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Whether you are drawing, writing or directing for animation, it is always a benefit to think that we have endless possibilities to express our ideas with animation. It is a privilege that live-action filmmakers do not have. Paul Wells, animation historian and theorist, researched and listed the techniques and ways that can be implemented in animation. From his years of research and studying animated films and shorts he listed down below. Below are a handful of methods that are common in award-winning features and shorts that convey ideas through animation.

Metamorphosis – the ability to change one form to another without editing. It is one of the earliest animation techniques to be explored since Emile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie (1908) where we see the main character going through from one scene to another through morphing lines and shapes – flowing and continuous like a stream of consciousness.


Life is Flashing Before Your Eyes (1992) by Vince Collins – A metamorphosis sequence showing the two masks morphing as they merge into a person’s fingers clasped together.

Condensation – the method of conveying concisely with a minimum of imagery. Imagine that you have a story to tell about someone’s life- with live-action, it would probably take more than three hours to screen the person’s highlights of his/her life. With animation, however, the director can compress the events even further and animate what the overall experience (or theme) of that person’s life as short as ten minutes because animators can illustrate the metaphor of the person’s story. Condensation comes in many forms and appearances.

father and daughter

Father and Daughter (2000) by Michaël Dudok de Wit – An example of condensation – a progression showing the daughter yearning for her father’s return throughout her life.

Anthropomorphism – the act of establishing human traits on animals, objects and environments. Famous examples include Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Spongebob all of which have characteristics marked by human traits, physically and mentally. Anthropomorhism is a way of simplifying characterization so that they can convey themes and ideas through their inherent appearance. However, anthropomorphism is not necessarily associated with talking animals or other organic forms – they can come as environment as well. Such is the case for Teddy Newton’s Day and Night.


Day and Night (2010) by Teddy Newton: Two different times – Day and Night, are poking fun each other’s perks for day and night time. These two time zones are anthropomorphic for that they project human traits that we can empathize with.

Fabrication – The physical and material creation of imaginary figures and spaces. Animation demands filmmakers to visualize beyond the reality – hence, fabricating the world from the director’s vision. With the aesthetics and art direction carefully designed, audiences can be immersed in the world the animator intends to portray.

on departure

On Departure (2014) by Eoin Duffy implements flat, graphical elements of the background to contrast the round, three-dimensional protagonist. The film portrays the personal journey of the director’s younger brother.

Penetration – the visualization of psychological/physical/technical ‘interiors.’ Imagine grabbing and knife and slice the building to see what the people are doing inside. Flat Life and Inner Workings are examples of penetration where the audiences see what’s happening inside the building and the body respectively. A famous example would be Pixar’s Inside Out where the film visualize the psychological interior of a character.

inner workings

Inner Workings (2016) directed by Leonardo Matsuda portrays the relationship between the protagonist’s brain and heart. The audiences see how the brain and the heart work together to get the rest of the body functioning.

These are only a handful of animation techniques that are commonly used in animated shorts and feature films. The versatility of the medium allows animators and filmmakers to explore the best possible way to express their ideas.

“Professor Paul Wells is Director of the Animation Academy, a research group dedicated to cutting edge engagement with Animation and related moving image practices. Paul is an internationally established scholar, screenwriter and director, having published widely in Animation and Film Studies, and written and directed numerous projects for theatre, radio, television and film.”
“His works include Understanding Animation (London: Routledge), Animation and America (Rutgers University Press), The Fundamentals of Animation (Lausanne: AVA), and The Animated Bestiary: Animals, Cartoons and Culture (Rutgers University Press), now all standard texts in the study, practice and research of animation as a field. His work also embraces collaborative texts, including Drawing for Animation (Lausanne: AVA) with master animator, Joanna Quinn, and Re-Imagining Animation (Lausanne: AVA) with Johnny Hardstaff, leading graphic designer and film-maker with Ridley Scott Associates. ”

Win Leerasanthanah is an animator from Bangkok, Thailand, currently based in Los Angeles. Recently graduated with MFA in Animation at SCAD, he is the youngest contributing artist to the collaborative art book project Thai Folk Wisdom, and has been involved in several animation organizations, including working for ASIFA-South as an animation intern and SIGGRAPH as a student volunteer. He currently works for The Third Floor, Inc. as a Previs Shot Creator through the Apprenticeship Program.

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