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Get The Most Out Of 2D Effects Animation

ben marvazi 2020

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Exploring 2D Effects Animation

So, 2D effects animation. What makes it so effective? (Thank you, we’ll be here all blog).

It's not just about helping animated characters or objects move from point A to point B. It's about enriching those movements with a layer of visual and emotional complexity that transforms the entire viewing experience and acts as a story element in its own right. 

Bear with us: Imagine a simple scene of a character walking through a forest. Now, add falling leaves, rays of sunlight piercing through the canopy, and perhaps a gentle mist. Suddenly, the scene is a dynamic, engaging, and visually stunning narrative moment. It’s still a character moving in a forest but with more emotional movement.

a tranquil animated forest scene

GIF by ioana sopov via GIPHY

This blog aims to be your guide to harnessing the full potential of 2D effects animation. We will delve into some types of effects (expanding on our existing list) and explore how each can be effectively applied in different contexts. 

By the end of this read, you'll not only have a deeper understanding of what 2D effects animation entails but also how to use these techniques to your advantage…effectively. Sorry.

Cover GIF by via GIPHY

What’s the Big Deal with 2D Effects Animation?

It's crucial to establish a foundational understanding of what these effects entail. 

At its core, 2D effects animation is the art and science of adding specialized visual elements to otherwise “simple” or “traditional” 2D animations. These elements, often referred to as “effects,” serve to enhance not just the visual appeal of the animation but also its storytelling impact, like the forest scene we described earlier.

Furthermore, 2D effects animation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The effects you choose must align with the overall tone, genre, and artistic vision of your project. Slapping a mighty fireball transition in the middle of a dentist’s testimonial video might not be the way to go.

Whether it's a subtle sparkle in a character's eyes to signify emotion, an underlying effect to help transition a lower third, or a grand explosion that marks a pivotal moment in the storyline, each effect serves a specific purpose.

Now that we've established a comprehensive understanding of what 2D effects animation encompasses, let's move forward to explore the different types of effects available and how to use them effectively to elevate your animation projects.

What You Might Know Already

You might have seen these effects mentioned in our blog about 4 easy animation effects every animator can use. Here’s a quick refresher on each before we expand the list for your animating convenience!

Posing and Motion Blur: Capturing Speed and Movement

Posing your 2D character before you move is key to creating smooth 2D effects animation. A simple motion blur can be used to create a sense of speed, weight and force, depth, and time.

four different comic characters running at high speed with motion blur effect


For example: when animating a 2D character running from left to right, start with him on the far left side of the screen. Then, as he moves across the screen in a zigzag fashion (left-right-left), show his arm moving first followed by his legs (with some overlap).

As he reaches the middle of your drawing area show him coming back into frame from behind; this allows you to use motion blurs for both entering and exiting poses at different rates of speed which creates a nice effect when combined with some squash & stretch in between each pose change.

Parallax: Adding Depth to Your Scenes

Parallax scrolling is a special 2D effects animation that creates the illusion of depth. This technique can be used to create a sense of depth in a 2D animation, such as when you want to make it appear like your character is moving closer or farther away from the camera.

three people standing in a purple triangle with a parallax effect

GIF by iamnaomideisgn via GIPHY

The effect is created by having two layers of animation: one layer that’s stationary and another layer with an object in motion. The stationary layer creates the illusion of depth, while the moving layer creates a sense of parallax.

Masks and Shape Morphing: The Art of Transformation

Shape morphing and masking are two 2D effects animation techniques you can use to create a wide range of detailed 2D animations.

Shape morphing is when one shape is transformed into another by changing its outline or size. For example, you can morph an oval into a circle by shrinking it down until it looks like an arc. You can also change the direction of your shapes' lines, giving them curves or sharp corners if you want them to look more aggressive.

a morphing white ring against a black background

GIF by Ellen Lo via GIPHY

Masking is when one object or video part covers up another object or video part, like a moving silhouette blocking out the sun from view.

This 2D effects animation works well for hiding objects as they move behind each other - for example, say you're creating an animation where there's a man sitting at his desk typing on his computer while someone else sits behind him reading something off of their phone in front of their face so he doesn't notice them being there! Thrilling stuff.

Layering: Building Complexity

animated layering of several video clips against a black background

GIF by Temple Cache via GIPHY

You can do this by using a layer mask. If you have a shape layer, then using the shape tool and creating a simple shape will work for you. You can also use this effect by making changes to your frame delay or frame rate, which will result in the same effect.

