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Characteristics of Animation in the Digital Age

ben marvazi 2020

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“Nothing’s occurring in animation – you manufacture everything.”

– Gore Verbinski, Animation Film Director

Animation - a timeless concept: communication through visual movement. Timeless, yet all that falls within the scope of animating today is a far cry from traditional animation as it was in the Animation Golden Age

Characteristics of animation within the digital age have expanded beyond the discipline of storytelling towards a mechanism used for the transmittance of information. Today animation is used not only for entertainment but for education as well. 

An animator makes available experiences otherwise out of reach and enables people to train their bodies and minds for environments they are not in. The distinct characteristics of animation today create a way to communicate phenomena that abstract explanations cannot successfully convey.

The possibilities are nearly endless!

In this blog, we will take you on a journey through the characteristics of animation in the digital age namely the aesthetics of digital graphics created with color and shape, the influence of modern-day motion software on animated simulations, and how our experiences are branching into the virtual world.

 It is the distinct qualities that technology lends to animation that allow for the existence of an unparalleled open playground for the imagination.

Aesthetics of Digital Graphics is one of the Characteristics of Animation

Aesthetics of Digital Graphics is one of the Characteristics of Animation

GIF by Mathew Lucas (89a) via GIPHY

Audiences are no longer forgiving of the traditional characteristics of animation like wires seen on screen, of jagged movements, and inaccurate three-dimensional representations of ideas. As with any industry, the standards of animation have been pushed and improved to the point where anything less than exceptional is unacceptable. Animators have to rely on assistance from software and psychology to drive their points across and truly make an impact.

The Animator and their Signature Color

Person wearing a cap and glasses changing into a multitude of colors

GIF by VanStone via Tenor

Color theory is nothing new. It has been used by artists, propaganda strategists, and business psychologists for as long as we know. What is emerging are the innovative ways in which we are presented with color in our everyday lives.

Color is undoubtedly one of the most impactful characteristics of animation today! The color usage needs to be “aesthetic” - a word overused - which points to the emphasis put on the concept by any audience. While retaining aesthetics, the color usage has to be ‘accessible’ - accessibility and inclusion being key driving forces of innovation in the largest industries worldwide.

We are used to marketing using colors to grab our attention, and films use color to set a mood. In a world where every move we make professionally or personally is based on psychology, even badly understood concepts of psychology, even aesthetics isn’t about viewing pleasure. It is about the mental impact of information transmitted by the color characteristics of animation.

What we might not be so conscious of is the technology through which that color is delivered. Print uses CMYK and screen RGB but have we thought about how that image had to be created to deliver to us, as intended, the feeling we are supposed to feel, as dictated through the color choice?

The choice of raster vs vector methodologies of digital drawing can greatly influence the color quality of the final animation. This choice can influence how that image and animation can be manipulated in terms of size, without losing image quality. Each drawing characteristic of animation has its limitations or difficulties to overcome. These most commonly arise when visual effects through color are being created.

Imagining these characteristics of animation without reference might seem a bit abstract. Let’s simplify. Think about a cartoon vs a filter overlay. The one contains a lot more detail ie. color information, than the other.

Visualize an animated character experiencing a confusing emotion that is conveyed by the character turning all kinds of different shades of different colors flowing seamlessly in and out of each other. This is but one example of color effects that could be restricted and dependent on your choice of raster or vector.

As always before, the medium (in this case, the technology) used, dictates the limits of artistic expression the artist (here the animator) will be bound by.

The Shape of Freedom within the Characteristics of Animation

A sketch of a dog like character running with its claws out

GIF by jeethero8 via pixabay

The ability of drawing and animation software to render 3D models of an object or character without the animator having to flesh out how their idea will look from an all-around view is, in fact, more impressive than one might think. This innovation amongst the characteristics of animation in the modern age can easily be equated to sculptural skill sets within the animator’s toolkit.

It takes a special mind to visualize in 3D. It takes an even greater mind to visualize non-traditional, non-natural shapes in 3D. This predictive nature of animation software frees the animator from rules of proportion and troubling perspectives. In the end, allowing all of the animator’s brain power and energy spent to move to the creative and the imaginative.

The animator no longer stands before the question, “What can I create?” but rather, “What would I like to...”.

The characteristics of animation in the digital age have flung open all gates and eradicated any singular path of creation. The thing is, freedom is not for everyone. We see many animators staying with the familiar animation styles, with the known and understood.

By adopting modern practices in a way to embrace and challenge old conventions and rules, we do see others answer the above question. Remember that it is only the bold that ventures to answer this question. Luckily for us, the bold and rule breakers have names and work we can reference, study, or admire.

Animation as the Simulation of Reality

Triangle with rainbow liquid pouring out

GIF by gfaught via GIPHY

It is of great debate whether computers simulate realistic movements within the space of animation as entertainment in a positive or negative. On one side of the coin, it significantly speeds up the work process. On the other, some are of the opinion that the characteristics of animation are becoming monotonous. 

An undebated positive is that animated simulations provide us with scientific models and ways of understanding space like we have not been able to before! 

Motion: the Ancestor of all Characteristics of Animation

Motion characteristics of an animated face

GIF by marcovandervlag via GIPHY

Without motion, animation cannot exist. Motion is less one of the characteristics of animation as it is a prerequisite. The motion you see in modern animation compared to the motion you see in traditional animation, will probably always cause a divide amongst any people wishing to discuss it. 

