The Science of Computer Animation

Computer animation is the science of creating movement with still images on the computer. This type of animation combines art and science to speed up the animation process. Computers use layers of graphics to replace hand-drawn cells when creating animations. Played in sequence the images seem to move. Computer animations are commonly seen on web sites, video games, TV specials, cell phones and movies.

2D Animation

2D animations use 2D bitmap images, which are computer drawn pictures. Separate objects are drawn on layers and the stacked layers create a complete scene. Changes made to key frames create the illusion of movement. The difference between one scene and the next scene is calculated by the computer. This type of computer animation is transmitted quickly at a low bandwidth online.

Flash Animation

Flash animation is an animated film or cartoon created using Adobe Flash animation software or any software able to produce SWF files. This type of animation is usually presented as short internet cartoons, online cartoons or webtoons. Series of flash animations create short episodes strung into a complete story.

3D Animation

3D animations involve the creation of object built on the computer using virtual skeletons and rigs. This allows individual pieces to move separately. This type of animation uses mathematical functions to create gravity, simulated hair, muscle movement, fire and water. The process of motion capture, which involves live actors’ movements programmed into the computer, increases the realistic movements in computer animation. 3D animation is commonly mixed with live action films to enhance special effects.



Computer animation borrows its production processes from conventional animation methods. Story boards, test shots and pencil testing have transferred over to the computer process. The story board is still a comic book style presentation of the story only presented on the computer. Test shots are high quality renderings, drawing on the computer, of a single frame to give the producers a sneak peek of the finished product. Pencil testing is the production of simplified models running through the animation at a low quality which creates quickly rendered frames.


Computer animation is the new and modern development that will continue to grow and expand. This new industry opens the employment market to more people who know how to program computers and to others that use their imagination to create stories. Eventually, live action films will be seamlessly combined with computer animation. The lines between these two different styles will be blurred and indefinable.

By Karen Carter

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