2021 Animation Trends

In 2020, live-action filming hit an all time low, leaving behind a massive vacuum of needed content. Thankfully 2D and 3D animation came to the rescue, and for the first time many agencies and production companies had their eye squarely on motion design. As viewers we’ve consumed more animated content than ever before and have become familiar with a variety of styles ranging from ‘vector animation’ to ‘cut-out animation’. But innovation never stops – and animators are developing novel approaches to their craft. From minimalistic styles to vibrant and highly detailed worlds here are our top animation trends for 2021.

MINIMAL AND SIMPLE

During the pandemic we found ourselves living simpler and more minimalistic lives. We went full Marie Kondo on our closets and cleared out more space in our houses so that we wouldn’t feel cluttered when working from home.

One animation trend reflects this, a more minimalist animation style, often involving clean building blocks and lines. Using this approach of visual design is a great way to stir emotion and convey new ideas. These animated videos build off of established design principles to create something that is elegant, clean, and profound.

For Inspiration check out this Global Common Alliance’s explainer which starts with a silhouette of planet earth as the main building block and begins to build around it with circles, lines and spheres. The end product is a minimal and simple animation style that effectively explains a complex topic.

MIXED MEDIA

This animation trend uses an eclectic mix of imagery, footage, and photographs that makes for a quirky and fun style. The digital collage style enhances real life elements with motion graphics to effectively explain a story. The mixed media style can also be used for a family friendly audience or can be gritted up for more dramatic and grungy implementations. It is a highly flexible animation style that we will continue to see through 2021 and 2022.

One great example of mixed media animation is the title sequence to Disney +’s The Big Fib which evokes the feeling of opening an encyclopedia, a science class, and a kid’s bedroom all at the same time. All of the elements may seem out of place but are brought together to create a unique opening.

Motion Tracking Over Live Action

Motion tracking compositing used to be a tedious process that has become a thousand times easier to do thanks to exciting new advancements in motion graphics technology. This dynamic technique allows for a variety of futuristic-looking animation styles that are mixed with live-action footage. Whether it be text messages popping out of someone’s phone or map overlays on the sidewalks of NYC, this trend will impress both your viewers and your clients.

Check out the chilling series open to Dark Net which uses motion tracked overlays that interact with the actor. An otherwise simple set of shots comes to life with an overlaid set of digital webs that devour the actor and leave the viewer wanting for more.

THIN LINES

Utilizing thin lines in an animation can give it a hand drawn feel while keeping it clean and modern. Thin lines function as direction-givers, shape-definers, and mood-setters.  It is an understated style that is functional and elegant at the same time.  The ‘thin lines’ animation style makes it easy to transition between subjects or elements while making it easy to follow. Much like the minimal and simple animation style, it can be utilized to create something clean and profound, making it an animation trend for the times.  Check out WebMD’s 2D explainer on “How RA Progresses”, which uses a clean illustration style to build an easy to understand video on a complex topic.

2D frames that feature 3D objects

In a very Inception-like manner, this animation style features frames within frames with featured 3D objects. Transitioning through multiple frames is a great way to tell a story and switch between perspectives while converting a variety of new ideas within one seamless viewing experience. The 3D objects add an extra dimension to movement while surprising  your viewers and giving the whole style a futuristic look. seamless viewing experience.  Take this “IBM + Watson Video Services” explainer for example which takes the viewer through fully realized character scenes with zooming 2D / 3D transitions.

Full World Building

This immersive approach takes the viewers on a journey through vivid renderings of a particular story or anecdote. To pull off the ‘full world building’ animation style, attention to story detail is key. It is a way of creating a world from scratch or reimagining a past event in a way that most effectively portrays the story at hand. A great example of this exciting style is Western Union’s  “Bicycle Coin,”  which uses a fast-moving camera to follow the journey of a gold coin moving through immersive, stylized backdrops that mix solid shapes with gritty textures.

Illustrative approach

In a post-covid world, viewers around the world are much more used to animation replacing live-action, particularly in promos and advertisements. The standard ‘vector animation’ is no longer as interesting. In 2021 we’ve started to see a return to more expressive styles such as water color, pop art and other more vibrant ways of creating animation. For inspiration check out the US Department of Labor’s video to promote their Workers Owed Wages program. This ‘illustrative approach’ a la Juno mixes animated illustrations with live action.

Photo-Realistic Product Visualization

When it comes to product promos, nothing’s quite as trendy as a sleek 3D animated product visualization. It is the perfect way to show off a well designed product while tempting consumers with that extra premium look. Apple has been unveiling their iPhones every year with fast paced sleek product visualizations using live-action footage. The same style can be recreated at a fraction of the price with the use of 3D animation while allowing for even more creative flexibility than live-action footage. This sleek photo-realistic product visualization of Flawless’s NuRazor uses dazzling music and extreme close-up shots to show off the product design in a fashion more akin to a jewelry ad than a tech promo.

Dynamized Period Art

One animation trend that we’re likely to see this year is a move to dynamized period art. This style takes art from any time period and brings it back to life with the magic of 3D animation. Similar to the way colorized pictures create an entirely new appreciation for old photographs, dynamized period art peaks the interest of viewers by appealing to their nostalgic senses while fascinating them at the same time. With so many art styles to choose from whether it be Van Gogh, Picasso, or cave paintings, this animation style is a sure fire way to catch your viewers attention. Check out this reel from Curiosity Stream’s Bronze Age Series which features an beautiful array of ancient Egyptian art in motion.

Hybrid Styles

When in doubt, mix it up! This animation trend combines two or more different styles to create a fresh look. Some are trying to stand out by mixing animation and live video together such as Nucco Brain’s energetic work for Tottenham Hotspur While, other artists insist on blending 2D and 3D animation in a creatively fresh look like this ad for Viagra Connect.

Just like the new-normal we are becoming accustomed to around the world there is a new-normal emerging in the content creation industry. As we see society shift from physical retail to digital commerce, brands will have extra incentive to go the extra mile in order to keep customers in a highly-competitive environment. As technological advancements continue to make stunning animation more accessible we will start to see motion design creep into the live-action industry territory. Whatever the future holds, it is clear motion design is going to be increasingly important in the world of content production.