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A+C’s Handy Glossary of Animation Terms

Alex M Sep 07, 2022 Scroll to read in 11 minutes
Stop Motion Equipment Armature

I'm in my 5th month at A+C, and I've gained much animation knowledge. I acquired lots of animation wisdom by osmosis when I dated a couple of animators (I also know a bit about criminal psychology and a few words of Turkish). While it helped with my appreciation for animation, I had a way to go in a practical setting. 

Below is a glossary of animation terms that have helped me sound credible and casually drop terms like "The moco info is all on the dope sheet" You. Are. Welcome.

2D Animation: When an animation is created using a series of drawings in a two-dimensional (e.g. "flat") environment, either hand-drawn or digital.

3D Animation: When an animation is created in a computer using software that allows for objects to be animated in a 3D environment where the camera can be moved around the environment in the X, Y, and/or Z Axis.

Alpha channel: The part of a digital image that is transparent.

Amends: At each stage of the animation process, the client gets a chance to feedback. It’s good to get as much of this done as possible in the pre-production phase because it becomes much more time-consuming (and expensive) to make changes once production begins.

Animatic: An animatic is a film that consists of a series of still images. Each still image is given a certain amount of time to be seen. The goal of an animatic is to define the timing for a piece of moving image. When used with a soundtrack and dialogue, they are a quick and easy way to get a sense of a finished piece of moving image. Animatics are created by playing a series of images in order and changing the timing on each frame. Timing changes are used to develop a sense of pace.

Armature: The puppet's internal skeleton. Most often made from ball-jointed metal rods or flexible wire, the armature keeps the puppet upright and enables it to be posed frame-by-frame for animation.

Aspect ratio: The ratio of height to width of the frame is expressed as a ratio (for example, 4:3, or 16:9). For a standard (square) television picture – for every four units wide, the picture is three units high (768 × 576 pixels). For H.D. television (rectangle) picture – for every sixteen units wide, the picture is nine units high (1,920 × 1,080 pixels); 2k and 4k are 2,000 pixels and 4,000 pixels wide, respectively. Social Media Ratios: Facebook supports a variety of formats, including 16:9, 1:1 (carousel), 4:5, 2:3, and 9:16. - 4:5, 2:3, and 9:16 can be the most engaging since people tend to hold their phones upright (vertically) when using this app. Instagram Supported ratios: 1:1 (square), 4:5 (vertical), 1.9:1 (1080 x 566), or 16:9 (landscape). Instagram Story requires 9:16.

Aspectratio AXA Behind The Scenes 05

Beat board: (sometimes called a Moodboard) A beat board is a sequence of illustrations that sums up the film's look and feel and tells the story. A beat board is not necessarily exactly how the film will be edited or paced, but is a good way to give an idea of how it will look. It is perfect to show clients who may not understand something a bit more technical, such as a storyboard. These images could be edited together as a film to make a beat-board animatic.

Colour grading: Grading means the process of altering an image’s colour balance. Sometimes it’s called ‘colour correction’.

Compositing: Compositing is completed in a piece of software such as Adobe After Effects. It combines two or more separate elements into one, for example, compositing the character, background and foreground elements together. Alpha channels and layers are used.

Cycle: A cycle is a series of drawings or key poses designed to hook up and be repeated as often as required—for example, a walk cycle of a character walking on the spot.

Deck: This is my favourite one. It's the new term for PowerPoint presentations.

D.O.P.: Director of Photography. Responsible for setting the camera and lighting on any given shot to create the right look and feel for the animation. They decide the camera angle, focal distance and lighting conditions.

Dope sheet: is the same as an x-sheet (exposure sheet). Information on how to shoot a piece of animation is contained on a dope sheet. When the animation is completed and the dope sheet filled out, it will be passed on to a D.O.P. to shoot the animation. Fun Fact: The word 'dope' is an early twentieth-century slang term for information.

Double exposure: Take two photographs for every frame of the animation. This could be for several different reasons, mainly relating to compositing other elements in post-production (for example, layering different lighting conditions, smoke, atmosphere etc.)

Frame rate: The speed at which frames progress in an animation. It is usually measured as frames per second (fps). Since most traditional animation is typically done in twos (that is, each drawing is shown for T.W.O. frames), a second of drawn animation will consist of twelve drawings per second, 3D animation will have twenty-four frames per second.

Graticule: also known as a field guide. Oblong frame lines indicate the desired framing of a scene. It is a box inside which you keep your animation. You can have a field guide that shows 4:3, 16:9 etc. You will also find field guides in most animation apps.

In-between: An in-between is an image between the key images. This refers mainly to traditional drawn animation, but the in-betweens on a computer animation app could also be referred to as in-betweens. These can also be called tweens.

Key position/frame/pose: A key position is a drawing or image on a computer app that is the main position during the movement of a piece of animation. When the key images are done, images must be drawn or manipulated to produce the complete animation. These could be breakdowns and inbetween drawings, or, with a computer animation app, they could be manipulated with a form of curve or graph editor.


Limited animation: This is pose-to-pose animation with the least amount of inbetweens used. Actions are usually quick and held for longer periods of time during dialogue. A character may remain still for a long period of time, but a small amount of animation (the movement of the hair, blowing in the wind) will keep the character looking alive. Lip movements and blinks help with this too.

Lip-sync: The animation of a character's mouth to match the recorded dialogue provided. The sound is broken down first and noted on an x-sheet. The animator then interprets this information to produce the animated actions of the character and mouth shapes.

