2D Animation for Beginners

The term 2D animation is used to describe animation that has height and width, but no depth; it’s flat, two-dimensional, but can seem three-dimensional by applying the rules of perspective; a process similar to what a painter does to give depth to his painting. As opposed to various other techniques used in animation, 2D was the one most commonly used in commercial studios up until recently, when the age of information started implementing computers and other technological aids which have made a lot of human work redundant, and gave way to other, more developed animation techniques.


Animation Techniques

It was first invented by Earl Hurd in 1915. The process consisted of using black ink on transparent foils called cells. Once the ink would dry the cells would have been turned over and acetate-adhering acrylic paint would have been applied. Thus the cell would have an ink outline around the colored glossy surface. This process was used in all large animation studios, including Disney, Fleischer Studios and others. The term 2D is still being associated with this somewhat outdated process, even though quite some time has passed since using computer programs has become the main way of creating 2D animation.

Great studios of the first half of the 20th century have employed a large number of staff with the work distributed amongst them. Furthermore, very few individuals (we might call them animators) were in charge of the creative process. Behind them stood an army of assistant staff doing various stages of cartoon making; cleanup, coloring etc. They weren’t considered artists, hence they needn’t have known how to draw at all, and they were mostly women (the state of gender (in)equality in the film industry during the early days was no different than in other spheres of life).

Bigger production houses of today have retained a similar assignment division, however, it is largely based around a number of key specialists with strict roles in the process; key-frames, extremes, phasing, control, cleanup, effects etc.

Contemporary Animators

Contemporary individual animators who are doing 2D have to be in charge of the entire process themselves. They have to replace the whole studio, the entire staff; all the key roles have to be fulfilled by them, and they have to go through all the phases of work alone, still, however, retaining an approach similar to the one of any large studio. Setting key phases; phasing in between the extremes; doing cleanup, coloring, editing, adding backgrounds, effects and sound.

There are several basics of 2D animation which every animator should master. Some of them will be listed and briefly explained below.


Walk Cycles


A series of movements that form a walk cycle. It can be simply explained as two steps; one with the left foot, and one with the right, which, when repeated, create an illusion of the character walking. This cycle is the foundation of any animators’ knowledge base and one of the hardest skills to master. It’s hard because the characters’ walk oftentimes has to reflect its’ personality or mood, thus being an important part of the character itself.

2D Animation Techniques
2D Animation Techniques – Walk Cycle


Squash and stretch


Over exaggerated movements meant to highlight the elasticity of the characters body. It must not be too obvious, thus caricaturing the character; it simply has to give a natural impression of life. Overuse of squash and stretch is usually related to gags and some other forms of cartoon humor.

2D Animation - Squash and Stretch
2D Animation Techniques – Squash and Stretch


Slow in and slow out


No movement can look natural unless this animation principle is applied. A movement should begin by accelerating, reaching its’ full speed in the middle of the movement and slowing down towards the end, eventually stopping.



This is a term used to describe an expected, anticipated movement.  For example; if our character should suddenly start running in one direction, anticipation should highlight that movement by first tilting the characters’ body to the other side.

4 thoughts on “2D Animation Basics”

  1. Thank you, Animataurus! This is really simple yet substantial basics and a very interesting article. Looking forward to your next post!

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