Animation, motion graphics – what's it all about?

Molly Davies
August 29, 2023

As our lives become more and more entwined with digital imagery the words we use to describe them all have become grey areas. Where do you draw the line between a CGI (computer generated image) or a 3d animation, for instance? We’ll try and explain all that as well as giving you some examples of different types of animation. First off, depending on who you ask there are everything from between 4 and 20(!) types of animation    We generally class animation as something that involves characters - ie people walking or generally gadding about the screen. Whereas motion graphics would be various elements (text, motion, effects) kicking around and doing their swish visual thannnng. So generally speaking motion graphics pieces are simpler and take a correspondingly shorter time to do, happily. Animation itself then comes in 2 forms, 2d and 3d.

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Cell animation

Animation is a long-standing art in film making and has been around since the beginning of the industry. The first wave of animation was created through handdrawn ‘cell animation’, this was where the artists would have to draw thousands of images of a character or item  in different positions and photograph these frame by frame to produce into a full moving video. Almost like a flipbook you would make in primary school but obviously much more complex and painstaking.  The modern-day world has adapted a lot since then with most animation production companies transitioning in the 90s from hand crafted to computer-based animation. This  means animation techniques are now 90% being made and produced through digital software such as Maya, Blender or Keyshot. Other than the odd art house film, music video or fashion film old school methods have been largely replaced. As you can imagine, this technique requires a fine eye, some strong artistic skills and a profound level of patience!

animation production nottingham some cartoon characters

2D animation (vector based)

Like traditional cell animation this form is also 2D, the difference being in the way it is created. For characters, this uses a complex process of ‘rigging’ whereby individual parts of the character are moved distinctly from each other rather than redrawing the same character over and over again. So, say you had a monkey character picking up a lovely cuppa tea you’d just need to move his arm out to pick it up rather than re-drawing from scratch over and over. Many of the cartoons you know and love are created using this technique and it’s particularly popular with TV, which don’t have the budgets for our next way of doing things...

father and son on trampoline animated motion graphics explainer video nottingham

3D animation (CGI) 

When it comes to the silver screen this is the gold standard, Toy Story, Shrek, Frozen, How to Train Your Dragon as well as most of Pixar and Disney’s recent back-catalogue are all 3D computer generated animation. This process is also used across computer generated elements in otherwise live action films and video games. As you can imagine, moving a character around 3D space is an exhaustive (and exhausting!) process which takes a heck of a lot of computing power (indeed, specialist render farms are set up just to render or process the footage in a batch - think of a huge data warehouse full of machines whirring and bleeping and you’re not far off.

The ins and outs of it are an animator creating a character rig, much the same as with the 2D equivalent but in this instance the animator will point the rig at what it wants it to do and where it wants it to be and the computer will ‘interpolate’ this - essentially using its computing power to do an accurate representation of what it will look like.

Oh, and this is done with a very rudimentary outline or ‘skeleton’ of the character rather than the fully fledged Buzz Lightyear we know and love it’ll just be a series of lines on a screen roughly indicating where limbs and such are going.

After this, the model is textured with its detail filled in and any lighting sources within the 3D environment are mapped onto it to give it a realistic glow and reflection and it’s good to go!

man playing golf animated video company nottingham

Stop motion animation

Stop motion takes use all the way back to traditional cell animation in terms of technique because it involves either photographing or filming real world objects. These are then moved by a tiny fraction and another photograph taken so that when these photos are run together they create the illusion of movement. 

