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An Introduction to Computer Animation

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Just what is computer animation? For decades, animation has been a trade that rested solely in the hands of the entertainment industry; the process required a great deal of time, manpower, and complex equipment to accomplish. However, with the ever-growing movement to computerize the industry, the animation process has become progressively simpler. What was once done with pencils, cels, and paint by a team of dozens of animators can now be accomplished by a single person with a powerful enough home computer and the right software.

The term "computer animation" itself broadly covers a wide variety of genres and applications, though the simplest way to break it down is into the categories of 2D and 3D animation. "2D", short for "two-dimensional", is sometimes also called "vector animation", and is typically done in programs like Macromedia Flash and Macromedia Director. The most familiar form of 2D animation can be found just by turning on your TV on a Saturday morning: traditional cartoons, which are progressing more and more into the digital realm. You probably see simpler animations every day just while surfing the web, in the form of advertisements, E-cards, and cartoon shorts. Vector animation is also useful in designing interactive interfaces for the web.

2D animation, true to its name, is rendered in a two-dimensional space. 3D animation, however, is rendered in a virtual three-dimensional space, using polygons captured by various virtual "cameras" to "film" the animation. 3D animation has a variety of applications, from video games to animated films; most commonly, 3D animation is used to render many of the special effects seen in live-action films, removing the need for scale model sets or staged stunts.

While both types of computer animation can be accomplished by either frame-by-frame animation or by mathematical interpolation between key frames, the initial steps prior to animating are drastically different; the two separate processes also require different software packages. With that in mind, the tutorials provided here have been grouped into the categories of 2D and 3D animation, before being subdivided by skill level to walk, step-by-step, through the basics of creating your own animations. The 2D animation tutorials cover animation in Flash and Director/Shockwave, while the 3D animation tutorials work in 3D Studio Max.

If you have any questions along the way, don't hesitate to check out the Glossary and FAQ in the Help section. Check back frequently, as these tutorials are always being updated with fresh information, tips, and tricks.

2D Animation Tutorials

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