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Why Freelance Animators Should Use Frame-by-Frame Animation

ben marvazi 2020

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“Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn.” 

Norman McLaren

Whether you’ve been a freelance animator for years or are just starting out, you’ve probably heard about frame-by-frame animation. This classic animation technique harkens back to the golden days when Walt Disney brought iconic characters like “Mickey Mouse,” “Snow White,” and “Pinocchio” to life.

With such a rich history and a track record of commercial success, frame-by-frame animation commands respect in the animation world. However, for many freelance animators, the question lingers: Is it a style worth exploring and integrating into your own work?

In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of frame-by-frame animation, examining its merits and potential drawbacks. By the end, you'll have a clearer understanding of whether incorporating frame-by-frame animation into your freelance projects is the right choice for your animation business.

What Is Frame-By-Frame Animation?

The concept of frame-by-frame animation is fairly simple: It refers to animation that is literally animated one frame at a time, hence the name “frame-by-frame.” 

It is the opposite of rigging – a very popular animation technique – as well as tweening, which is when animators create or generate movement in-between frames when animating in 2D. Frame-by-frame animation is usually reserved for specific types of animations. 

2 frames of frame by frame animation as seen in a flipbook

Gif by Justin Gammon via Giphy

Think stop motion animations or animations that are hand-drawn – these are the styles that benefit most from frame-by-frame animation.

This technique does what every other animation technique is intended to do: It produces an illusion of movement. Various keyframes have very small, incremental changes that, when put together, create a sequence of movements. 

It’s very similar to cel animation, where animators draw each small movement in a sequence on a separate piece of paper or transparent plastic.

Frame-by-frame animation is one of the oldest animation techniques. During the 20th century, frame-by-frame was the only animation technique available to animators, and it still has its place in the animation industry today.  

Why Do Animators Still Use Frame-by-Frame Animation?

You might wonder why animators still spend time utilizing frame-by-frame animation now that they have significant technological advancements at their disposal. 

why do some people still use frame by frame animation

Gif by Hey Arnold via Giphy

It might feel like using frame-by-frame animation doesn’t make sense at all in our era, but as it turns out, frame-by-frame animation isn’t going anywhere any time soon. In fact, it’s probably a technique that will stick around forever, and here’s why:

It’s a Very Traditional Animation Technique

Using frame-by-frame animation is the only way to recreate the look of old, hand-drawn animated films. 

classic disney animations made use of frame by frame animations

Gif by Disney via Giphy

Frame-by-frame animation allows animators to capture the traditional qualities of older animated films, which, let’s be honest, is something all of us love to see in today’s digital era. 

It’s the Most Practical Method for Some Animation Styles

Believe it or not, some animation styles that are popular today, like rotoscoping and stop-motion animation, can only be created by using the frame-by-frame animation technique. 

Different Types of Frame-By-Frame Animation

Frame-by-frame animation can be utilized for various types of animation freelance animators are confronted with when working with clients. 

You might be surprised at how many styles of animation utilize frame-by-frame animation. Let’s have a look at some of the popular animation styles of today that require this technique. 

Rotoscope Animation

Rotoscoping (sometimes referred to as recycling animations) was incredibly popular in Disney films and is still a technique used to this day. 

Rotoscoping basically means that animators utilize previously animated footage for a new project or draw over live-action footage to create lifelike animations. 

rotoscope animation is a form of frame by frame animation

Gif by Marianna via Giphy

They usually do this to save time or because the sequence worked really well. Then they’d copy that sequence and draw the new characters over it frame-by-frame. 

Rotoscoping is one of the best ways to make animations appear incredibly lifelike, and animators need to have mastered the frame-by-frame animation technique in order to do rotoscoping successfully. 

Stop Motion Animation

This is probably one of the animation styles that are the most time-consuming but also the most rewarding. 

Stop motion animation gives life to inanimate objects, and in order to achieve that you need to utilize frame-by-frame animation. 

stop motion animation is done frame by frame

Gif by cintascotch via Giphy

In this case, the object would be moved in very small increments and each of those tiny movements would be shot as a separate frame. 

