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Animation Technology that Animators Should Look Out For

ben marvazi 2020

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"Technology is the friend of traditional animation. It doesn't have to replace it. It can help you do it."

Tomm Moore

Technology has done wonders for the animation industry, and that’s a fact. From the evolution of 2D to 3D styles and from paper backgrounds to digitally rendered shadows, we’ve seen massive change over the years brought on by a significant improvement in better animation technology in the industry.

Thankfully, new animation technology is readily available and designed for both freelance animators, studio owners, or any animation hobbyist.

In this blog post, we will cover some of the more futuristic and upcoming animation technology that animators should be on the lookout for.

The Trends in Animation Technology Over The Years

Disney and Pixar’s Influence on Animation Technologies

Where would we be without Disney and Pixar animation studios? Probably not very far, to be honest. 

Disney was for many years hell-bent on pushing the boundaries of animation, and they are responsible for introducing a lot of animation technology that animators use to practice their craft today.

There’s been a heck of a lot of talk about Traditional vs Digital Animation over the years but the honest truth is that animation technology has improved whether we like it or not.

Here are some examples of the animation technology that Disney and Pixar introduced to the world:

The Multiplane Camera
the multiplane camera is one of animations oldest technologies

Image by HarshLight via Wikipedia

The Multiplane Camera was introduced in the mid-30s and provided a new layer of depth to the traditional cel animation process.

A basic explanation of how it worked is that the various foreground artwork layers were left transparent so as to allow the other background layers to be seen behind. 

The illusion of depth is created by photographing each movement frame by frame, with the separate layers moving at different speeds. Essentially, the further away from the camera the layer was, the slower it moved.

xerography is animation technology that introduced colors in 1980s

Image by Xerox Corporation via Britannica

Xerography was a process of dry photocopying that allowed animators to forgo the need to ink animations by hand. There were no liquid chemicals involved in the process which resulted in rougher and darker outlines. Initially only black was available, but in the 1980s color was introduced.

The short version of the copying process is that the surface is electrically charged and exposed to light. The image of the document is then copied onto the surface.

a dry copying process in which black or colored powder adheres to parts of a surface remaining electrically charged after being exposed to light from an image of the document to be copied.

The first animated production to use this technique was One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Ub Iwerks, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men.

The technique also allowed for the recycling of animations, something Ub Iwerks was criticized for at the time.

Xerography is now used in almost all LED printing and photocopying machines.

Computer Animation Production System (CAPS)

With the rise of the digital revolution and the introduction of computers, Disney worked on and released the Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS, to work with new computers in order to animate better.

It allowed for animated works to be completed much quicker, which allowed Disney to release films more regularly. It was the first replacement for the Xerographic process and used digital ink and paint systems.

The CAPS software also helped make animations cleaner and smoother overall. The first fully digital feature film using CAPS was The Rescuers Down Under.

Deep Canvas Software
disney's deep canvas software animation tech was used in tarzan

Image by Angie Jones via Thinking Animation

Deep Canvas Software was developed for use in Disney’s animated film “Tarzan”. What it did was allow animators to create entire 3D environments for their characters by painting backgrounds from different camera angles.

As each scene progressed, the gaps in the previous frames were filled in by the artists adding more brushstrokes each time.

The software itself didn’t actually last very long at Disney but was responsible for kickstarting the practice of blending digital graphics and hand-drawn designs.


RenderMan is the in-house rendering software developed by Pixar during the rise of Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI). It is now a household name in animation studios.

Essentially, RenderMan compiles all digital assets and locks them in a single frame. It allows for seamless communication between the model assets, the animation applications, and the rendering engine. 

Latest Animation Technology Trends

So now that you know how trends grow in technology let’s list and discuss some of the more anticipated animation technology trends.

The Effects of CGI on the Animation Industry
cgi is one of the modern animation technologies available to writers

Gif by saidamagic via Giphy

Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI, has technically been around since the 1960s. It refers to the usage of computer-aided software during the animation process and you can see examples of its usage in Star Wars, Alien, Tron, and so many other amazing titles.

CGI as an animation technology is essentially an ever-evolving tool and will continue to adapt to the latest trends in computer hardware and software.

CGI is used by animators and filmmakers to create entire digital worlds and blur the line between true reality and constructed reality. It’s been used to do things in cinema previously unthought of, one of the biggest examples being James Cameron and his film Avatar.

To be fair though, no one has embraced the use of CGI more than animators. CGI overtook stop-motion films because of the huge saving in time and money. It also allowed animators to be as realistic or whimsical as they liked.

