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21 Techniques of Animation Freelancers Must Master

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

Gore Verbinski

As a freelance animator, you’re likely aware that you constantly need to improve your skills. One of the things that make animation such an interesting and exciting field is that it always offers new opportunities to learn and is constantly evolving. 

While this means that the chances of you getting bored with your job are almost zero, it does mean that you need to be well-versed in the most basic techniques of animation. 

A good foundation will ensure that you can take on more complicated animations with ease and learn new skills more quickly, and in the ever-changing animation industry, being able to do this seamlessly is of utmost importance. 

All professional animators know that quality animations have many different elements. Animators need to be able to create outstanding illustrations as well as realistic movements while keeping tabs on the latest animation software. 

It can be a lot, and if you’re unsure which techniques of animation you need to focus on to ensure you keep delivering quality animation to your clients, you’re not alone. 

In this blog post, we’ll look at techniques of animation freelancers must master so you can be sure you’re working on the right skills to take your animation business to the next level. 

Why Is It Important to Improve Techniques of Animation?

There are thousands of freelance animators out there, and all of them are trying to stand out among their competitors. To stay at the top of your game, your animation skills must be top-notch.

Constantly improving your animation techniques will help you stand out and impress prospective clients. It will also look really good on your animation portfolio

Animated videos are becoming increasingly popular, and now is the time to ensure you work on the skills that matter. Mastering the most critical techniques of animation will not only help you to enhance the quality of your animations, but it will also help you animate faster and make your characters and environments look more lifelike. 

Let’s examine the most crucial animation skills you need to focus on.

Techniques of Animation that Will Enhance Animation Quality 

1) Staging

Just like actors on a stage need to ensure they direct the audience’s attention where it needs to be, your animation needs to do the same. This simple but incredibly effective technique of animation will help you to guide the audience’s attention to where you want it at a specific moment in time. 

This can be done through strategic movements or even small mannerisms. If you want the audience to focus on a specific character at a specific time, you can let the character clench their fist or perhaps make them move their facial muscles. 

staging is a technique of animation that freelancers can help with improving their work visually

Gif via Skillshare

You can also accomplish staging by combining other core elements of animation to draw viewers’ attention. Play around with the scene’s lighting, composition, and framing. 

Also, ensure your scene is not too cluttered — this will distract the audience from the story you’re trying to tell. Clean it up a bit if you notice that it’s challenging to focus attention on a specific character. This requires a delicate balance between the characters and their environment, so make sure you practice this often. 

2) Straight Ahead Action & Pose to Pose

A technique of animation first invented by animators working at Disney’s studio, straight-ahead action and pose-to-pose animation will help you create clear and precise action while also allowing for some spontaneity.

Using the straight-ahead technique allows animators to plan each frame of movement meticulously. This is an important skill to have, especially if you want to animate complicated sequences well. 

It will ensure that the characters’ movements are fluid and lifelike, but keep in mind that this technique doesn’t work as great if you want to create very specific poses and maintain the scene’s proportions. However, most of the time, this can be remedied with animation software — you can use it to remove the proportion issues fairly easily. 

movements are the ebb and flow to mastering techniques of animation

Gif via Skillshare

The pose-to-pose technique requires animators to draw key frames and add later intervals. This technique works well when you want to show off a character’s surroundings as well as the scene’s composition. It’s typically utilized for scenes that are more dramatic and emotional. 

Because some animations contain equal parts drama and action, straight-ahead and pose-to-pose techniques are often combined to create the best results. 

3) Slow In and Slow Out

Mastering this technique of animation is paramount when you want to improve the quality of your animations and prevent movements from looking mechanical. 

slow in and slow out is an animation technique worth mastering

Gif via Skillshare

An object that starts moving won’t do so at maximum speed; it will start slow and move faster gradually. The same happens when it comes to a stop. Think of an airplane taking off or someone who starts running and then comes back to a stop. The speed increases and decreases gradually. 

To achieve this, practice the slow in and slow out technique by drawing multiple frames at the beginning and end of the movement to create that gradual change in speed.

4) Secondary Action

Good quality animation looks lifelike, and incorporating the secondary action animation technique will help give your animation that extra smoothness. 

Secondary action refers to the small movements characters make, like changing their facial expressions or sighing every now and then. You can play around with these actions to give your characters lifelike qualities.

secondary action animations are value adding to your work

Image by Julien Piau via Giphy

This animation technique can be used to distinguish characters from each other. You can change how each character walks or uses gestures to make them more unique and give them some extra personality. 

You should, however, be careful not to overuse this technique so much that it draws the audience’s attention at the wrong moments. It would be wise to practice this in conjunction with staging. 

5) Timing

This is an animation technique you’ll have to practice daily. It can be tricky, and it’s vital to produce quality animations. Using the right timing will allow viewers to perceive images the right way as they move on the screen. 

animation timing is essential to every freelance animator to master

Gif via Skillshare

To do this, you need to practice getting the intervals right between movements. The timing will depend on your character’s size and weight and how long it typically takes to perform a specific action. AlanBeckerTutorials on YouTube has an excellent video that can help you understand how to practice timing.

6) Exaggeration

Disney animators are experts at utilizing exaggeration without taking away from the reality of a movement. There’s a fine line between using exaggeration too little (and thus making characters look dull) and using it too much. You should practice finding the middle ground. 

exaggerating facial animations are important for freelance animators to practice

Gif by Tumblr via Giphy

Take Disney, for example — most of their characters are realistic to some extent, but sometimes their movements are extended a little beyond that to keep things interesting. This makes them fun and memorable. 

A classic exaggeration technique is that of the jaw drop. When a character is surprised, animators would sometimes emphasize it by letting their jaw drop to the floor instead of just drawing them with their mouth slightly open. This adds emphasis to the emotion they experience.

7) Solid drawing

Solid drawing is a more challenging technique of animation and consists of giving your characters volume and weight. 

solid drawing is a technique of animation that is often neglected

Gif via Skillshare

Taking some art classes on the side can help freelance animators better their drawing skills. You can also take some time to read “The Illusion of Life” by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, which will help you avoid common mistakes, like drawing a character’s left and right sides the exact same way. 

8) Appeal

This is arguably one of the most important techniques of animation. Unappealing characters won’t entertain your audience — even villains need some sort of appeal. 

One of the easiest ways to make a character appealing and loveable is by giving it a round, childlike face. Heroes usually have very strong, angular faces, while villains sometimes have sharp, narrow features. 

making your animations appealing at the very least is a technique of animation that takes time to develop

Gif by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment via Giphy

There’s no right or wrong way to go about practicing or incorporating this technique, which is what makes it tricky — there isn’t a single formula to success. You need to figure out your own style, and that will take plenty of practice. 

Techniques of Animation that Will Help You Animate Faster

9) Strong Design

A weak foundation will lead to countless hours of redoing some characters and scenes, so ensuring you can create strong designs from the get-go will save you tons of time while also making your animation look great. 

a strong sense of design is a technique of animation that is worth looking into

Gif by Zublime via Giphy

Practice building characters from basic shapes like boxes, cylinders, and spheres so you know exactly what you’re working with throughout the animation process and can easily make adjustments as necessary. 

10) Shot Types

This technique of animation is important to create interesting viewing material. Practicing different shot types will help you determine the correct placement of characters and aid in shooting interesting frames that capture your characters and surroundings well. 

the different shot types in animation is an animation technique that one can develop with practice

Gif by gifbay.com via Giphy

This will save you tons of time since you won’t end up with scenes that look boring and uninteresting that would inevitably need to be reshot. 

11) Keeping It Simple

This might seem like a technique of animation that should be fairly easy, but sometimes animators get carried away and create complex scenes littered with unnecessary scenery. 

keep your animations simple and avoid getting carries away

Gif by Bill N Back via Giphy

This will not only take up unnecessary time, but it will also distract the audience from the characters and the story you’re trying to tell, leaving them confused. It might also result in animation that looks less realistic. Don’t overdo characters’ pose changes or create elaborate environments that overshadow them. Simplicity is key. 

12) Use Basic Models

If there’s one animation technique you should apply daily, it’s using basic models while editing. Using high-resolution models will slow down your computer, and you’ll be wasting a ton of time. 

using basic models is still worth it for freelance writers practicing

Image via Filmora

Instead, use a proxy 3D model while you work on creating a character’s movement sequences. This will allow you to work on them without interruption. 

13) Avoid Playblasting

We know it’s tempting, but playblasting wastes a lot of time — no one has the luxury of waiting for it to render these days. 

avoid playblasting when animating

Image by r/Maya via Reddit

Instead, take the time to create a button or layer that will allow you to see only the character and proxy resolution sets while hiding everything else. This simple animation technique will help you save tons of time that you can add to your daily animation schedule.

14) Learn How to Choose the Right Animation Strategy

It’s incredibly important that you know which animation strategies and techniques to use for specific projects. This will take practice, trial, and error to get right, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to gauge the best animation strategy for a project in a jiffy. 

the right animation strategy and techniques of animation is important for efficient animations

Gif by CANAL+ via Giphy

For example, if you practice the straight-ahead and pose-to-pose animation techniques and are familiar with their pros and cons, you will be able to decide which is best for a project without realizing halfway through that you need to change your approach. 

Techniques of Animation that Will Make Your Work Look More Lifelike

15) Squash and Stretch

Squash and stretch are one of the most popular and important techniques of animation. Mastering this vital skill will allow you to make objects appear more lifelike. Incorporating this animation technique is what gives animators the ability to give characters and objects flexibility and weight. 

squash and stretch is a basic animation technique you should master

Gif by LooseKeys via Giphy

A great way to practice this is by animating something like a bouncing ball: When it hits the ground, you can let it flatten and widen slightly to create the illusion of it being impacted by the ground. As it bounces back up, it will contract to its original shape. 

