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How Animation Software Works


We’ve come a long way since the days of the zoetrope.
We’ve come a long way since the days of the zoetrope.
© SSPL/Getty Images

Cartoons are fun and entertaining to behold, but they're also a lot of work to create. Making an animation requires producing a series of images that change gradually over the course of many frames. Viewing them in quick succession creates the illusion of motion. Early devices like the zoetrope (a cylinder with images inside that appeared to be moving when spun) were created to view what amounted to very short cartoons, but the invention of photography, and then projectors, took animation to a whole new level. In the early 20th century, greats like Max Fleischer and Walt Disney created individual images on paper, animation cels or some other physical medium, photographed each one and then had a movie reel of the photographs developed. This created longer, more detailed cartoons than people had seen before, but it required creating a large number of images (usually around 24 per second of film).

Some people still create traditional hand-drawn animation, but most of the cartoons we see today are created using computer software. And animation isn't limited to cartoons. Whether fanciful or realistic, animations routinely appear in a number of other places, including advertisements, websites, educational videos and video games, to name but a few. The computer-generated imagery (CGI) characters and objects we increasingly see in live-action movies are created by animators using software, too.

Many of the concepts and methods haven't changed much from traditional to computer animation. It's still the painstaking work and skill of the animator that determines how the final product will look, but software can help speed up the process by providing shortcuts and automating some tasks that had to be done manually in the past. Dedicated software gives animators new tools and a nearly unlimited virtual palette of materials with which to create anything they can imagine.

You might think computer-generated animation is a relatively new thing, but it's been around for decades in one form or another. Read on to find out about the history of animation software, and what the newer packages can do.