The motion of animation in the digital age is characterized by appearing extremely natural. The motion is seamless and anatomically correct due to ‘skeletal’ like rigging. Here, the importance of thorough rigging at the start of a project and its benefits are explained. 

In addition to rigging, the motion of objects is captured from real-life examples. Data points are converted into visual movements on screen.

Some argue that the characteristics of animation created with computer-rendered movements are ‘too-realistic’ and result in a loss of the nuances associated with animation when it began. It personifies fantasy to the point where animated innocence is lost.

No matter which side of the argument you stand on, the motion capabilities of the new animation age are not negative. Golden age animation nuances do not need to be eradicated by digital motion design.

This technology enables the scalability of projects and cohesiveness in character movements and appearance when moving. All of which is a win for the production timeline of animations. Rigging techniques and movement models can be implemented to recreate traditional animation styles without the traditional effort and budget.

It is not unreasonable to view keyframes (one of the fundamental characteristics of animation) as the make-or-break parts of a movement or moving image. The general audience perceives where an object or character starts from and the position in which it ends … which is usually where the communication or intent of the animator lies as well.

Suppose computer software fills in the animation in-betweens, the tweening frames and the animator accordingly has more time to cultivate an expressive and impactful keyframe. The ability of animation software to anticipate the form of motion is an aid and not an enemy.

Animating with Mimicry

computer generated motion graph

GIF by Young Nada via GIPHY

Computer-generated imagery allows the animator to make realistic characters and objects behave in unnatural ways. Before technological innovation, it was unthinkable that the characteristics of animation would be this realistic!

A woman’s hair can take on the shape and movement of water. This is achieved by mimicry. Objects and images can be made to behave in the same way as any other movement model available to the artist animating. 

These copy-cat characteristics of animation today are not only used to attribute foreign qualities to objects and characters. Scientists can use these characteristics of animation to map out theoretical models and study the way celestial bodies, atoms, and substances will behave under different conditions or what influences these objects will exercise on the surrounding environment.

In the same way, an animator who produces animations for the purpose of entertainment can enter the artistic realm of ultra-realism. Mimicry allows for an animation to appear life-like … real. It can take the viewer straight to the water’s edge or that seat in front of the fire.

With regards to these characteristics of animation serving as a transmitter of information, someone might be able to imagine what feelings would arise within them, standing by the ocean shore. This is possible even if they have never set foot near a coastline

Characteristics of Animation found in the Virtualization of Experience

Virtual experience of a museum

GIF by fakemovement via GIPHY

The virtualization of experiences is where the whole world is heading. From entertainment to trade we are moving into the digital realm of the living. This creates a unique opportunity for new applications and characteristics of animation to be implemented. Perhaps animation has already passed the stage of being a medium through which to transmit information. Perhaps we are reaching the precipice of animation as an aid to every-day-life.

The Realism of Animated Spaces

Man using virtual reality headset

GIF by adezaulia via Tenor

As touched on, in our discussion of mimicry, the tools available to an animator today coupled with animators animating in virtual reality, allow for ultra-realism in images and scenes.

It seems that the larger audience wants to see fantasy worlds built out of realistic building blocks. Non-human characters behaving and moving in ways we would, now form part of the characteristics of animation. Perhaps this invites audiences into the picture. Perhaps it helps us experience the fantasy as our own. We can relate to the settings, struggles, triumphs, and emotions because we are familiar with the semantics.

These realistic characteristics of animation in the digital age blur the line between fabricated and real. This blurred line pushes the envelope even further by evoking the question, “is it at all important whether something is reality or sketch?”.

Animation which has traditionally been created to serve a purpose is becoming a regular within the realm of art - something that can exist for the sole purpose of existing. This transformation of animation as digital art is a whole topic on its own but should definitely be investigated.

Virtual reality aims to fabricate the whole experience - the most advanced aspect of modern-day characteristics of animation. It puts you in the seat of the rollercoaster prompting fear, anticipation, and so forth. Motorcycle riders can train their bodies to lean on the bike just the right amount with virtual reality setups. F1 drivers can train their minds to know every bend of the race track and anticipate what action will be needed accordingly. Is this experience then not real?

The Characteristics of Animation - Digital but Real

Purple computer generated dress

GIF by Wikitude via GIPHY

With all the blurred lines and intricate differentials between reality, experienced and imagined, animator and artist, it is clear that the characteristics of animation in the digital age are not theory, rules, or format which govern the changing animation landscape. Neither are these identifiers of the forms belonging to animation as a discipline.

These distinct characteristics of animation present today point to the phenomena we are already experiencing in other areas of our lives: our current reality extends to the digital

The art of animation has become more abstract. The animator's skill no longer lies in perfectly drawing a transitioning character but in the vision of the story being told and the relatable fantasy it carries the viewer to. It lies in the knowledge of which 2D aspect must be manipulated to achieve a 3D effect

Interestingly enough as the concept becomes more important than the execution by hand (because the software will do it now), a mix of relevant old and new technology, techniques, and aesthetics will begin merging. Animators will discover that by embracing these characteristics of animation their animations can embody their uniqueness in an industry where almost anything is possible!

Far from hitting a plateau, the animation industry is growing and innovating at a rapid pace. Now is the time to learn How to Start an Animation Studio. Now is the time to establish yourself as an independent animator. If you prefer a slower start watch our free masterclass or download a copy of our free marketing handbook to give you a taste of the Business Accelerator Course

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