How Many Frames Are in One Second of Film Animation?

Extreme Close Up Of Film Reel
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The illusion of smooth motion in an animated film is created by running individual drawings in rapid succession in which the objects in the drawings differ only slightly from one another. When these rapidly running images are perceived by the human eye, the mind interprets this as flowing movement. This is similar to how traditional motion pictures are created, except rather than capturing live human actors with a camera that takes exposures in rapid succession, animated film uses artwork drawings.


Traditional Hand-Drawn Animation

For a traditional cartoon, the series of artist's drawings are copied onto transparent acetate sheets called cels, which are then filled in with paints in various colors. The completed cells are then photographed one-by-one against a painted background onto motion picture film—usually 35 mm.  

The number of illustrated frames per second actually depends on the type of medium being used. When traditional artist drawings and motion picture film was the predominant method for publishing animation, 24 frames per second was the standard rate. However, each artist drawing is typically photographed twice, which means that one second of animation has 24 frames, but only 12 drawings. In low-budget animation, fewer drawings are sometimes used, which leads to a jerkiness that is easily recognized but accepted due to the expected stylized nature of cartoon animation. 

Famous examples of classic animated films based on hand-drawn artwork include: 

  • Snow White (1937)
  •  Fantasia (1940)
  • Cinderella (1950)
  • 101 Dalmations (1961)
  • The Sword in the Stone (1963)

Computer-Generated Animation

Computer animation may seem radically different than hand-drawn animation, but the principles are largely the same.

Individual images are joined in rapid succession to create the illusion of seamless motion. The only difference is that in digital animation,  skilled computer artists are creating the artwork digitally. Some digital animation still used the standard 24 fps rate that was used on animation using hand-drawn artwork, but the flexibility of digital artistry is now making 25 or 30 frames-per-second more common. Some modern animation is experimenting for frame rates of 40 or even 60 frames per second. 

The first digital animation in a mainstream feature film occurred in the 1973 film Westworld, in which digitally created animated robot figures were integrated into a live-action film. Other films making use of digitally-created characters and vehicles included Disney's The Black Hole, the Star Wars films, and the now classic Alien. The 1980s and 1990s saw increasing use of computer generated graphics to augment traditional live action films, but the first beginning-to-end "cartoon" feature-length movie to be made entirely with digital animation was 1995's Toy Story.  

Since then, big-budget, full-length animated films have gradually become dominated by digital technology, though traditional artist-drawn cel animation is still seen in independent, artistic films.


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Sanders, Adrien-Luc. "How Many Frames Are in One Second of Film Animation?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 5, 2018, Sanders, Adrien-Luc. (2018, February 5). How Many Frames Are in One Second of Film Animation? Retrieved from Sanders, Adrien-Luc. "How Many Frames Are in One Second of Film Animation?" ThoughtCo. (accessed February 22, 2018).