What is Cut-Out Animation and How Does It Work?

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Cutout animation is a form of stop motion animation where the characters and scenes are made from cutouts and moved on a flat surface. It’s a great way to create animations without spending a lot of money on expensive animation equipment (here’s what you would need otherwise).

cutout animation

In this post we'll cover:

Getting Creative: The Art of Cut-Out Animation

Cut-out animation allows for a wide range of creative possibilities, and the choice of materials and techniques can greatly impact the final result. Here are some important elements to consider:

1. Materials: While paper is a common choice for cut-out animation, other materials like cardstock, fabric, or even thin plastic can also be used. The type of material chosen depends on the desired effect and the level of durability needed.

2. Techniques: Different techniques can be applied to create various effects in cut-out animation. For example, using dark-colored cut-outs against a light background can create a silhouette effect, while using fair-colored cut-outs against a dark background can produce a striking contrast.

3. Professional Tools: For those looking to take their cut-out animation to a professional level, specialized tools such as precision knives, cutting mats, and wire connectors can be helpful. These tools allow for more precise movements and intricate designs.


4. Modern Advancements: With the advent of digital technology, cut-out animation has evolved to incorporate digital editing software. This allows for easier manipulation of frames, the addition of sound effects, and the ability to make changes without starting from scratch.

The Long and Short of It: Time and Patience

Creating a cut-out animation can be a time-consuming process, as it requires careful attention to detail and patience. The majority of the work lies in the preparation and execution of each frame, which can take hours or even days depending on the complexity of the animation.

However, the beauty of cut-out animation lies in its versatility. Whether you’re creating a short, simple animation or a longer, more intricate piece, the process can be tailored to suit your needs and desired outcome.

The Evolution of Cut-Out Animation

The history of cut-out animation is a fascinating journey that takes us back to the early days of animation. It all began with the desire to create animated characters using pieces of paper or other materials. This innovative technique allowed animators to bring their creations to life in a step-by-step process.

The Birth of Character Cut-Outs

One of the key figures in the development of cut-out animation was Lotte Reiniger, a German animator who pioneered the use of silhouette characters. In the 1920s, Reiniger began to produce short films featuring intricate black paper cut-outs. Her work, such as “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” showcased the versatility of this medium and its ability to create dynamic and natural movements.

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Wire and Paper: Building Blocks of Cut-Out Animation

In the early days, animators would create characters by attaching various shapes and elements to a wire or thin pieces of material. These characters were then positioned and manipulated to bring them to life. The slight changes in the placement of the cut-out pieces allowed for control over the character’s movements, making cut-out animation a highly versatile technique.

From Hand-Crafted to Digital

As technology advanced, so did the art of cut-out animation. With the advent of digital tools, animators were able to create cut-out animations using software that simulated the traditional hand-crafted process. This transition from physical materials to digital platforms brought new possibilities and improved the overall production quality of cut-out animations.

Exploring Different Styles and Genres

Cut-out animation has been utilized in various forms and styles throughout its history. From simple illustrations to complex character constructions, this technique has been able to adapt to different genres and artistic visions. Whether it’s a short film, a music video, or a commercial, cut-out animation has proven to be a versatile medium.

Inspiring Artists Abroad

The influence of cut-out animation has spread worldwide, inspiring artists from different countries to experiment with this unique form of storytelling. In countries like Russia and Poland, cut-out animation has become a prominent genre, with filmmakers pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved through this technique.

Remembering the Pioneers

As we delve into the history of cut-out animation, it’s important to remember the pioneers who paved the way for this unique art form. From Lotte Reiniger to contemporary animators, their dedication and innovation have shaped the way we perceive and appreciate animation today.

Unleashing the Magic: Characteristics of Cut-Out Animation

1. Animation in Motion: Bringing Characters to Life

Cut-out animation is all about movement. Animators meticulously control the motion of their characters, scene by scene, to create the illusion of life. Each character is carefully crafted using separate pieces, like limbs, facial features, and props, which are then manipulated to create fluid movements.

2. The Art of Control: Taming the Difficulty

Controlling the movements of cut-out characters can be quite challenging. Unlike traditional cel animation, where characters are drawn and painted on transparent celluloid, cut-out animation requires a different approach. Animators must plan each movement in advance, ensuring that the separate pieces fit together seamlessly. This lends a unique level of complexity to the process.

3. Rapid and Continuous: The Limitations of Cut-Out Animation

While cut-out animation allows for rapid and continuous movement, it does come with its limitations. The use of pre-drawn and pre-painted pieces restricts the range of motion and poses that characters can achieve. Animators must work within these limitations to create engaging and believable scenes.

