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Sliding Scale of Animation Elaborateness

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Animation is a film technique that can be alternately very expensive, or very cheap to produce depending on what level of life-like quality the producers are shooting for.

The scale presented here is for major productions like feature films, or TV series where what is presented is clearly meant as animation as opposed to digital visual effects that are inserted into live action productions. Individual Short Films, as opposed de facto series like Looney Tunes or Superman Theatrical Cartoons, are also excluded as they are more open to experimental techniques like drawn-on-film, pixiliation, or pinscreen animation. Those are primarily used purely for artistic reasons as opposed to the more commercial consideration of bigger productions and thus are outside the scope of this scale. That said, Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies and Pixar Shorts do have that experimental role as prelude to using new techniques for their features.


The important distinction of this scale is to sort out animation elaborateness, not animation artistic quality. The distinction is that the complexity of animation is only part of what makes an animation production excellent in terms of artistry. For instance, the animation of the old and obscure Van Beuren Studios of the 1930s is definitely more lifelike and elaborate than the much cheaper animation of Jay Ward's productions like Rocky and Bullwinkle of the 1960s. The difference is that the former was notoriously derivative in concept and stale in technique while Ward's work more than compensated with excellent witty writing and voice acting that works with the animation's shortcomings to its artistic benefit.

The scale goes from the most elaborate animation (most labor intensive) to the simplest (least labor intensive)


  • Traditional Animation in feature films produced in "ones": This is animation produced on every frame as opposed to most features which feature movement in every other frame (twos) or less. This is used when the animated characters' movement must feel absolutely lifelike, such as interacting with a human actor. Example: Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • Stop Motion Feature Film animation: Using this extremely time consuming technique where every movement must be precisely arranged and photographed largely one frame at time. Things that are difficult to position for this film technique like moving water are also present. Examples: Wallace & Gromit
  • Traditional Animation in regular feature films: Slightly less fluid but still allows for lifelike animation with large scenes with crowds in full view. This is supplemented by different technology that television animation typically could not afford at particular times for visuals such as using the Multi-plane camera for Disney's early 1940s features or early CGI in the late 1980s-early 1990s for crowd scenes, unusual visual angles and "camera" moves unfeasible with regular animation techniques or vehicles. Example: Disney Animated Canon
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  • Computer Animation: Computer animation, either All-CGI Cartoon or special effects, designed to feel lifelike such as in feature films which are ready to deal with complex details like hair and water which are difficult depict digitally. However, sequels are easier to set up as long as the producers' archived files of animation are kept up to date for future use which allows established elements to be reused easily. Examples: Pixar
  • Planned limited television Animation: The typical television style of traditional animation where footage is carefully thought through for economy sake with cycles of pre-established movements like characters walking are reused as much as possible such as Hanna-Barbera's usual fare. Some bigger budget studio work like Disney had series with more fluid animation while some cheaper companies like Filmation take the saving further with maximized Rotoscoped animation cycle of characters whenever possible.
  • Minimized television animation where any movement is kept to a minimum while still keeping to animation in some meaningful sense. Limited Animation but more. Examples include:
    • Animation interspersed in with predominately still images such as the series, Max the 2000 Year Old Mouse which are history lessons with some token animated antics.
    • Cut Out Animation: Using a photocopying processing to take pre-existing images like Comic Book art that is designed to suggest motion, and manipulate them with an absolute minimum of actual animation. Examples: The Marvel Superheroes in the 1960s which used pre-existing comic book art and stories from Marvel Comics publications and manipulating then with the absolute minimum of animation. Technically, this form of animation also includes Terry Gilliam's animation from Monty Python's Flying Circus, but he intended to create them with a specific artistic aim in mind, not merely bowing to the demands of budget.
      • Adobe Flash: basically the digital equivalent of the above. Movement can be automated by "tweening", and elements can be rescaled, duplicated or otherwise altered. Example: most Web Animation.
  • No meaningful animation at all: Limited Animation at its extreme form, such as with Clutch Cargo with its Synchro-Vox technique which depicted dialogue with cut outs where the mouth is positioned with live-action film of an actor's mouth saying the dialogue.