Another simple technique to create layering 2D effects animation is by using a frame repeat effect instead of just repeating one frame over and over again.

If you want to create an advanced layering of 2D effects animation, then set up your animation frames so that they are all on top of each other (instead of being side-by-side). This way, when it comes time for them all to come together at once as one image, they will be able to do so while still remaining separate from each other as well.

Even More 2D Effects Animation and Their Applications

Particle Effects: The Magic of Tiny Elements

sparkling particle effect against a black background

GIF by gfaught via GIPHY

Particle effects serve as the unsung heroes of the animation world (not really, but it almost certainly feels that way). It’s often overlooked but essential in adding a layer of authenticity and depth to your scenes. 

These effects are not just about creating raindrops or snowflakes; they are about mimicking the natural world in a way that draws the viewer into the story. 

Whether it's a gentle rain shower that evokes a sense of melancholy or a swarm of fireflies that adds a magical touch to a moonlit scene, particle effects can be incredibly versatile. 

They are most effective when used in scenes that require a touch of realism or atmospheric depth, such as nature documentaries or fantasy adventures. If immersion is what you’re going for, a 2D particle effect is your best friend.

Smoke and Fire: Igniting the Screen

text labeled "FIRE" with a flame effect

GIF by SamuelC via GIPHY

When it comes to adding drama, tension, or sheer spectacle to a scene, few things are as effective as smoke and fire effects

This use of 2D effects animation can serve multiple narrative purposes. For instance, billowing smoke can indicate a recently extinguished battle or a fire that's just beginning to catch, while roaring flames can serve as the backdrop for an epic showdown. Again, it evokes a very specific emotion in a very specific context.

The key to using these effects effectively lies in their subtlety and timing. Overuse can make a scene feel chaotic, but when used judiciously, it can elevate a moment from ordinary to unforgettable.

Light and Shadow: Playing with Perception

moving, spiraling segments with green and blue shadows

GIF by via GIPHY

The interplay of light and shadow is not just a technical aspect of animation; it's a storytelling tool that’s a great way to utilize 2D effects animation. 

By manipulating these elements, you can create moods, direct focus, and even symbolize abstract concepts like good and evil. 

Soft, warm lighting can make a scene feel intimate and inviting, while harsh, cold lighting can create a sense of danger or foreboding. Shadows can add an element of mystery or suspense, making them particularly useful 2D effects animation in genres like horror, thriller, or romance. 

The strategic use of light and shadow can turn a simple scene into a visually and emotionally complex moment, or even give subtle messages to the audience (like lighting the soon-to-be-revealed antagonist from below).

Water and Liquid: The Fluid Dynamics

a water blob surrounded by water

GIF by xponentialdesign via GIPHY

Water 2D effects animation is a technical (and budget-hungry) challenge but offers a high reward in terms of visual appeal. 

Whether it's a serene lake reflecting the moonlight or a turbulent ocean in a storm, water effects can add a layer of complexity and realism to your scenes. 

These effects can range from simple ripples and droplets to more complex fluid dynamics like waves, splashes, and waterfalls. The key is to understand the context in which these effects will be used. 

For example, a scene involving a character navigating through a rainstorm would benefit from realistic water splashes and droplets, adding both visual and emotional depth to the scene.

The Wrap On 2D Effects Animation

a combination of different 2D effects showing a character's powers in an arena

GIF by Funimation via GIPHY

As we wrap up this guide on 2D effects animation, one thing should be clear: mastering this skill set can be a game-changer for any animator, irrespective of their level of expertise or the scale of their projects. 

It can elevate your work from the realm of the ordinary to the extraordinary, making your animations not just visually stunning but also emotionally resonant. It’s what keeps old animations from the pre-2000s relevant, and likely why we’re still talking about them.

So, as you move forward in your animation journey, remember that 2D effects animation isn't just a skill; it's an art form that, when mastered, can significantly improve the quality of your work and set you on a path to unparalleled success. 

Do you have stunning ideas for 2D animation effects but you’re struggling to make a career from it? Don’t worry. Our Animation Business Accelerator Program provides insights, resources, and a supportive community to help professionals navigate the evolving landscape. 

If you’re an animator who’s looking to start your own studio or grow your career, check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio to kickstart your animation career today or give our free Masterclass a try first if you’re curious.

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