4. A Personal Touch: The Animator’s Judgment

Cut-out animation is a highly personal form of expression. Each animator brings their own style and artistic vision to the table. The way an animator portrays the mood, emotions, and movements of the characters is a reflection of their unique perspective and experience.

5. Moving Beyond the Surface: Creating Depth and Dimension

While cut-out animation may seem flat at first glance, skilled animators can create the illusion of depth and dimension. Through careful layering and positioning of the cut-out pieces, animators can add visual interest and make their scenes come alive.

6. Experience Matters: The Importance of Practice

Becoming proficient in cut-out animation requires practice and experience. As animators hone their skills, they develop a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of how to bring their characters to life. The more an animator works with cut-out animation, the more they can push the boundaries of what is possible within this unique medium.

In the world of animation, cut-out animation stands out for its distinct characteristics. From the meticulous control of movement to the limitations and possibilities it presents, this form of animation offers a unique canvas for animators to unleash their creativity. So, grab your scissors, glue, and imagination, and let the magic of cut-out animation unfold before your eyes.

The Perks of Cut-Out Animation

1. Flexibility and Efficiency

Cut-out animation offers a range of advantages that make it a popular choice among animators. One of the biggest perks is its flexibility and efficiency. With cut-out animation, animators can easily manipulate and reposition various elements of a character or scene, saving time and effort compared to traditional frame-by-frame animation. This allows for quicker production and a faster turnaround time, making it ideal for projects with tight deadlines.

2. Detailed Characters and Fluid Movement

Cut-out animation allows animators to create highly detailed characters with intricate shapes and designs. By using separate pieces or “cels” for different body parts, animators can achieve a level of detail that would be time-consuming to draw frame by frame. This technique also allows for fluid movement, as the separate cels can be easily repositioned and adjusted to create lifelike motion. The result is characters that move smoothly and convincingly, enhancing the overall quality of the animation.

3. Synchronized Lip Sync and Facial Expressions

One of the challenges in traditional animation is achieving synchronized lip sync and facial expressions. However, cut-out animation simplifies this process. By using pre-drawn mouth shapes and facial expressions on separate cels, animators can easily swap them out to match the dialogue or emotions of the characters. This technique ensures that the characters’ lip movements and facial expressions are in sync with the audio, adding a layer of realism and enhancing the storytelling.

4. Sound Integration

Cut-out animation seamlessly integrates with sound, allowing animators to synchronize their visuals with audio cues. Whether it’s dialogue, music, or sound effects, cut-out animation provides a platform for precise timing and coordination. Animators can easily match the movements and actions of the characters to the corresponding sounds, creating a more immersive and engaging viewing experience.

5. Versatility in Storytelling

Cut-out animation offers a wide range of creative possibilities for storytelling. Its flexibility allows animators to experiment with different visual styles and techniques, making it suitable for various genres and narratives. Whether it’s a whimsical children’s story or a dark and gritty adventure, cut-out animation can adapt to the tone and atmosphere of the story, enhancing its impact on the audience.

6. Reduced Production Duration

Compared to traditional hand-drawn animation, cut-out animation significantly reduces the production duration. The ability to reuse and reposition elements saves time and effort, allowing animators to focus on other aspects of the animation process. This efficiency is particularly beneficial for projects with limited timeframes or tight budgets, ensuring that the final product is delivered on schedule without compromising quality.

The Drawbacks of Cut-Out Animation

1. Requires meticulous and difficult detail work

Creating a cut-out animation may seem like a breeze, but don’t be fooled by its seemingly simple nature. While it does offer advantages in terms of time and effort, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. One of the main drawbacks is the level of detail required in the design and shaping of the cut-out pieces. Each element needs to be carefully crafted and positioned to ensure smooth movement and realistic representation.

2. Limited range of movement

Unlike traditional hand-drawn animation, cut-out animation has its limits when it comes to movement. The animator must work within the constraints of the cut-out pieces, which can restrict the range of motion. This limitation can sometimes hinder the creativity and fluidity of the animation, especially when it comes to complex actions or dynamic camera shots.

3. Facial expressions and dialogue synchronization

Another challenge in cut-out animation lies in capturing facial expressions and synchronizing them with dialogue. Since the cut-out pieces are pre-designed, animators must carefully manipulate them to convey the desired emotions and lip movements. This process can be time-consuming and requires meticulous attention to detail to ensure that the characters’ expressions are accurately synchronized with the recorded or mimed dialogue.