This can serve as a great style for some animation clients’ projects because it’s a little out of the ordinary. 

Flipbook Animation

This style of animation is probably what you first think of when you hear the words “frame-by-frame animation.” 

each page in flipbook animation acts a frame of animation

Gif by TraceLoops via Giphy

This is one of the oldest forms of animation where animators drew the separate frames for a movement sequence on a different page of a book. When flipping through the pages, they could see the movement sequence they’ve created.

Traditional Animation

Traditional animation primarily refers to animation that is created by drawing the animation by hand, one frame at a time. 

It’s also sometimes referred to as cel animation. Cel animation gets its name from the transparent plastic these 2D animations are drawn on, which is also known as cels.  One side of the plastic would be utilized for the outline of the animation while the other would be used to add color. 

old movies were made in cel animations aka traditional animation

Gif by Disney via Giphy

Then, animators would place these cels over a background of their choice and photograph them in sequence to create movement patterns. This was the style and technique that dominated the 20th century. All of Dinsey’s early films utilized it. 

Traditional animation was incredibly time-consuming in the past. Animators had to draw each frame from scratch and their drawing skills had to be on point in order for the sequence to turn out well. 

These days, technology makes it much easier to replicate traditional animation since computers help animators to reuse previous frames and alter them to create a frame-by-frame sequence. This makes it easier for freelance animators to recreate this style for clients. 

Advantages of Frame-By-Frame Animation

While you might want to shy away from frame-by-frame animation because of the skills and time it requires, you should take its advantages into account first. 

Running your own freelance animation business means that you need to be a jack of all trades. You constantly need to set yourself apart in the industry so you can stand out among your competitors and being able to do frame-by-frame animation might just become the secret sauce that makes you a sought-after freelance animator.

Frame-By-Frame Animation Helps to Create Dreamlike Animations

Dreamlike animations in this case refer to the typical animated films that Disney produced in its early years. Many animation studios still make use of frame-by-frame animation simply because it creates the same look Disney became famous for. 

People experience a feeling of nostalgia when they see it, and your animation, even though it’s been made in the 21st century, will carry the same quality as that of the Disney classics when you utilize this technique. 

frame by frame animations create life like movement

Gif by For the Love of Disney via Giphy

Frame-by-frame animation is a great skill to have if you want to specialize in creating animations that stand out. Your clients will surely be impressed, and you’ll attract even more clients who are looking to produce projects that mimic that rare Disney quality. 

Frame-By-Frame Animation Provides You With More Control

Using frame-by-frame animation is one of the best ways to have complete creative control over your sequences. Instead of relying on a computer to resemble some of your own personal styles, you can create and incorporate it into sequences yourself, ensuring the animation looks, moves, and behaves exactly the way you want it to. 

frame by frame animations help animators have more control

Gif by Garfield via Giphy

As a bonus, frame-by-frame animation also allows animators to have more control over the characters’ movements, ensuring that it’s as accurate and fluid as it can be. 

In short: Frame-by-frame animation will help you create the exact picture you have in your mind, which is a great perk, especially if you have clients with very specific requests. Utilizing frame-by-frame animation will ensure that your clients are happy with what you create.

You Can Let Your Creativity Run Wild

Because frame-by-frame animation allows you to have control over every aspect of the animation you create, you can really allow your imagination to run wild and create exactly what you envision – whether that be specific movement sequences or character traits and design. 

frame by frame animations allow more creativity

Gif by Buffalo is Creative via Giphy

If you can imagine it, you can create it with frame-by-frame animation. This means that, when your animation clients want something very specific, you give them exactly what they envision. There’s no better way to satisfy a client than by giving them exactly what they want. 

Frame-By-Frame Animation Is a Traditional Style of Animation

No matter what technological advancements are invented for animation in the future, frame-by-frame animation will forever have its place in the industry, and this is simply because it is what the first animations were built on. 