Keep the object’s volume in mind while practicing this technique of animation, so it looks realistic. Also, remember that if you decide to stretch the ball horizontally when it hits the ground, you’ll need to squash it back vertically as it bounces up. 

If you’re in need of some examples of this animation technique, check out AlanBeckerTutorials’ YouTube video on the squash and stretch technique. 

16) Anticipation

This animation technique is another great way to ensure your animation looks as lifelike as possible. Anticipation focuses on actions that take place before the main action. For example, before a character kicks a ball, they would swing their leg back first. This goes for many everyday movements your characters might engage in on-screen. 

anticipation is a quality for freelance animators and story tellers

Gif by kirun via Giphy

This technique is excellent for drawing the audience’s attention as well as preparing them for what a character might do next, and you can definitely play with it to make your animation more interesting and engaging. 

17) Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Follow-through and overlapping action are what will create the illusion that your characters and objects follow the basic laws of physics. 

For example, when an animated character moves, all their body parts won’t move together at the exact same speed, and this is where follow-through comes in — certain parts of the character’s body will need to “complete” their movement before coming to a standstill. 

follow through with your animations to make things feel complete

Gif via Skillshare

This is where overlapping action comes into play. When a character with long hair is twirling in a circle, their hair won’t stop at the same time they do. It will continue moving for a fraction of a second longer before coming to a standstill along with the character. 

18) Arcs

Most living beings move in arcs, and if you want your animated characters to look as lifelike as possible, you’ll need to spend plenty of time practicing this technique of animation. Letting characters and objects move in more circular motions will create more natural movements that don’t look mechanical. 

mastering your arcs are how freelance animators can create lifelike movement

Gif via Skillshare

For example, if you have a character turning their head from one direction to another, adding a bit of an arc will move it appear more lifelike. Practicing adding some small rotations to moving characters and objects will bring about an incredibly big change in the way your animation looks. 

You’ll have to play around with speed and timing to get this right, so practice this animation technique. You can check out this YouTube video to get an idea of how to design your own arcs. 

19) Tweening and Shape Tweening

This technique of animation is vital to master if you’d like to create specific animations where one object transforms into another. For example, if you want a rabbit to transform into a wolf seamlessly, you will need two separate keyframes that you’ll set some distance apart. 

tweening and shaping animations are perfect for freelance animators looking to improve their techniques of animation

Gif by CZNL_94 via Giphy

This animation technique requires you to have the animation on a separate layer with a single drawn figure — you can’t have any added symbols or groups. 

Shape tweening will allow you to manipulate certain points within your object or character. This also works great if you want to create certain motions like the movement of a bird’s wings. 

This animation technique is challenging to master and can be time-consuming. An alternative to shape tweening is the classic tween, which allows you to manipulate an object as a whole, but when you want to change the shape of an object, shape tweening is usually your best bet if you can’t achieve a realistic look with other animation techniques. 

20) Master Keyframing

If you prefer working with 3D animation, incorporating this animation technique is important for creating quality and lifelike 3D animation. 

While individual frames all work together to create movement sequences and tell the story, keyframes are the most important because they convey the beginning and end of a movement sequence. The first and last poses need to be the strongest; from there, you fill in the middle with individual frames. 

animators need to practice their freelance animations keyframe

Gif by Puss In Boots via Giphy

The first and last poses need to be attention-grabbing and powerful. This takes practice, so make sure you spend sufficient time on this animation technique. 

21) Use a “Shark Fin”

Another great animation technique for 3D animators is using a curve known as the “shark fin.” This technique is used to create complex and fast-moving facial expressions that include both the eyebrows and lips. 

a shark fin is a guide animators can improve their movement with

Image via Filmora

Practice creating facial expressions within one or two frames — typically, characters move their faces very fast, just like humans do in real life. If the spacing demands it, you can stretch facial expressions across three frames, but practice getting it right in one or two.  

Mastering Techniques of Animation Is Vital When Running a Freelance Animation Business

Now that you know what techniques of animation you need to have in your arsenal to animate faster while creating high-quality and more lifelike animations, you can set aside time to practice the techniques you find the most challenging. 

Remember that the animation techniques you hate the most are likely the ones you need to practice more. 

If you’re a freelance animator trying to set yourself apart from your competitors, making sure you master all of the abovementioned techniques of animation will ensure that you can deliver high-quality, lifelike animation with quick turnaround times — all things prospective clients will take into consideration when they need to choose between hiring you or one of your competitors. 

If you’re ready to take your animation business to the next level but need some guidance, check out our Animation Accelerator Program.

Want to get to know us better first? Check out our free masterclass and download our free marketing handbook. You can also check out our blog post on how to start your own animation studio.

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