their process.

Check out our blog – Cinema lighting techniques

Also check out – Sound equipment used in films

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