LAV: Live Action Video. A piece of live-action reference footage recorded before the animation begins helps the animator with the timing and performance of the character during the shoot. Usually consisting of actors portraying the puppet characters for any given scene, but could also be of animals, vehicles or machinery, depending on what needs to be shot.

Moco: Motion control. A pre-programmed piece of kit which allows a camera to be moved throughout a scene. The move can be played back identically an unlimited number of times. Using a piece of motion control kit can create more dynamic shots by utilising the moving camera.

Moving hold: A series of frames where a character is relatively motionless. Usually, there is a very subtle movement to keep the character 'alive', including blinks and changes in eye direction. This can also happen when there is a very quick movement of the character, but the audience needs to see the expression on the character's face. The character moves through the shot quickly, but the facial expression stays the same.

Onion skinning: This term is used in various animation apps on a computer. It can be hard to make smooth animations when drawing frames one by one. Getting the timing and positioning right is difficult. Onion skinning shows you a semi-transparent version of previous and upcoming frames so that you can draw the current frame appropriately.

Pacing: Pacing is the rhythm of a sequence, scene or entire film. It is the speed at which actions occur. All animation should have a rhythm to it – some bits should be fast, other parts slow. If everything happens at the same pace, it can make for very boring viewing.

Pan: A camera move, which moves along its horizontal axis; pans to the right or left.


Persistence of Vision: This refers to how our eyes retain images for a split second longer than they actually appear, making a series of quick flashes appear as one continuous picture.

Plate: A frame taken of the plain set without the puppet in it, often under different lighting conditions. This aids in the post-production process, specifically with rig-removal.

Pipeline: The system that a studio uses to produce an animated film (who does what, where things are saved, how you show work to the director and so on). Most studios have slightly different pipelines, so if you are working with a particular studio, make sure you are familiar with their pipeline!

Pitching: When a client has a project that they want to make, they will ask animation studios or individual animation directors to pitch on the project. They will supply a brief, and then the companies or directors come up with ideas and designs for the brief and pitch their ideas to the client.

Point of view: shot Also referred to as P.O.V. – a camera angle that approximates what one of the characters in a scene would be seeing.

Pop-through: A puppet animator will move the puppet through a series of key positions, shooting them with a camera and computer for each key position. They will then re-time them in their stop-frame app by adding a certain amount of frames to each image. A note will be made of the timing, then the animator will re-animate the shot straight through, bearing in mind the timing from the pop-through.

Post-production: This refers to everything following the animation stage, including editing, sound editing, sound mixing, effects and titles.

Practicals: On set lighting in which the light source is part of the scene, most commonly a lamp, torch or light bulb. It differs from off-camera lighting, which illuminates the overall scene but whose source is not visible.

Rendering: When a piece of animation is completed on a computer animation program, the shot needs to be rendered. Each frame of the shot needs to be made into a full-coloured image that will make up the film. The rendering could be done with the animation program or using a piece of third-party software. These images can take a long time to render, so sometimes, they are done with a render farm.

Rig: Something which helps support the weight of the puppet or props on set and helps facilitate smooth motion, usually a jointed system of metal rods or flexible wire. The rig supports the puppet or props in mid-air when they need to defy gravity or prevents them from falling over when they are not balanced.

Rigging: In 3D animation, this is where the bones are placed into a character, and the skin of the character is linked to these bones.

Rig-removal: The post-production process removes the rig from the scene, so it is invisible in the final delivery.

Drawing Storyboards 768x432

Rotoscope: The rotoscope is a device invented by Max Fleischer that allows an animator to base a character's animated movements on a live-action actor performing the same movements. The original film is used as a reference for the animator's work. A film of a real person moving is projected onto a screen, and an animator can trace these movements onto paper.

Stop-Motion Animation: is frame-by-frame film-making using small-scale practical sets, props and real lighting. NOTE: Sometimes, this is also referred to as "claymation". However, claymation is a trademarked term and does not apply to the genre as a whole. Also called Frame by Frame, Stop-Frame and Stop-Go - Just to make it confusing.

Storyboard: A storyboard is like a comic strip. It is a sequence of images that sum up everything that will happen in a movie from start to finish. It will include different major positions that are occupied by a character, camera angles, special effects, transitions from shot to shot and information about the sound, music and dialogue. These can be edited in an editing app to make an animatic.

Tie-down: A method of keeping a puppet character stable on set (particularly if on one leg or off balance), which screws into the base of the foot and extends downward through the set where it is fastened on the underside. Achieves the same role as a rig but is more invisible

Tilt shot: Also known as 'Dutch tilt'. It is a shot in which the camera has been rotated upward or downward.

Time code: The numeric display that corresponds to the running time in the film, usually two digits each for the hour/minute/second/frame, for example, 00:22:02:29.

Tweens: See In-between.

Two shot: A shot in which two characters appear together.

Voice-over: VO The narration track that the audience hears but which is not heard by the characters in the scene. When using a voice-over, you can be much more experimental with the images in the movie.

Weighting: In 3D animation, once a character has been built and the bones placed within it, the character's skin needs to be weighted to the bones. That is, the skin must bend and fold in a natural way that looks good, so the skin is weighted in such a way to produce this.

X-sheet: See Dope sheet.

Zip pan: A fast pan in which the visuals are deliberately blurred for effect.