Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Business of Animation Logo

Traditional Vs. Digital Animator - What’s The Best Medium?

ben marvazi 2020

Make More Money as an Animator

Check out our FREE TRAINING on How Animators Can Make Over $10,000 Per Month

We've come a long way in the evolution of animation. I mean, can you even believe there was a time when each frame of an animated character was drawn by hand? Well, believe it or not, it happened, and yes, it still happens in some cases. 

People who draw their animation characters by hand are dubbed Traditional Animators. Thanks to the introduction of computers and, of course, animation in computer systems for ushering in the era of Digital Animators.

Traditional animation or classical animation, cel animation, hand-drawn animation, or 2D animation is an animation technique in which each frame is drawn through a traditional medium. It was the dominant form of animation in cinema until computer animation was invented.

And now to the new world of digital animation! Digital animation is the process used by digital animators for digitally generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to moving images.

Digital animation is essentially a successor to stop motion techniques using 3D models and traditional animation techniques using frame-by-frame animation of 2D illustrations.

In this blog post, we examine the medium of traditional animators and digital animators, their differences, similarities, and what each entails.

What's the Difference Between a Traditional & Digital Animator?

Traditional Animation and Traditional Animators
a traditional animation made with charcoal on paper

GIF by katiehammett via GIPHY

A few forms of traditional animations require drawing on celluloid which is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn, traditional animation is a technique where each frame is drawn by hand. It is also called classical or hand-drawn animation.

Did you know that Fantasmagorie was the first animated film in history created using traditional animation by The French caricaturist Émile Cohl in 1908? 

The approach of traditional animation is very fascinating for pencil lovers. A traditional animator draws the characters, layout, and backgrounds on paper. Each drawing in the animation would be slightly different from the one before it and the one following it, creating the illusion of movement.

All the drawings are then fed into plastic cells, filled with paint in the desired colors, and are then photographed one-by-one into an animated sequence on a painted background image. Sounds interesting, don't you think?

Traditional animation also involves the use of plasticine to create incredible animated pieces of characters or backgrounds. This type of animation, known as claymation, uses the technique of stop-motion.

Another form of traditional animation includes flipbook animation, where a small book of drawings conveying a series of pictures in progressing forms of movement in its pages is flipped in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement.

There's also cut-out animation. It is one of the oldest and simplest forms of traditional animation that uses props and scenes cut from materials, such as paper, cards, or fabric. These props are then filmed using stop-motion techniques.

The rise of digital animation has resulted in fewer traditional animations being produced and more digital animators. However, they remain hugely popular; each frame is a reminder of the painstaking hours of labor and is arguably more romantic than their more modern counterpart.

Production Pipeline of Traditional Animation
a sample of a production pipeline for traditional animation

GIF by AlexBoya via GIPHY

The process of creating traditional animations may differ depending on the medium. However, most begin with producing a series of storyboards to map out what the film will look like. These are then synced with the animation's pre-recorded voiceover to ensure that the animators know precisely when a character is speaking. 

Character animators then work on creating model sheets to ensure there is consistency in terms of appearance and movement across the board, with many different animators involved.

Traditional animators move on to draw sequences of animation on transparent pieces of paper, one frame at a time, each frame having to match the voiceovers exactly to avoid discrepancy. What is left after this is to create a video of the animation itself!

All of these drawings are then transferred from paper to a thin, clear sheet of plastic called a cel, short for celluloid. Once a sequence has been loaded onto cels, the photography process begins using special animated cameras, after which the final film is sent for development and processing.

Digital Animation and Digital Animator
a digital animator working on their computer

GIF by Airspeeder via GIPHY

Digital animation, crafted by a digital animator, is the branch of CGI that deals with the production of moving images. Digital animators work with both 2-D and 3-D digital animations to create dazzling imagery and special effects that captivate audiences in blockbuster films such as Frozen, Encanto, Hotel Transylvania, etc.

The majority of the digital animation industry focuses on 3-D animation, favoring a mixture of the keyframing and motion capture techniques as industry-standard methods.

Digital animation encompasses all the animation techniques that are done exclusively with the use of computers. With digital animation, it is possible to do both 2D and 3D animation.

Two-dimensional digital animation often entails virtualization of the conventional two-dimensional animation workspace, bringing pen and paper into the digital environment to redesign cartoon animation workflows and styles. 

Three-dimensional digital animation tends to include a hybrid of workflows following traditional timelines adjusted to working in a virtual three-dimensional space. In 3D animation, everything is done within the computer and exported from the computer.

The point here is this, as long as you are animating on-screen, you are working with digital animation.

Digital animators use computers and other tools to create moving illustrations for films, video games, or commercials. They will often work as part of a team and may be responsible for a very specific aspect of the overall production, such as scenery and background images.

They often use a storyboard to keep the final product in mind while their work is still in the design stages.

Production Pipeline of Digital Animation
an animator working on digital animation

 Image via Blogsdna 

The process of creating digital animation can be sequentially divided into three phases:

Modeling or Pre-production Phase– which describes the process of creating the 3D objects within a scene. Everything that’s going to appear in a 3D animation has to be created or “modeled.” A 3D model is a surface representation of an object created in a 3D environment like 3D software.

Creating a 3D model is probably the starting point for most digital animators and an essential part of the 3D animation production pipeline. Modeling requires careful observation, manipulation, and correction of 3D objects through different attributes of the software.

The pre-production process of 2D animation involves scripting, screenplay, and more. After the animators get the visual direction of the animation from the script, it is then merged with the information from the storyboard to create a sketch of how everything is organized.