4. Stories with longer duration

Cut-out animation may not be the ideal choice for stories that require a longer duration. Due to the intricate nature of the process, creating a longer cut-out animation can be quite time-consuming. Animators would need to design and position a larger number of cut-out pieces, increasing the workload and potentially extending the production timeline.

5. Limited picture quality

While cut-out animation offers advantages in terms of efficiency, it does have limitations when it comes to picture quality. The nature of cut-out animation often results in a slightly less polished look compared to traditional cel animation or digital 2D animation. The edges of the cut-out pieces may not be as smooth, and the overall visual aesthetic may lack the same level of detail and depth.

What is digital cut-out animation?

Digital cut-out animation is a modern form of animation that involves using a computer software to create animated sequences. It is a technique that has gained popularity in recent years due to its flexibility and efficiency in the animation industry. This style of animation allows artists to bring their designs to life in a unique and captivating way.

How Does Digital Cut-Out Animation Work?

Digital cut-out animation works by utilizing a number of small, separate elements or shapes that are placed and attached together to create characters, objects, and backgrounds. These elements are similar to the cut-out pieces used in traditional cut-out animation, but instead of physically gluing or wiring them together, they are digitally connected using software.

The process of creating a digital cut-out animation involves several steps:

1. Design: The artist decides on the final designs for the characters, objects, and backgrounds. This step is important as it sets the overall style and tone of the animation.

2. Cut-Out Elements: The artist creates the individual elements or shapes that will be used in the animation. These can range from simple geometric shapes to more complex character parts with intricate details. It is preferable to create these elements on a dark background to improve visibility during the animation process.

3. Software: A standard animation software or a specific cut-out animation tool is utilized to connect the individual elements together. This software allows the artist to easily manipulate and animate the elements, giving them life and movement.

4. Connecting the Elements: The artist decides how the different parts of the characters or objects will be connected. This can be done by using a variety of techniques, such as attaching the elements with virtual “glue” or using a wire-like tool to connect them.

5. Animation: Once the elements are connected, the artist can start animating the characters or objects. This involves moving the individual elements in a sequence of frames to create the illusion of movement.

6. Additional Details: Depending on the desired style and complexity of the animation, additional details can be added to the individual elements. This step allows the artist to add depth, texture, and other visual enhancements to the animation.

The Difference Between Digital Cut-Out Animation and Traditional Cut-Out Animation

While digital cut-out animation shares similarities with traditional cut-out animation, there are some key differences:

  • Workflow: Digital cut-out animation relies on software and digital tools, whereas traditional cut-out animation involves physically manipulating paper or other materials.
  • Editing: Digital cut-out animation allows for easy editing and adjustments, while traditional cut-out animation requires more manual work to make changes.
  • Complexity: Digital cut-out animation can handle more complex movements and visual effects compared to traditional cut-out animation.
  • Variety: Digital cut-out animation offers a wider range of styles and techniques due to the flexibility of digital tools.

Mastering the Art of Patience: How Long Does Cut-Out Animation Take?

When it comes to cut-out animation, time is of the essence. As an aspiring animator, you may find yourself wondering just how long it takes to bring your creations to life. Well, my friend, the answer to that question is not as straightforward as you might hope. The duration of cut-out animation can vary depending on several factors. Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty details:

Complexity of the Project

One of the primary factors influencing the time it takes to complete a cut-out animation is the complexity of the project itself. The more intricate and detailed your characters and backgrounds are, the longer it will take to bring them to life. Each individual element in your animation requires careful manipulation and positioning, which can be a time-consuming process.

Experience and Skill Level

As with any art form, the more experienced and skilled you are as an animator, the faster you’ll be able to complete your projects. Seasoned animators have honed their techniques and developed efficient workflows over time, allowing them to work more quickly and effectively. So, if you’re just starting out, don’t be discouraged if your first few projects take longer than expected. With practice, you’ll become a cut-out animation wizard in no time.

Team Collaboration

Cut-out animation can be a collaborative effort, with multiple animators working together to bring a project to life. If you’re lucky enough to have a team of talented individuals by your side, the duration of your animation can be significantly reduced. Each team member can focus on different aspects of the project, speeding up the overall production process.

Software and Tools

The choice of software and tools can also impact the time it takes to create a cut-out animation. Some animation software offers features and shortcuts that can streamline the process, making it faster and more efficient. Additionally, using tools like pre-made templates or rigging systems can save you precious time by automating certain tasks.

Patience is a Virtue

Now, let’s get down to the burning question: how long does cut-out animation actually take? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. The duration can range from a few hours for a simple project to several weeks or even months for more complex endeavors. It all boils down to the factors mentioned above and your personal dedication to the craft.

So, my fellow animator, buckle up and embrace the journey. Cut-out animation may require time and patience, but the end result is worth every second spent. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a masterpiece of animation.

Exploring the World of Cutout Animation Software

1. Toon Boom Harmony

If you’re serious about diving into the world of cutout animation, Toon Boom Harmony is a software that should be on your radar. It’s a powerful tool used by professionals in the animation industry and offers a wide range of features to bring your cutout characters to life. With its intuitive interface and robust functionality, Toon Boom Harmony allows you to create smooth and seamless animations with ease.

2. Adobe After Effects

For those who are already familiar with Adobe’s suite of creative software, Adobe After Effects can be a great choice for creating cutout animations. This versatile software is widely used for motion graphics and visual effects, and it also offers tools and features specifically designed for cutout animation. With its extensive library of effects and plugins, you can add depth and polish to your cutout characters, giving them a professional touch.

3. Moho (formerly Anime Studio)

Moho, previously known as Anime Studio, is another popular software option for creating cutout animations. It offers a user-friendly interface and a range of powerful features tailored to the needs of cutout animators. Moho provides a bone-rigging system that allows you to easily manipulate and animate your cutout characters, giving them fluid movements and expressions. It also offers a variety of pre-made assets and templates to help you get started quickly.

4. OpenToonz

If you’re looking for a free and open-source option, OpenToonz is worth considering. Developed by Studio Ghibli and Digital Video, this software offers a comprehensive set of tools for creating cutout animations. While it may not have the same level of polish as some of the paid options, OpenToonz still provides a solid platform for bringing your cutout characters to life. It offers features like automatic in-betweening, which can save you time and effort in the animation process.

5. Dragonframe

While Dragonframe is primarily known for its stop-motion animation capabilities, it can also be used for cutout animation. This software is widely used by professional animators and offers precise control over the animation process. With Dragonframe, you can easily create and manipulate cutout characters frame by frame, ensuring smooth and fluid movements. It also provides features like onion skinning and camera control, allowing you to fine-tune your animations with precision.

6. Pencil2D

For those just starting out or on a tight budget, Pencil2D is a free and open-source software that can be a great option. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the more advanced software, Pencil2D provides a simple and intuitive interface for creating cutout animations. It offers basic drawing and animation tools, allowing you to bring your cutout characters to life with ease. It’s a great choice for beginners or those looking to experiment with cutout animation without investing in expensive software.

So, whether you’re a seasoned professional or a beginner exploring the world of cutout animation, there are plenty of software options available to suit your needs and budget. From industry-standard tools like Toon Boom Harmony and Adobe After Effects to free options like OpenToonz and Pencil2D, the choice is yours. So go ahead, unleash your creativity, and bring your cutout characters to life with the power of animation software!

Exploring the World of Cutout Animation: Inspiring Examples

1. “South Park”- The Pioneers of Cutout Animation

When it comes to cutout animation, one cannot ignore the groundbreaking series “South Park.” Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this irreverent show has been entertaining audiences since 1997. Using construction paper cutouts and stop-motion techniques, the creators bring to life the misadventures of four foul-mouthed boys in the fictional town of South Park, Colorado.

Key highlights of “South Park” include:

  • Simple yet expressive character designs
  • Quick production turnaround, allowing for timely social commentary
  • Unconventional humor and satire

2. “Mary and Max”- A Touching Tale of Friendship

“Mary and Max” is a heartwarming stop-motion film that beautifully showcases the potential of cutout animation. Directed by Adam Elliot, this Australian claymation masterpiece tells the story of an unlikely pen-pal friendship between Mary, a lonely young girl from Melbourne, and Max, a middle-aged man with Asperger’s syndrome from New York City.

Notable features of “Mary and Max” include:

  • Impeccable attention to detail in character design and set construction
  • A poignant and emotionally resonant narrative
  • The use of a muted color palette to evoke a sense of melancholy

3. “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”- A Cutout Animation Classic

Released in 1926, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” is considered the oldest surviving animated feature film. Directed by Lotte Reiniger, this German film showcases the enchanting beauty of silhouette cutout animation. Each frame was meticulously crafted by hand, resulting in a visually stunning and magical experience.

Highlights of “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” include:

  • Innovative use of silhouette cutouts to create intricate characters and landscapes
  • A captivating story inspired by Arabian Nights tales
  • Groundbreaking techniques that paved the way for future animation styles

4. “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb”- Dark and Surreal

“The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” is a British stop-motion film that pushes the boundaries of cutout animation. Directed by Dave Borthwick, this dark and surreal tale follows the adventures of a thumb-sized boy named Tom Thumb in a dystopian world.

Key elements of “The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb” include:

  • Experimental animation techniques, blending live-action and puppetry
  • A haunting and thought-provoking narrative
  • A unique visual style that combines grotesque and fantastical elements

5. “The Triplets of Belleville”- Quirky and Musical

“The Triplets of Belleville” is a French-Belgian animated film that showcases the charm of cutout animation. Directed by Sylvain Chomet, this whimsical and offbeat movie tells the story of Madame Souza, her loyal dog Bruno, and the eccentric singing triplets as they embark on a journey to rescue her kidnapped grandson.

Noteworthy aspects of “The Triplets of Belleville” include:

  • A distinct visual style inspired by French comic books and jazz culture
  • A captivating soundtrack that integrates seamlessly with the animation
  • Minimal dialogue, relying on expressive visuals to convey the story

These examples demonstrate the versatility and creative potential of cutout animation. Whether it’s the irreverent humor of “South Park,” the emotional depth of “Mary and Max,” or the innovative techniques of “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” cutout animation continues to captivate audiences with its unique aesthetic and storytelling possibilities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cut Out Animation

In cut out animation, various materials can be utilized to bring the characters and scenes to life. Some common materials include:

  • Cardboard: This sturdy material is often used as the base for the characters and props.
  • Paper: Different types of paper, such as colored or textured paper, can be used to add depth and detail to the animation.
  • Foam: Foam sheets or blocks can be used to create three-dimensional elements or add texture to the characters.
  • Fabric: Pieces of fabric can be used to create clothing or other soft elements in the animation.
  • Wire: Thin wire can be used to create armatures or provide support for the characters.

What are the steps involved in making a cut out animation?

Creating a cut out animation involves several steps, including:

1. Character Design: The first step is to design the characters and props that will be used in the animation. This can be done by hand-drawing or using digital software.
2. Cutting Out: Once the designs are finalized, the characters and props are cut out from the chosen materials.
3. Connecting the Pieces: The different parts of the characters are connected using various techniques, such as glue, tape, or small connectors.
4. Animation Setup: The characters are placed on a background or set, and any additional elements, such as props or scenery, are added.
5. Shooting: The animation is captured by taking a series of photographs or using a video camera (best ones here). Each frame is adjusted slightly to create the illusion of movement.
6. Editing: The captured frames are edited together to create a seamless animation. This can be done using software like Adobe After Effects or Dragonframe.
7. Sound and Effects: Sound effects, music, and additional visual effects can be added to enhance the animation.

How long does it take to create a cut out animation?

The time required to create a cut out animation can vary depending on the complexity of the project and the experience of the animator. Simple animations with a few characters may take a few days to complete, while more complex animations featuring intricate illustrations and special effects can take weeks or even months.

Is cut out animation more expensive compared to traditional animation?

Cut out animation offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional animation techniques. While traditional animation often requires a large team of artists and expensive equipment, cut out animation can be done with a smaller studio setup and basic materials. This makes it a more accessible option for independent animators or those with limited budgets.

What are the different styles and techniques of cut out animation?

Cut out animation offers a wide range of styles and techniques, depending on the intention and artistic vision of the animator. Some popular styles include:

  • Traditional Cut Out: This style involves using flat, two-dimensional characters and props that are moved frame by frame.
  • Puppet Cut Out: In this style, the characters are attached to armatures or wires, allowing for more complex movements and poses.
  • Silhouette Cut Out: Silhouette cut out animation focuses on creating animations using only the outlines or shadows of the characters, giving it a distinct and artistic look.
  • Musical Cut Out: This style combines cut out animation with musical elements, such as synchronized movements or choreographed sequences.

Cut out animation offers a low-cost and versatile way to bring stories to life. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced animator, this technique provides endless possibilities for creativity and storytelling. So grab your scissors, glue, and imagination, and start creating your own cut out animation masterpiece!


So there you have it- cutout animation is a great way to bring your imagination to life. It’s a pretty time-consuming process, but the end result is worth it. 

You can use cutout animation to create pretty much anything, from simple cartoons to complex characters and scenes. So don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.