What’s the difference between animation and live-action video? It’s one of those questions that seem easy to answer at first but prove to be a bit trickier in the end. Because both are basically a series of images displayed in fast sequence to create the illusion of movement. To make it even more confusing, both video and animation can be used in the same production. Then what are the actual differences? Let’s explore.
- The Tools
A very easy way to differentiate is by the tools needed to produce live-action video and animations. With video, the action happens or is created in real life and captured with a camera. The produced footage is then processed in an NLE software for editing, color grading, etc. as part of a movie or to be used as stock footage.
With animations, there is no real-life action. Everything is created directly in the software, making layers and assets the main tool for animations. The exception to the rule is stop-motion animation, where a camera records the motion of e.g., clay figurines, frame by frame.
In the end, both animations and videos are converted into the same video formats, thus removing any technological difference between animation and video output.
- The People
The camera is of course operated by a cameraman, who in turn is directed by a DOP (Director of Photography) and the main director. In essence, the cameraman is a technician operating an instrument to realize the vision of the DOP and the director.
The animator or cartoonist is an artist, first. He’s not merely catching movement; he’s creating it from scratch. Whether through 2D drawings or 3D spatial movement, the cartoonist is given a story and characters to translate to the screen.
Whereas creating live action video is a combined effort of the cameraman, the actors, the directors, the grips, etc. The cartoonist’s playground is entirely limited to his workstation but the personal effort he puts in is far greater.
- The Level of Difficulty
Creating and animating illustrations is a time-consuming endeavor and takes a lot of skill. The cartoonist creates and animates designs and assets, using software like e.g., Maya by Autodesk. Maya is to animation what Adobe Premiere is to video. It’s the industry standard in Hollywood and beyond. It’s also known to be the most comprehensive platform for 3D computer animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering, with quite a steep learning curve.
This raises the level of difficulty for cartoonists many bars higher than that for camera operators. Cartoonists need to be skilled artists and software experts.
In the end both animation and live action video circle back to the same output. Both are rendered into the same video format and are ultimately called movies. Hence the confusion between two processes that couldn’t be further apart.