Next is the design of the characters, background, props, and all necessary visual effects. After this, the production process can then proceed to the next phase.

Layout and Animation or Production Phase– which describes how objects are positioned and animated within a scene. Animation layout is a central component of the animation storytelling process. Several different elements are contained in the graphic design of animation layouts.

In 2D and 3D animation, the animation layout defines the perspective of the frames by determining what the backgrounds will look like which are then tidied up as rough versions of the animation described as animatics.

Rendering or Post-production Phase – which describes the final output of the completed computer graphics. Rendering is used in both 2D and 3D computer animation. It is the process of getting the final assembled animation scenes or pieces out of the computer in the format of a sequence of individual frames.

Rendering plays a crucial role in every animation studio’s production pipeline. It is the final step of the production phase and one of the most technically complex aspects of 3D production in general, which is closely tied to 3D lighting and VFX procedures.

Since the emergence of 3D rendering technology, different methods have been developed based on various needs, from non-realistic wireframe rendering to advanced realistic ones, with each of these methods being better suited for special purposes.

Pros and Cons of Digital Animators
pros and cons for digital animators

GIF by andrewandpete via GIPHY

Digital animators design graphics created in a 3-dimensional atmosphere and then animated. They turn images in a 360-degree range to get whatever phase is needed for the animation. 

With digital animators being the most sought-after in this age for animation projects, let's examine the actual advantages that they possess.

  • Digital animators have a range of possibilities at their disposal to achieve feats that might not be achievable in 2D or real life.
  • Reuse their designs, conserving both time and supplies.
  • Digital animators are also getting a surge in popularity, making them in high demand as production corporations like Disney, Dream Works, and Pixar have assisted drive the prevalence of 3D animation over all stages.

Anything having an advantage would surely have a disadvantage, and digital animators are not left out. The cons of digital animators are examined next.

  • Digital animators are limited to the tools available in the software in use, making digital animation critical to stylize contrasted to the vast collection of styles that can be made in traditional animation.
  • The software involved in digital animation can be super expensive, especially when handling animations that require detailed effects. Some software requires regular subscriptions before they can be used.
  • Talking about forming a character, arousing a character, attachment of lightning, and creation of surfaces - sounds like a whole lot, right? This is what digital animators have to do before having a glimpse of what the ultimate animation will look like.
  • They often require large storage space and computing power to handle the detailed graphics they are mostly required to design. 
Pros and Cons of Traditional Animators
pros and cons for traditional animators

GIF by Originals via GIPHY

Although, some may tag traditional animators as outdated because they still work with pencil and paper in place of a computer (common, we're in a digital age!). Nevertheless, traditional animators still have their uses which we will discuss next.

  • A pencil-drawn image by a traditional animator often leads to a spontaneous image, full of feelings and emotions that are often difficult to convey with a computer animation program. Such graphics are vital to the early stages of a project when it's being fleshed out. 
  • While CGI images in digital animation can be a part of an animation business branding strategy, much of the work in terms of design is still on paper. Take, for instance; a printed brochure might require a traditional animator and not a digital animator.
  • Traditional animators can also do their thing without requiring any tutorials on how any animation software works because they don't need them. They give less importance to design and focus more on creating masterpieces.

Now, about the cons of traditional animators!

  • The first thing anyone would say when asked about the cons of traditional animators would be that they take a lot (like a lot) of time to draw out each frame of an animation scene which would be very correct. Traditional animators spend a backbreaking time designing every change in the character for every frame of a second.
  • When errors occur, traditional animators need to repeat the whole drawing instead of deleting and correcting a mistake. The repetition of work can become tiresome and time-consuming. 
  • Traditional animators also require several tools and equipment per production. They include drawing tools, tracing tools, and photographic equipment. A large crew of traditional animators is also required to draw the characters, draw backgrounds and shoot photos of the final images, which all drive the production expenses higher.

What do Traditional and Digital Animators have in Common?

digital or traditional, animators are animators

GIF by Rebecca Hendin via GIPHY

  • Traditional and digital animators place still images in sequence to make it seem like they are moving.
  • They create an illusion of motion caused by a rapid succession of images that minimally differ from each other, with unnoticeable interruptions.
  • Although 2D animations can be made by digital animators, they still have the look of animation designed by a traditional animator.

Digital Animator vs. Traditional Animator

whats the difference between a digital animator and traditional animator


Traditional animators use physical materials and activities, while digital animators use virtual materials in a digital space. 

Surely, everyone wants a means through which things, even animation, can be executed quickly. However, traditional animators spend more time drawing each frame, and mistakes can be easily made. But digital animators use (sometimes expensive) software to make the visuals more realistic in quite a short time.

Let's talk about the cost of production needed for working with traditional and digital animators. When working with traditional animators, the cost of production is very much higher compared to when digital animators are on board. This is because of the tools involved in the production of traditional animation. Digital animators using just computer software remove the need for many extra tools used in traditional animation.

Now that you have an insight into the world of a digital animator and a traditional animator, you can now decide on the most suitable medium required for your animation business. 

If you’re ready to take your animation business to the next level, do well to check out our free masterclass videos, download a copy of our free marketing handbook to help grow your animation business and career, and have a look at our blog on "How to Start an Animation Studio"!

rocket for boa

Lacking Business Skills as an Animator?

Transform your animation skills into a profitable business with our expert-led free training.
Business of Animation Footer Logo
Helping Animators Succeed

Feeling Stuck in Your Animation Career? Learn How to Break the $10,000 Per Month Barrier!

crossmenuchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram