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5 ways to add a handmade touch to animations

Have you ever looked at a cracking animation and wondered: How did they achieve that handmade look? Did they really cut out 1,000 pieces of paper? I want to know their secrets! Well, you’re in the right place. 

(Although we can’t give away all of our secrets – we’d be here all day…)

Many of the animations we create here at Alive require that perfectly imperfect look, whether they’re styled after children’s drawings or (supposedly) made from ripped pieces of paper, brimming with texture. Here are the key methods we use to create them…


1.     Emulating hand-drawn (or cut) elements Animation exmple for emulating hand-drawn (or cut) elements

One of the simplest ways is to fake it. We do this by overlaying multiple effects onto our computer animation to simulate a hand-drawn or stop motion piece, with the goal of making everything a bit wibbly-wobbly.

We drop the frames per second from 25 to 12 to reduce the smooth motion often created with computer animation. We also use an effect called Turbulent Displace to make everything a little bit rough around the edges. When used subtly and correctly, this works really well for making outlines and curves less perfect, or giving the effect of ripped paper/cloth/other materials. If we’re simulating stop motion, we might also make some elements shuffle around a little bit using what we call a ‘wiggle’ so they’re never perfectly still, to emulate how things may get nudged slightly every time a photo is taken when creating a real stop motion piece. We used all of these methods to animate our new Alive Academy course.



2.     Actually hand drawing elements Animation exmple for actually hand drawing elements

Of course, nothing beats the real deal, so when we get the opportunity it’s always fun to break out our digital pencils and draw individual frames. Although this is more authentic than faking it, it requires a lot of time and work – creating 30 seconds of frame-by-frame animation requires 360 drawings. Not the most ideal, especially as changing that animation later would be far more difficult than editing a computer-generated one. This is why we often mix and match methods 1 and 2 so that our animations feel authentically handmade while maintaining control and editability – which is exactly what we did for our most recent animation for National Energy Action.

Our wonderful illustrator Kat drew some fully frame-by-frame sequences and drew a few frames of other elements which we looped and used throughout the animation.



3.     Texture, texture, texture Animation exmple for texture, texture, texture

So everything is a bit wibbly-wobbly or it’s been drawn digitally frame-by-frame, but if the background is a pure white void, it won’t look realistic either way. This is where texture is key. Using scans of paper, card and cloth can be very handy here – we make sure to use multiple scans of these textures or flip/shuffle one around so that there isn’t just a static texture, as this doesn’t look the most believable.

Adding a little noise and grain, and some shadows to really sell that these pieces of paper are sat on something rather than everything being completely flat, also adds realism. Depending on the situation we might want to add in some blurring around the edges of the frame to simulate camera focus too.


4.     The golden rules Animation exmple for the golden rules

Although this is important for all forms of animation, it’s especially paramount when trying to emulate frame-by-frame animation: using the 12 principles devised by the founding members of Disney. Some of the most important are:

  • Anticipation (a smaller movement that happens before another to help the audience expect what will come next, such as pulling back before throwing a punch)
  • Follow through / overshoot (how a movement goes a little too far before settling into its final position)
  • Squash and stretch (objects getting thinner when moving quickly and being squashed down when hitting into a surface, while maintaining volume)

Employing these principles allows us to reflect the techniques used by frame-by-frame animators when they draw each frame individually, but with computer-generated animation. This is also a great way to create personality in our work and avoid things looking wooden or boring.


5.     To blur or not to blur Animation exmple for to blur or not to blur

Motion blur is often used in animation to simulate a real-life camera capturing movement – camera shutter speeds mean that when a photo (or a frame of video) is taken, it isn’t capturing one single moment in time, so moving things are blurred. However, in stop motion animation, the subjects are static when each frame is captured, so there is no apparent motion blur.

Similarly in frame-by-frame animation, each frame is drawn and so there is no blur. By this logic, we shouldn’t include any motion blur if we’re simulating these techniques… But there may be some cases where we break our own rules, for example if we have lots of pieces of paper on screen and they’re all blown offscreen, it might sell the realism of the motion itself if there’s some motion blur.


We’ll talk keyframes with anyone so would love to hear any thoughts or questions you have – drop us a line at


By Em Green

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Emily Stoten — Head of Marketing, Selecta

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

“Thanks for all your help. We are delighted with the campaign, both in terms of the creativity and messaging but also the thought taken over the rollout of the materials. All looks absolutely fabulous!”

Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

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Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

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Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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