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The Secret Technique to Efficiently Animating 2D Characters

ben marvazi 2020

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“Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.”

Peter Drucker, Author
there are many ways to break down efficiently animating 2d characters

Image by Anders Norén via Duduf

2D character animation is a fun and exciting process involving combining various pictures of different widths and heights to create the illusion of movement when there is none in a two-dimensional world without any depth.

Animating characters in 2D can be laborious to master for an animator, and you can quickly become more efficient by understanding your current animation workflow process and acknowledging what works and doesn't.

2D animation is strongly present in marketing functions; commercials, TV shows, movies, and video games often use 2D animations, and animation software enables animators to create and animate 2D characters quickly and orderly.

This blog sheds light on the secret technique to efficiently animating 2D characters, including the 12 animation principles and the animation software animators use when animating 2D characters through an efficient animation pipeline.

12 Principles Of Animation For Animating 2D Characters Quickly

In "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation," Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas introduce the 12 principles of animation by investigating iconic and timeless animations from the 1930s onwards.

The 12 animation principles form the basis of almost all animation work. Though they are most purposeful in animating characters in 2D, these rules are invaluable for character design and introducing motion into an animation scene.

12 principles of animation are essential for efficiently animating 2d characters

Image by Christopher Totten via Game Developer

1. Squash and Stretch

The squash and stretch principle gives animated characters and objects the semblance of gravity, elasticity, mass, and flexibility. Consider how a bouncing rubber ball reacts when tossed; the ball stretches while in the projectile state and squishes when it touches an object.

When using squash and stretch in 2D character animation, an animator should remember to keep the object's volume consistent, e.g., to resemble thinness when stretching, and flattening it reflects more width.

2. Anticipation

Anticipation prepares the viewer and makes a 2D animation character’s actions more realistic.

Consider how unnatural it would appear if you were to throw a ball without first pulling your arm back. Similarly, follow this animation principle to create organic movements in animation when animating characters in 2D. 

3. Staging

Staging in 2D animation means using motion to guide the viewer's eye, draw attention, and maintain focus on what's important within the scene, keeping everything of non-importance to a minimum.

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose

There are two approaches to handling drawing 2D animation, and the two approaches are often combined. Straight-ahead action follows drawing frame-by-frame to present fluid and realistic movements from start to finish.

The pose-to-pose technique gives animators more control within the scene. An animator draws the beginning frame, the end frame, and a few key frames in-between, then go back and completes the rest, increasing the dramatic effect of the motion.

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

Different parts of a 2D character stop at different rates when coming to a halt after being in motion. Similarly, they move at different paces while in motion to make an animation flow realistically.

The different rates at which a 2D character's arms and legs move describes the overlapping action and follow through is observable in the character's hair moving for a few more frames before coming to rest.

6. Slow In and Slow Out

Think about the inertia of how a car accelerates and decelerates. The vehicle moves slowly before gaining momentum, and the reverse happens upon braking. When animating characters in 2D animation, animators give objects more life with this effect by adding more frames at the beginning and end of an animation sequence.

7. Arc

remember to follow the animation principle of arcs when animating 2d characters

GIF by Kayleigh via Pinterest

When creating 2D animation, the laws of physics guide objects to follow an arc or a path when they move, and animation movements should reflect that arc to make animations more lifelike. For example, a ball thrown into the air organically follows an arc as the effects of gravity act upon it.

8. Secondary Action

Secondary actions support the principal action going on within a scene, adding more dimension to 2D character animations and objects. For instance, the subtle movement of an animation character's hair as they walk.

9. Timing

Animators imitate the natural world in 2D animations by focusing on timing. The correct timing controls the mood and the reaction of the animated characters and objects.

A 2D character animation moving quicker or slower than it inherently would in the real world is not believable. However, 2D animation is about creating an imaginary world, so consistency is vital even when exceeding boundaries.

10. Exaggeration

2D animations mesmerize when the animator animating characters in 2D uses unique animation styles for exaggeration to make them more dynamic and less actual. Realism can cause a 2D animation to appear static and bland.

11. Solid Drawing

Consistency is commendable when drawing and considering form, anatomy, lights and shadows, and weight and volume. 2D animation is boundless, giving an animator creative freedom, but if the world has a warped perspective, that perspective should remain throughout the entire animation.

12. Appeal

Animating characters in 2D needs to have appeal and include an easy-to-read design, solid drawing, and personality. Appealing character development and storytelling through animation are significant feats of this principle.

The Insider Secret Technique To Animating 2D Characters Efficiently

its much more efficient animating 2d characters following these rules

GIF by WhatsInside via Tenor

By refining their animation workflow process, animators can significantly reduce the hours spent animating characters in 2D, helping them become more efficient and professional.

Animation software is present in every stage of the animation production pipeline, including pre-production, production, and post-production, to improve the efficiency of animating 2D characters.

On the other hand, animators transform their current systems to improve the efficiency and the quality of their 2D character animations at every stage of the animation production workflow.

7 Simple Ways To Efficiently Animating 2D Characters

The secret technique to efficiently animating 2D characters includes strategies to maximize workflow efficiency while multitasking through researching, conceptualizing, styling, creating a storyboard, animating, adding after-effects, and ending the animation creation process.

Below is a closer look at how a more efficient workflow benefits animating characters in 2D.

1. Conduct Thorough Research

As an animator, one of the crucial activities when animating characters in 2D is to realize what 2D animation to create and for whom. Grasping the animation style, script, and storyboard quickly shortens the pre-production stage.

Pre-production takes significant time from the project, so starting with efficient systems sets the groove for the rest of the animation workflow and improves an animator's work efficiency.

A comprehensive creative brief is an incredible tool to streamline the process of understanding the requirements for a 2D animation project.

2. Develop The Exact Concept and Script Early 

Gaps and uncertainties in the initial concept result in inefficiencies further along the animation pipeline. Animators should clarify the animation concept after the creative brief when animating characters in 2D.

A 2D animator brings the animation's creative vision and brand considerations together in the animation video's script. Efficiency at this point involves thoroughly scrutinizing the animation script and story through several editing rounds.

3. Adopt An Animation Style

Animating characters in 2D takes shape when an animator selects the animation style to define the creative vision of the animation. The research findings and animation concept help an animator realize the style suitable for the 2D character animation.

own your animation style to efficiently animate

GIF by Big Little Lies via Giphy

4. Optimize Integration Using Storyboards

The creative and technical aspects of 2D character animation lie in the storyboard, which is invaluable for integrating the animation. Developing an efficient storyboard streamlines the animation workflow process.

After pre-production, the storyboard reflects the animation script and style during the production stage. This flow lets the storyboard center around the animation objectives from the beginning and reduces the need for edits later.

5. Tailor Make Your Workflow Process To Suit You

Probably the most practical secret technique to efficiently animating 2D characters involves you, the animator. An animator can employ their preferred working tools to maximize efficiency in the animation workflow process.

Joining an animation community and learning other animators' working styles is a quick way for an animator to grasp their working style and choose an efficient animation production approach that complements their skills.

Below are some animation production approaches helpful for animators to realize their working style. 

  • Pose-To-Pose focuses on pose development.
  • Straight Ahead considers scenes from a frontal perspective.
  • Layered animation is done separately on the x, y, and z axes before layering.
  • Sketch Blocking includes sketching most of the detail by hand before copying it to a computer.
  • Reference Blocking uses previously developed poses as a reference for future poses.
  • Extremes is similar to the layered approach but with much more added detail.

6. Add The Sound To The Visuals

Following the animation-workflow process can help the animator select suitable sound effects and music relevant to the 2D animation video and different 2D character animations with no strain.

7. Reflect On Your Animation Workflow

Efficiently animating characters in 2D is a continuous cycle of analysis and action requiring professional development that understands the benefit of efficiency in 2D character animation.

At the end of post-production, an animator can improve the efficiency of their future 2D character animations by reflecting on their workflow after the final edit and video backup.

How The Animation Pipeline Makes Animating 2D Characters Simple

the right animation pipeline will make animating 2d characters more efficient

GIF by Oliver Oldfield-Hodge via Featureflow

The animation production pipeline usually involves three parts to produce a 2D animation in the most efficient method. Animators animating characters in 2D follow the animation pipeline to keep an animation project on par with the initial goals set, allocate resources efficiently, assess risk, and communicate transparently.

Pre-Production Stage

An animator can write the animation script to set the screenplay from the onset but needs to determine the 2D characters and movements to draw to improve efficiency by assessing the script with a visual perspective.


The animation conceptualization helps animators know how the 2D animation will look and prepares for much of what happens during the production stage.

Character and Asset Design

This process includes creating character and asset models during 2D character animation, including the backgrounds, props, and other types of visual effects.

The secret technique to efficiently animating 2D characters is keeping 2D character animations organized as assets and animating them in groups to save time and increase efficiency as an animator.

Animatic Reel

Sequencing shots, images, or sketches in the animatic process reveals a glimpse into the final 2D animation and contributes to 2D character animation efficiency by acting as the precursor to the final product.

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Production Stage

Asset Production

Animators create digital assets using animation technologies at this point in the production pipeline to transform the storyboard into a 2D animation.

Audio Substitution

The audio phase involves recording voiceover artists, dialogue, and audio in time to import them into the animation project before animating characters in 2D.