People instantly recognize it, and thanks to the fact that it’s still one of the methods that allow animators the most creative freedom, it will most likely continue to be utilized as long as the animation industry continues to exist. 

classic disney animations like snow white are traditional frame by frame animations

Gif by Disney Princess via Giphy

For freelance animators, being able to animate using this traditional style can be of incredible value. You can do freelance work at studios working on films that utilize this style and can provide unique and quality animations to your clients. The opportunities are truly endless. 

You’ll also definitely get some brownie points for being able to do this more difficult type of animation, and it can serve as a great advertisement for your animation business. 

Disadvantages of Frame-By-Frame Animation

While frame-by-frame animation has incredible perks, there are some downsides you’ll have to deal with when you decide to use this technique for your own animations. 

It’s important to keep these disadvantages in mind when you are considering doing frame-by-frame animation for a client.

Frame-By-Frame Animation Takes Up a Lot of Time

When you’re a freelance animator, time is money, and you need to do as much as you can in as little time as possible, especially if you have plenty of animation clients. 

Frame-by-frame animation takes up a lot of time. This is because it requires you to create each frame separately and pay incredibly close attention to fine detail. There’s also the revision process to keep in mind. If you use this animation style, you need to ready yourself for a very lengthy revision process. 

frame by frame animation is a time consuming method of animating

Gif by Stephen Maurice Graham via Giphy

Fixing mistakes won’t take a few minutes or hours, it might take days. This is because scenes that are a bit wonky, so to speak, would need to be re-drawn or re-produced and then shot all over again to create the full sequence. 

If you opt to use frame-by-frame animation for a client, make sure you allocate enough time to the project so you can still easily meet your deadlines and have time to work on other clients’ projects.

Frame-By-Frame Animation Can Be Very Expensive

If you prefer to do frame-by-frame animation or even decided to make that your niche for your freelance animation business, you need to keep in mind that it will be costly when you start out. 

frame by frame animation can be costly due to the work needed to animate

Gif by totally radical 80s via Giphy

Despite taking up a lot of time, frame-by-frame animation requires specific materials and animation equipment. You might need things like photographic equipment and tracing tools, and they don’t come cheap. You might also want to invest in software that can produce frame-by-frame animation like Animate CC, TVPaint, or Moho, among others.   

Of course, if you want to invest that money into your animation business, you can go right ahead. Just make sure that your margins allow for it. You might even make the money back within a year or two, depending on the number of clients you take on. 

It Doesn’t Always Look Realistic

While frame-by-frame animation is great for controlling characters’ movements and appearances to a T, it’s not always the best method to use when you want to create animations that mimic the look typically associated with live-action footage, except if you use rotoscoping. 

if done incorrectly, frame by frame animation may look unrealistic

Gif by Walt Disney Studios via Giphy

Even though rotoscoping requires a lot of time and skill, it does deliver beautiful, lifelike animations. However, if you’re short on time, you can utilize a technique like digital rigging, since it can replicate live-action footage pretty well. 

If a client specifically asked for animation that has the look of live-action, and you’re short on time, you’d be better off leaving frame-by-frame animation for another project it’s better suited to.

Why Frame-by-Frame Animation Is Here to Stay

If you started out reading this blog post thinking that frame-by-frame animation is reserved for the “old guys” working at Disney, you now know that that is most definitely not the case.

Frame-by-frame animation can add some flair and flavor to any freelance animator's business. It is a respected style of animation and mastering it can set you apart from your competitors in the freelance animation industry. 

While frame-by-frame animation is still a sought-after style, it’s important to take the pros and cons into consideration before you decide to utilize it for an animation project. When you do decide to use it, make sure you have the right equipment and set out enough time to complete the animation project with plenty of time to spare. 

Frame-by-frame animation remains an incredible skill to have and will most likely continue to be a part of the animation industry for decades to come. 

If you’re ready to set yourself apart from your competitors and want to learn more about how to start your own freelance animation business and make it a raving success, you’ll definitely benefit from our Animation Accelerator Program

If you’re still hesitant to jump in, you can watch our free masterclass and download our free marketing handbook to get you started. We also have a blog post you can check out on how to start your own animation studio.

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