I’ve been trying to study the styles of animation from quite long time, but couldn’t actually found some core material on it. So I decided to write an article by my own. I have gone through lot of animation materials, so I am jotting it all down here by adding my own view point towards it.
Visual appeal of the movie depends on the character design, style of animation, cinematography, etc. Character designs can be realistic, semi realistic, caricatured, etc. Same way animation also differs in styles like semi real, real, hyper real, cartoony/snappy, stylized and limited animation. The style of animation depends mainly on the subject matter of the movie, director’s choice and the medium for display. Animation director’s concern is to get the idea right through the motion. Basic understanding about styles of animation will increase our knowledge.

Styles of animation:

Semi-Realistic Animation:

The idea of animation is not to make things real but believable. We take references for movement from real life but in many cases director wants to accentuate some idea or exaggerate some action to get registration or wants some gag to produce out of it. So we are snapping some actions or making it look bit more cartoony. For example Shrek. In this movie the movements feels real except from some shots. I remember one when Fiona is fighting with guards. She is having The Matrix movement (trinity’s pose, with camera rotate 90 degrees). Is timed cartoony where Fiona kicks the guard in just couple of frames. Overall the style of animation for the movie is semi-real.


The character’s movements will feel real here. This mostly gained with the help of motion capture. Here the devices are used to capture the motion & later animators are there to clean it up for the production. Many times in realistic motion character feels stiff. If the director is very fussy about the actions or one is making movie on subtle topics, they don’t want to exaggerate the actions much. That’s why most of the fairy tales, mythological movies are realistic in motion. Movies like The Polar express, Final Fantasy, Barbie movies etc. Many 2D movies are having realistic actions too like Prince of Egypt. Directors don’t want to make it cartoony because it will lose the sincerity of the movie. Again this is a choice one can make it cartoony & hold the subtlety of the subject. 

Hyper Realistic:

Taking it beyond realistic motions. Audience will see muscle level animation here which is not easily visible in real life. Energy level of the characters will differ then real. The character designs for this style are unique too. Usually this includes characters which are not seen in real life but director wants them to come alive on the screen like creatures, dinosaurs, dragons, Aliens. Lots of animation & dynamics are used to make them believable on screen. People believe those actions & enjoys because of their hyper details. These are the best examples of hyper real, The Incredible Hulk, Avatar… Hyper detailing in these movies will not look foolish or cartoony but will add the appeal and strength. 

Cartoony Animation/ Snappy Animation:

Some movie did attempt to achieve 2D feel with CG puppets. We all have seen Tom and Jerry and loved it too. This type of animation in 3D is cartoony or snappy animation. For example Madagascar, over the hedge, etc… These movies attempted to get that old classic animation feel in 3D and they succeed too. Over all style is snappy but all characters don’t move fast or snap in same rate, they behave according to their personality. In the movie over the hedge I remember human characters are moving differently & that little squirrel behaves differently, of course because of their characteristics. but idea for motion was exaggerated to add that cartoony effect.

Stylized Animation:

Stylized animation is like adding cherry on top of the cake. Pixar guys are experts on this. They take real performance and make it worth pound. i.e. by adding and exaggerating animation principles on top of the original videotaped realistic performance. The best examples are Ratatouille, Horton… You will see lots of squash and stretch and arc… in almost all parts of the body in the character, where in realistic you won’t see much of it. We do see that these movements and actions can’t be true in real life, we are watching CG puppets but we do believe them and enjoy their performance on the screen. Exaggerating the real and adding more entertainment value to it by playing with the animation tools (principles.) To exaggerate motion to the extent which creates an animation style, need great sense of design.

Limited Animation:

This applies to 2D animation only. As a rule not more than 6 drawings are produced for one second of animation. Limited animation requires almost as much skill on the part of the animator as full animation, since they must create an illusion of motion in limited drawings. Examples are old series of Flint stones, Yogi bear, Manga anim etc… Here repetitions of the actions are acceptable. Timings for hold are increased. Many times we see character delivering dialogues with stiff body (single pose) & mouth opening and closing. 

Article by

Vikram Pandya

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