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What Is Animation?

Well, do we really have to explain that here? You wouldn't be here if you didn't have a glue, right?

We like what we found at Wikipedia: "Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement."

The important part is "[...] artwork or model positions [...]". This is the difference to shooting a film or video. So the question is now: How do we get the artwork or the model positions? That leads us to the ...

Animation Techniques

There are several techniques for creating an animation:

  • traditional animation ("by hand" development of each of the images)
  • stop motion (or step-by-step) (using a camera to take the images that finally build the animation. e.g. clay animation)
  • computer animation
  • other animation techniques (like: drawn-on-film, paint-on-glass)

We need to explain "computer animation" as many of the other techniques can be done, enhanced or mixed with computer tools. In this documentation we define computer animation as an animation where we use a computer to create at least some of the images just based on rules and data.

Types Of Computer Animation

The 2 major types of computer animation are:

  • 2D Computer Animation and
  • 3D Computer Animation

2D Animation is quite close to the traditional animation techniques. The computer tools take care of some of the steps that can be generated based on interpolation rules. The images that define important positions of a movement have to be created by the animator. The results are best if the animated images are based on vector graphics, because changes to the vectors have to be mathematically well-defined.

3D Animation changes the whole animation process. It is not built upon images that an animator creates, but on 3D models of all relevant resources (such as actors, items and scene). 3D Animation is much more comparable to real film production: one has to take care of camera position, camera movement, lights and movements in 3D space (collisions).

Now, does that mean that 2D Animation is obsolete?

No, definitively not! They are very different techiques for creating an animation. We willl give you some hints on where the differences are in the next chapter.

Differences Between 2D And 3D Animation

2D is more direct

Not that 2D animation would not take into consideration camera, lights and movement, but in 2D it's always about the image itself, not about the technology to get the image.

skills are different

You need different skills for 2D and 3D animations. 2D needs more painting skills where with 3D you would need 3D construction skills. Both are arts on it's own, but as we said... different.

it is a different style

Have a look at some of your favorite animation features. There are many very successful movies and tv series that intentionally work with 2D animation or even traditional animation. Good example: "The Simpsons". Even more obvious: the "cut-out-animation" style of "Southpark" is part of the art concept. 3D animations tend to be less abstract and sketchy in their style.

time & efforts

Chances are that creating 3D animations are more time-consuming than a comparable 2D animation. While on the other hand animating even simple 3D movements (like a head turn) can be very time-consuming with 2D. 3D tools are usually more complex to learn if you start from scratch due to all the 3D construction features, while most people have some experiences in using drawing tools on computers already. So, over all: you might get results faster with 2D animation.

... And Synfig?

You may have guessed it already... Synfig is conceptually developed for 2D computer animation based on vector graphics.

Synfig cannot do 3D. Period. But believe us: In doing 2D it is very powerful... 5 examples:

  • animating a plant growing and blooming .. easy. Have a look at the tutorials.
  • doing "cut-out-animation" style with Synfig: no problem (just have a look at the tutorials)!
  • you might use Synfig for technical animations as all changes can also be based on mathematical models.
  • creating a Slide Show with your pictures (again: have a look at the tutorials).
  • mixing pictures and animations for funny and astonishing effects (you guessed it.. yes, have a look at the tutorials)

The Animation Creation Process

Synfig can do a lot for you. Synfig is very capable in general 2D animation, but also in areas like animation of mathematical models and short animations (e.g. for efects in GIFs etc.).

So, can we do everything in 2D animation creation with Synfig Studio?

Well, you could, but there are parts where Synfig fits very well and other parts where you might better use other tools to do that. This is especially true when we look at a full featured development of an animation (animated short or even an animated motion picture). Let's have a look at the creation process of such an animation to structure this a bit...

The animation creation process includes the following steps:

  • development
  • pre-production
  • production
  • post-production
  • sales and distribution

Develoment takes care of the creation of the story script as such and does typically not include creation of any artwork other than textual. Sales and distribution are important, but also do not have an animation content as such. We will have a closer look into the pre-production, production and post-production steps, but also limited to the most often used and animation related topics only. We've left out things like reviews and previews with target audiences as well.


the following tasks are usually seen as being part of pre-production

  • organization (e.g. storage, version control, other tools)
  • estimations, plans and schedules
  • script breakdowns
  • development of characters, scenes, background and other items
  • storyboard
  • storyreel / animatics
  • draft sound track, dialogs...


  • recording of spoken text (for lip sync)
  • Animation Production


  • picture editing / cutting
  • final sound track development
    • recording takes (even rerecording the spoken texts usually)
    • cutting/mixing
  • video editing
    • combining sound and picture
    • final rendering in delivery format

... And When Do I Use Synfig?

Synfig will best be used for

  • storyreel / animatics - and -
  • Animation Production

or let's put it this way: for the heart of animation.

Why didn't we just say that in a few words? Well, we have been documenting the full list of tasks for some reason: We wanted to show that there are several other work items. These can be done using other tools such as Celtx for development and scheduling, Kino and Cinelerra for editing/cutting etc. To answer a very common question: Synfig is not made for video editing or sound editing.

Synfig Studio is specialized on doing 2D animation, not covering areas that other tools can do very well already. This is one of Synfig's strengths.

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