With movies both animated and not utilizing CGI now more than ever, technology is advancing continuously in many interesting ways.

With the production of Disney+’s series, The Mandalorian, Lucasfilm, and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) are working with what they call StageCraft or The Volume.

StageCraft combines the usage of in-camera VFX and the Unreal Engine to create a different type of staging with CGI. It’s essentially revolutionized the way filmmakers shoot effects in films. There is also a wide range of animation resources available that really aim to push the boundaries of CGI.

What you can take away from all this is that CGI is revolutionizing the world of film and animation, and it most certainly is here to stay.

Virtual Reality
"is this normal" is a reaction to experiencing virtual reality animations for the first time

Gif by The Tonight Show via Giphy

Let’s get this out of the way first: Virtual Reality (VR) is not the same as Augmented Reality (AR). AR is used to lay CGI over a user’s view, in the real world. VR is used to create an immersive experience WITHOUT a user interacting with the world around them.

Got it? Awesome. So how is VR changing the way animation works?

There’s a lot of software out there today that is helping with creating a virtual experience such as Google’s Daydream Lab which lets you animate 3D models inside the software. It uses two different pieces of animation applications called Animator and Puppeteer, which essentially offer character rigging capabilities in a 3D animation suite.

You can also dock your smartphone in a VR headset and use a motion controller to use the software.

The process works like this:

The controller provides a palette from which a user can select and pick up objects, and move them through space and time. The scene the user creates can be recorded and then played back in VR. 

The software records objects and their motion individually and creates the scene as such. One can also manipulate objects using the controller, such as the joints of a character, to get them to move in certain ways. The controller also acts like a pointer that allows the user to rotate objects.

Google is also using VR to teach people skills, like making coffee. Isn’t that neat? They’ve reported that animators are learning skills faster using this software as a tool in VR. But also that people have trouble following instructions. Swings and roundabouts?

All in all, it’s said that VR in animation is helping animators understand spacial awareness. With the virtual space essentially mimicking the real world, animators are also learning about lighting and staging.

VR is a fantastic collaborative tool that the whole team can have heaps of fun using.

3D Printing
animators can 3d print their models for animation

Gif by General Electric via Giphy

Next, let’s talk about 3D printing.

For those unaware of the concept, 3D printing is a manufacturing process whereby CG images are printed using various materials in a 3D space. It’s actually a lot more confusing than that, but the basics are the important part for now.

There are a whole heap of different types of 3D printing as well as different technologies used in the process but for animators, the introduction and integration of 3D printing into the world of animation has been fantastic.

Stop motion is a very impressive art form that’s been around for many decades, but it is agreed that it is an arduous process at the best of times.

Using 3D printers and the software that comes with them such as Maya clay, animators can speed up the process significantly by designing the character models along with backgrounds and props in the application and printing them in 3-dimensional space using materials such as plastic.

The one downside of 3D printing is the price tag. Hardware can get quite expensive if you’re a freelance animator, but as animation technology evolves, so will the process of using them.

Depth Sensors
depth sensors allow realistic animations

Image via Terabee Blog

Depth sensors are essentially a 3D range finder. They pick up and register a wide field-of-view (FOV) and transmit the multi-point distanced information to software. It renders in real-time a background into a blur that separates the background from the subject.

They are a fantastic piece of animation technology and have become one of the most popular ways of creating realistic human facial features and postures.

As mentioned, probably the best thing about the sensors is their ability to pick up the body and facial features in real-time. This makes them a fantastic tool for recognizing and tracking motions such as gestures, which makes animating character models that much easier.

The more high-end depth sensors are used in bigger studios and really aren’t that functional for freelancer animators, but with the advancement in motion tracking and VR software, it’s only a matter of time before they become household items.

Collaboration and Cloud Software
collaboration software allow animators to work together from anywhere around the globe

Gif by xponentialdesign via GIPHY

Collaboration is a big part of studio animation because without your animators working together, nothing would ever get done. 

Over the years, technology has advanced in such a way as to allow companies to move more effectively into the digital world and away from the physical limitations of studio equipment such as whiteboards and noticeboards, to name a couple.

Software applications like Trello, Adobe Workfront, and Smartsheet are all fantastic management tools used by studios on a daily basis, and they’re coming out with new technologies every year; the digital workplace is only getting better.

As the world moves towards a more remote working environment, online collaboration software is a must for any business, and studios can benefit greatly from apps that allow their animators to work together from anywhere in the world.