For the audio process to work efficiently, the animator needs to animate the mouths and expressions of the 2D characters with an accurate sound breakdown following a detailed timeline.


Animators work on the character they’ve designed, the scenes in which the 2D character animation appears, and all the in-between frames for each animation scene. 

In-betweening makes the animation scene look realistic and flow fluidly, while character designing involves animating every layer the 2D character requires and the background in which the character resides.

Special Effects

Animators efficiently animating 2D characters can create more depth and realism by adding, removing, or enhancing 2D character animations that interact with the scene to illuminate an animation scene.

Sometimes animators can explore unique processes rather than drawing or rendering special effects, for example, filming rain against a black background and superimposing it over the 2D animation.

Post-Production Stage

Ink and Paint

Animators animating 2D characters can utilize animation software to increase efficiency while scanning, coloring, and processing the drawings, instead of hand-painting them.


Importing the 2D character animation, audio, colored background, and all the visual elements into a single image lets compositing illuminate all the parts of one scene.

As the animator, you create the camera movements and motions and add the digital effects for each scene, including shadows, tones, and highlightings.


After rendering the animation scene as a movie or image sequence, final edits and revisions are necessary, including editing the sound effects and recordings of the final product.

How Do Animation Software Compare In Animating 2D Characters

some animation software specialize in creating quality animation

GIF by Cuttherope via Tenor

1. Adobe Animate is a 2D animation software for games, film, and use on the web.


  • Create new poses for vector images or figures
  • Arrange layers in a parent-child hierarchy
  • Automatically match mouth poses to voice inflections
  • Export 360 VR animations

2. SketchBook is a 2D animation application offering more than 140 brushes animators can use to design 2D character animations with unlimited layers that animators can blend.


  • Draw basic shapes
  • Fill color into artwork
  • Import or export layers as a Photoshop Document (PSD)

3. Doratoon is a free animation software and cognitive 2D animation tool providing animators with iconic options for efficiently animating 2D characters and videos and using effects to make them look professional.


  • Design drawings automatically with AI Intelligent Drawing
  • Animation effects to enhance the 2D animation video outlook

4. Synfig is an open-source 2D animation software that works on Windows, OSX, and Linux.


  • Animators can link parameters of layers through mathematical expressions
  • Provides more than 50 layers to create animation

5. Animaker is one of the best online 2D animation software, providing several 2D character animations and properties.


  • Has 200 sound effects and 100 background tracks to choose from
  • Record direct voice recordings
  • Export 2D animated video in full HD quality

6. Cartoon Animator enables animators to turn images to control and animated characters to generate lip sync animation from audio.


  • Capture facial motion
  • Convert photoshop layers into 2D character animation
  • Create interactive compound animations

7. Krita is a straightforward 2D animation tool that allows animators to customize their workflow with more than 100 professionally made brushes.


  • Create comic panels using built-in vector drawing tools
  • Create seamless textures and patterns by making image reference on the x and y-axis
  • Import texture and brush packs from other artists

8. Pencil2D is easy to use and lightweight for 2D hand-drawn animation and allows animators to sketch ink and paint on the go.


  • Operates on Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems
  • Freely for commercial purposes
  • Provides support for TIFF format (Tagged Image File Format)

9. Opentoonz is compatible with four types of scanning and allows animators to scan settings.


  • Easy way to paint with provisional colors
  • Synthesize effects with the Graphic User Interface
  • Compatible with both raster and vector images

10. Blender is excellent for developing visual effects, and the 2D computer graphics software application allows animators to import or export videos in several file formats.


  • Provides Python API for scripting and customization
  • Provides a path tracer for realistic rendering
  • Create, transform, sculpt, and edit character models

11. Moho Pro is a 2D animation system that combines professional tools with animation technology, allowing animators to create unique textures and effects for the 2D character animations.


  • See better object previews during camera manipulations
  • Search using subwords, keywords, and Boolean operations
  • Create traditional animations by combining Bitmap Tools with frame-by-frame layers.

How To Be Efficient Animating 2D Characters

Animating characters in 2D offers a unique and efficient way to bring 2D characters to life, with the 12 basic animation principles being the foundation of 2D character animation.

This blog uncovers the secret technique to efficiently animating 2D characters by keeping cognisant of the 12 basic animation principles and the seven ways an animator can improve animating 2D characters more efficiently.

The animation pipeline makes animating 2D characters simply by using efficient processes and software while keeping the animation organized to save time and increase efficiency as an animator.

Visit our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio,  and check out the Business of Animation free masterclass to grow your animation skills. Join the animation accelerator program to know how to start and grow a successful freelance animation career or studio.

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