What is Animation? Its Types, Examples and History

Published: October 11, 2023

Animation comes from the Latin word “anima,” meaning “breath” or “soul.” And just like the breath of life, animation can give motion and meaning to still images. But is it just really the answer to what is animation? Absolutely not!

From early hand-drawn cartoons to the sophisticated 3D animations we see in blockbuster movies today, animation ideas have come a long way. Its purpose has evolved from simple entertainment to a vital tool in various industries, such as education and training, medical and scientific visualization.

But who created the first animated motion picture to lead the way? The honor goes to French artist and inventor Charles-Emile Reynaud, who invented the Praxinoscope in 1877

The Praxinoscope was a device that projected images in quick succession to create the illusion of motion, and Reynaud used it to create the first animated film, “Pauvre Pierrot,” in 1892.

However, animation has a much longer history that dates to ancient civilizations like Egypt and Greece, where people created optical illusions by painting sequential images on a spinning disc.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what animation is, animation facts, its fascinating history, and the different types and techniques used in creating it, amongst other things.

Whether you’re an animation student or simply curious about this art form, this article aims to provide a comprehensive guide that will deepen your understanding and appreciation of animation. So, let’s dive in!

What is Animation?

Looking at the literal definition of animation, it is a technique that brings images to life and creates the illusion of motion. It involves creating a series of individual frames or images and then playing them back rapidly to create the impression of movement. 

Animation has enabled storytellers to convey complex ideas and emotions using creative approaches that might not be possible with live-action films. It provides a powerful way to convey abstract concepts, tell engaging stories, and create memorable characters that capture our imaginations.

define animation

From hand-drawn animation to sophisticated computer-generated imagery, animation has become an integral part of our cultural landscape and continues to evolve and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

What are the Different Types of Animation?

Now that we have understood what animation is let us explore the types of animations briefly. You can always check out our detailed blogs on types of animations

  1. Traditional Animation
  2. 2D animation 
  3. 3D Animation (CGI)
  4. Motion Graphics
  5. Stop Motion

1. Traditional Animation

traditional animation

Traditional animation is the original form of animation, where each frame is drawn by hand. It involves creating a series of individual drawings, which are then photographed individually to create the illusion of motion.

An example of traditional animation is the classic Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. The film was entirely hand-drawn, with each frame being meticulously crafted by a team of animators. 

2. 2D animation 


2D animation, specifically vector-based animation, involves creating animations using digital software that allows animators to draw images using vector graphics.

This type of animation has become increasingly popular due to its flexibility and ease of use. Check out our best 2D animation courses to further your understanding of vectors and their importance!

An example of 2D animation is the popular television show The Simpsons. The show has been on the air since 1989.

3. 3D Animation (CGI) 


3D animation, also known as computer-generated imagery (CGI), is a technique that involves creating three-dimensional objects and characters using digital software. This technique enables animators to create highly realistic and detailed animations that can be viewed from any angle. 

3D animation is commonly used in movies, video games, and other forms of digital media. Given its popularity, we suggest that you check out the best 3D animation courses if this piques your interest.

An example of 3D animation is the Pixar film Toy Story. The film, which was released in 1995, was the first feature-length film to be entirely computer-animated

4. Motion Graphics 

motion graphics

Motion graphics are animation primarily focused on text and graphics, often used in advertising, marketing, and title sequences. It uses animation, video, and/or audio to create visually compelling and engaging media pieces. 

An example of motion graphics is the opening sequence for the popular television show Game of Thrones. The sequence features a detailed and intricate map of the show’s world, with various locations and landmarks coming to life through animation and special effects.

5. Stop Motion 


Stop motion is a technique that involves capturing individual frames of a physical object or scene and then playing them back in sequence to create the illusion of movement. This technique can be used with various materials, such as clay, paper, or even live actors. 

An example of stop-motion animation is the movie Coraline. The film, released in 2009, tells the story of a young girl who discovers a hidden world that is eerily similar to her own. The movie was created using stop-motion animation techniques, with the characters and sets being built and manipulated by hand.

The History of Animation

Having learned the types of animation, let us now explore the history of animation. Animation has a rich and fascinating past, dating back thousands of years. The earliest forms of animation can be traced back to ancient Chinese shadow puppetry, which used cut-out figures to tell stories. 

Moving forward in time, the 19th century saw the invention of several key technologies that paved the way for modern animation. One of the earliest was the magic lantern, which used a light source to project images onto a screen. 