You can essentially run a virtual animation studio by combining this with VR animation technology! Doesn’t that sound insane!

Now for freelancers, collaboration isn’t a big deal, but the advances in cloud storage software are.

Easy to use massive online cloud storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox are making storing files, models, assets, software, and more so much easier for studios and freelance animators alike.

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Pros And Cons of Improved Animation Technologies

It’s all well and good having new and exciting technology come out, but what is so good about it? Well, let us tell you, dear reader.

Pros of Improved Animation Tech

the benefits of improved animation technology are huge

Gif by Brittania via Giphy

Animated Videos Are More Engaging With Audiences

While this idea can and will be disputed until the end of time, animated videos and films in particular that utilize animated and computer-generated technology are often considered just as engaging as their live-action counterparts.

One need only look at Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki, as well as Disney and Pixar’s work over the years to see the mass appeal of animated feature films. They’re often applicable to all audiences (not always, naturally) and can touch on a range of subjects and themes without directly forcing a narrative.

Animated music videos are also extremely popular, but animation and CGI effects can also be used in conjunction with real-life effects to make an even more appealing product.

The Animation Process Is Cheaper And More Efficient 

The attraction to animated pieces from a business standpoint is just how much quicker and easier they are to make than live-action ones. With the advances in animation technology and studios that teach the skills necessary to use them, high-quality animated videos can be pumped out much quicker and without breaking too much of one’s bank.

Some studios like Frantic have been at the forefront of visually striking, computer-generated animations in the UK. And by utilizing augmented and virtual reality software, and 3D animation software, freelance animators and animation studios alike can create high-end videos in way less time than they could before.

Animation Software Is More Accessible

Considering how easy it is to access the internet these days, it’s not difficult to see how this can make the world of animation more accessible too.

It’s so easy to find free and open-source software, both low and high-end, that appeals to beginners, intermediate, and advanced studio-based and freelance animators alike.

While some software will remain on the more expensive side due to the nature of the complexity of its engine, such as Autodesk Maya, software like Blender is free and open-source, and is considered one of the best tools out there.

Not just that, but next-generation VR and AR animation technology is getting more and more accessible to the masses the more it gets tested.

Animation Software Is More User-Friendly And Fun To Use

To piggyback on the last point, newer animation software has over the years been friendly to the average joe looking to make their own animated project.

Animated projects, whether they be full-scale feature films or small gifs used on Twitch, have always been entertaining to witness. Animation on your brand’s website is also a heck of a lot more attractive to audiences visiting, and frankly, they’re just fun to make.

Cons of Improved Animation Tech

some argue that animation technology can have some downsides

Gif by Schitt’s Creek via Giphy

High Competition In The World Of Freelance Animation

Due to the nature of the digital age, both animation hardware and software are readily available for anyone interested in the craft. This can and has had an effect on the animation industry as a whole, as it means anyone can get their hands on available software and become competitive in the marketplace.

So, in essence, you’re fighting against others for work, which, to be fair, is something everyone has to deal with.

It does mean, however, that when you have a large number of animators using the exact same software in the exact same way, you saturate and subsequently negatively affect the state of the market.

One upside to this is the relatively high barrier of entry due to the cost of some software and the complexity that comes with them.

Potential High Entry Expense

As a contradiction to what was mentioned earlier, a lot of animation technology can and is considered a massive investment which can be quite daunting for many.

When you’re considering the software necessary to create your projects and render them properly, storage facilities, and effective hardware to make animation possible, the list of potential costs keeps growing.

After all, there are some tools that animators simply must-have.

That’s It Really
for some technology is scary but there aren't many downsides

Gif by Sky History UK via Giphy

For those technophobes who avidly complain about the advancement of technology, you really don’t have to.

There isn’t much to really complain about regarding advancements in technology, as it well and truly does offer the potential to better the lives of everyone.

But at the end of the day, it’s up to the individual to make their own decisions about their views on animation technology.

Make Sure To Look Out For New Animation Technology

Both technology and animation have come far, and we have many to thank for such advancements.

There are now so many interesting thoughts and ideas on how we can utilize various technologies to better animation practices and the future looks nothing short of exciting for animators.

So many developments in the world of animation have made it so much quicker and easier to both create and release high-quality animated videos, allowing for greater engagement and interactivity with audiences while simultaneously saving studios and freelancers both time and money.

Be sure to keep up to date with the latest technological trends, not just in the animation industry. The world truly can change in the blink of an eye; you never know what might happen!

For more info about the animation industry and the latest in animation technology, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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