Wallace and Gromit was created using this arduous process, which typically has people slaving away an entire day for just one second’s worth of footage. Tim Burton is another big fan, making these kinds of animation from his student days to his Hollywood career. You can use a variety of objects to create this animation so of them include:

  • Clay (claymation as its known)
  • Lego - for something of a DIY approach, you’ll see untold student films using this!)
  • Photographs, a series of photographs combined potentially with some pan and scanning Ken Burns effect can be very effective here.
  • Shadow puppets - silhouettes have been used to form characters and objects since the dark ages so it’s no surprise that people like to continue this.
  • Puppets
  • Cut out figures/objects
woman celebrating animation company nottingham, nottinghamshire east midlands

Motion graphics 

The biggest difference between animation and motion graphics, as we mentioned before is the lack of complexity with the latter, motion graphics is essentially text, elements (say video, pictures or basic symbols) which move around and interact on screen - think about those short text based explainer videos you see everywhere online and sometimes on tv adverts where the text will whizz on and off or ripple across the screen.

This can have a really interesting effect when blended with live action footage - so that objects are drawn onto actual video footage, to illustrate it for instance with arrows highlighting particular parts. Adobe After Effects is a bastion of this type of work.

Still unsure? Not sold on the idea of motion graphics or animation? Look at Simply Thrilled as an example! Head over to our films tab on this website, to the Animation and Motion Graphics section and take a whirl at what we can create.

lots of mobile phones in splitscreen 2d explainer video

The benefit of animation and motion graphics

The powerful thing about motion graphics and animation is they allow you to enter a world that only you can imagine. Live action footage is beholden to the logistics of locations, actors and props. You couldn't see a turtle holding a melting clock surfing on a french baguette in a sea of dandelions in live action, not without some serious legwork anyway!  The output of animation and motion graphics can range from Gifs and explainers to short films. As previously mentioned, at Simply Thrilled we have created no end of adverts including motion graphics and animation, which have proven to be an effective way of attracting customers and selling products and services. They can be used to either entice you to buy or enquire, in a more general awareness and brand-bulding way through  recognition (Lloyds TSB did this admirably) , or purely for entertainment purposes. This shows just how much of a valuable asset motion graphics and animation are within your marketing mix. These ads can also be used as shorter ‘cut down’ version on other marketing platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Pinterest and so on, either natively or embedded from Youtube or Vimeo.

lots of cartoon characters motion graphics and animation production nottingham

As ever, creativity is key when it comes to creating  successful motion graphics.. Being original and cutting edge goes a long way!

And that brings us too… Us!

Simply Thrilled creates video content for companies including the NHS, Download Festival and Universal, all with the aim of sending a message, selling a brand, and ultimately bewitching the audience. Many of our videos  utilize the power of motion graphics and animation, if you want to know more - do get in touch with the contact details here.

screengrab animation production company UK


One of the main challenges presented to artists in the animation field is the ever-growing industry and hence competitiveness. It means that companies like ours need to fight to be different and stand out from the crowds. 

Audiences have also become more fragmented in terms of what they are interested in, thus meaning that companies like ourselves need to be on the ball and constantly expanding and developing to be the best that we can be. We do this by combining all the above skillsets with a thorough research, creative development and intelligence tool we call ViralPixel. 

The good news is that over the last few years there has been an increasing number of content delivery platforms and with that an increasing need for a variety of animated content.

The Future 

The future? Wouldn’t it be perfect if we could jump in a time machine and see what was waiting for us? The future of animation is going to be across many different platforms. It is evident that animation has come on leaps and bounds with the help of advancement in technology. From 2D drawn flipbook animations to computer generated blockbuster films. More people are consuming more content, from mobile devices, streaming platforms such as Netflix or Amazon Prime  as well as the more traditional forms of cinema and home viewing on DVD or BluRay. Suffice to say that, given they’ve been around for over a hundred years animation is going nowhere fast!

One prediction we’re steadfast in is that the future of animation is going to be interactive. The audience, no matter what the age group, is increasingly savvy in their knowledge of navigating and interacting with content. It is one thing to watch great animation, but the audience wants to experience this content in their own way, thus showing how a company would need to be flexible and adapt to expectations and desires. Video games are a prime example, with that industry now dwarfing even Hollywood. So interactive ‘choose your own adventure’ type stories may well be a trend to watch out for in the months and years to come. Watch this space!

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