The magic lantern was a precursor to the first confirmed image projector, which was invented in the late 1800s by French brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière. This invention allowed for the projection of moving images, laying the groundwork for developing animated films.

the history of animation

Another essential invention from this period was the Phénakisticope, which was invented by Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1832. This was a significant innovation in the field of animation, as it allowed for the creation of more fluid and realistic-looking motion.

The turn of the 20th century saw the rise of the first animated films, with pioneers like J. Stuart Blackton creating short animated. Over the following decades, animation continued to evolve and expand with the introduction of sound, colour, and increasingly sophisticated techniques.

The Real Fathers of American Animation

The early years of animation in the United States were marked by several influential pioneers who helped to establish the medium and pave the way for its future success. These figures, often referred to as the “Fathers of American Animation,” were responsible for introducing many of the critical techniques and innovations that continue to shape the industry today.

Winsor McCay

One of the earliest pioneers was Winsor McCay, credited with creating some of the first animated films in the United States. McCay’s most famous work, “Gertie the Dinosaur,” was released in 1914 and is widely considered a groundbreaking achievement in the history of animation. 

Walt Disney

Another important figure in the early days of American animation, and perhaps the most known to date, was Walt Disney, who became one of the most famous and successful animators of all time. 

Disney’s achievements were many, but perhaps his most significant contribution to the field was the creation of the first feature-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” released in 1937. This film revolutionized the industry and helped to cement animation as a legitimate form of entertainment.

Are You Ready to Embark on a Journey as an Animator?

A bachelor’s degree in design or a course can help individuals become successful animators by providing them with a strong foundation in design principles, animation techniques, and software skills. 

Students develop their creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving abilities, communication, and teamwork skills through coursework. A degree or certification from a reputable program can also give individuals a competitive edge in the job market, as employers often prefer candidates with formal education or relevant training. 

Careers in Animation

Now that you have understood what animation is let us look at some of the different career paths in the animation industry and their annual average salaries, as per Glassdoor.

If you are exploring the possibility of a career in animation, we recommend enrolling in any of these best animation courses to kickstart your journey.

What is Animation - FAQs

How is Animation Created?

Animation is created by crafting a series of images or frames, either by hand-drawing, using computer software, manipulating physical objects, or a combination of techniques. When these frames are played in succession at a fast rate, they create the perception of movement.

What Are Some Examples of Animation in Everyday Life?

Animation is prevalent in various aspects of our lives. It can be seen in movies, television shows, video games, advertisements, educational content, explainer videos, mobile apps, websites, and even in augmented reality or virtual reality experiences.

What is the Purpose of Animation?

Animation serves multiple purposes. It can entertain, educate, inform, inspire, and evoke emotions. It is used to tell stories, convey messages, visualize complex concepts, simulate environments, create special effects, and bring imagination to life in a dynamic and engaging way.

What are Some Famous Animated Films or Series?

There are numerous iconic animated films and series that have captivated audiences worldwide. Examples include “Toy Story,” “The Lion King,” “Spirited Away,” “The Simpsons,” “Frozen,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Wallace and Gromit,” “Finding Nemo,” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” among many others.

What Are Animation Effects?

Animation effects are techniques used to create movement and visual interest in animated videos—these range from subtle movements to dramatic transformations, including motion blur, lighting, and particle effects. 

What Are Animation Layers?

Animation layers are different levels of animation that can be stacked on top of each other to create complex animation. In addition, each layer can contain its own set of animated elements, allowing for more control and flexibility in the animation process. 

What Are the Most Important Animation Tools?

Some important animation tools include software programs like Adobe Animate, Toon Boom, and Autodesk Maya. These tools allow animators to create, edit, and manipulate their animations and often include features like timeline editors, drawing tools, and rigging systems.


In conclusion, animation has come a long way since its inception and has significantly shaped the entertainment industry and modern popular culture. And when we talk about what is animation in its simplest form, the answer is still a vast plethora of knowledge.

From traditional hand-drawn animation to the advanced techniques of 2D animation and 3D animation, a vast range of styles and tools are available to animators today. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced professional, learning animation techniques can be a rewarding and exciting journey. 

So, if you’re interested in exploring the world of animation and its various styles, start by understanding the basics, familiarize yourself with different tools and software, and keep practicing improving your skills. Then, right away, check out our guide on how to become an animator to help you in this pursuit!

After all, what is animation is a question that has many answers! And by learning more about it, you can open new doors and possibilities for yourself in the field.