If you’re thinking about whether you should get a drawing tablet to help with animation or not, then you are not alone. Many animators, especially beginners, often mull over this issue. The important question to ask here is how important a drawing tablet is to animation. The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, as you might expect of a question this complex. It really depends.
But first, let us lay some groundwork and understand the world of animation and drawing tablets.
What is animation?
The original meaning of animation was ‘the state of being alive’. In fact, up until today, the word is still used to mean being full of life or to show liveliness. Perhaps that is why the word was adopted by the industry when we started getting images to move. In modern times, animation has come to refer to the manipulation of figures so that they appear to be moving.
We remember that when we were first introduced to the techniques of animation, and found it rather odd. In the artistic world, including the digital world, motion isn’t fluid. It involves taking multiple frames of a figure in slightly different yet progressive positions and showing them in quick succession. The result is that the figure moves. You can theoretically make the interval between frames as small as possible, but it will never quite be zero.
You could argue that this is partly due to the limitations of modern technology, but it’s there in the physical world as well. There is a smallest possible unit of time, which would be the interval between being in one state and another. It is called Planck time, named after the famous Physicist Max Planck. As far as we know, something is in one place and then at another after a Planck time unit has passed. And we’ll never know how it got from point A to point B because we can’t split the intervals any further than Planck time.
That means, technically, even in the real world, motion is really just a series of frames. Things are in one place at one point in time and in another at another point in time, just like frames in computer animation. And because there is a limit to how many frames we can add between any two frames, even in the real world, at some point, you’re going to have to agree that motion is basically an illusion and things are just teleporting at a fundamental level.
Okay, enough with the philosophical speech.
The point we’re trying to put across, is that animation is getting a bunch of stills differing ever so slightly but progressively and then displaying them in quick succession.
What’s a drawing tablet and what types are there?
You’ll hear drawing tablets going by many names, including pen tablet and graphics tablet. These basically all mean the same thing. A drawing tablet is a hardware device that enables you to draw on a computer with a pen, much like you would draw on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil
Drawing tablets are a boon to artists because they enable you to draw in a more natural one. If you’ve ever tried to do freehand drawing with a keyboard, then you know just how frustrating it can be. While a drawing tablet certainly has its own learning curve, and isn’t immediately intuitive for everyone, it is orders of magnitude easier to use than a mouse, and once you get the hang of it, can improve your workflows dramatically, depending on what you’re doing.
A drawing tablet comes with a tablet with a drawing area that is sensitive to the pressure applied by the stylus, a pen or stylus for doing the drawing, and associated software (and apps) for translating your drawing into an image.
There are two kinds of drawing tablets: graphics tablets and display tablets.
- Graphics tablets – A graphics tablet has a plain dark drawing area on which you will do your art work. It won’t show any images, but you can connect it to a computer and your strokes will be displayed on the screen. The thing to remember about graphics tablets is that your eyes should not be on the tablet but on the screen, since that is where the final product appears. It takes a while to learn, but becomes more natural after a while.
- Display tablets – On display tablets, the drawing area is also a screen, so you can see your drawing in real time as you make it. These are superior to graphics tablets as they feel more natural, but they are also much more expensive, so that’s something to consider.
Now that we have a good idea what a drawing tablet is, and how it works, we can delve deeper into some of the frequently asked questions in relations to drawing tablets and animation.
Can you animate with a drawing tablet?
Yes you can, with the right software. At the very least, you can draw the artwork on the drawing tablet and then animate it with the help of software.
How do you animate on a drawing tablet?
There are many ways to do this. Remember that animation is all about getting a group of individual images that change subtly but progressively and chaining them together.
With that in mind, it should be easy to animate with a tablet, and there are plenty of ways to do it.
You could, for example, draw the images and then use animation software, such as Sketchbook Pro or Adobe Photoshop. You could also take screen captures of the images and open them in a regular video editor, putting them into different frames and then speeding them up.
Some drawing tablets come with proprietary animation software, or integrate well with existing animation software like Blender and others.
What are the benefits of animating with a drawing tablet?
Animating with a drawing tablet has numerous benefits:
- Your workflow is much faster
- It’s easier to transfer images to the computer
- It’s easier to edit your images
- Drawing tablets have more flexibility than pen and paper, even in terms of what colors and other modification tools are available to you.
If you’re strictly looking to do the kind of animation that requires you to draw individual frames, and want more flexibility and speed, it’s hard to do better than a drawing tablet.
What are the benefits of animating on paper?
After mentioning all the benefits of animating on a tablet above, one might wonder what the point of animating on paper is. To be frank, there aren’t many. In fact, we can only think of one:
Pen and paper just feels more natural and intuitive than tablets, and some artists, even after decades of using tablets and other forms of advanced graphics design software, still appreciate the purity of pen and paper.
There is something almost primitive about how natural pen and paper feels, from the fact that you can see your drawing form as you draw it to the very feel of the paper under your pen. In a sense, paper feels very ‘close’, while anything digital feels ‘far away’.
On the other hand, the workflows are harder and it takes longer to get any meaningful results on paper than it might with a drawing tablet, or even regular animating software that involves a mouse and keyboard.
At the very least, if you are an absolute beginner, we would advise you to start your journey on paper. Use it to learn and get the skills into your hands first. Learn how to regulate pressure on paper before you do it on a tablet. Get an old book and make a flip book out of it. It will take a very long time, and lots of hard work, learning to draw and animate at the same time, but the lessons you learn will stick with you forever and make it easier to transition to more advanced forms of technology.
Once you paper drawing skills are decent, you can start playing around with drawing tablet.
You’ll appreciate them a lot more coming from paper than coming from nothing at all. And you’ll probably be able to do incredible things with drawing tablets when you have already developed the drawing skills elsewhere.
Do I need a drawing tablet to animate and can I get by without one?
The answer to this is that it depends. If you’re planning to do lots of free-hand drawing before animating, whether 2D or 3D, then you’ll definitely need a drawing tablet. It may take a while to get used to, but it will make your life infinitely easier.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to learn other aspects of graphic design, such as designing banners, manipulating photos, or creating vector icons, then you don’t need a drawing tablet. You should be able to do all of that with a keyboard, a mouse, and the right kind of software.
And even today, we have plenty of animation software that comes with some incredible abilities straight of the box, allowing you to develop characters from scratch without doing any hand-drawing yourself. So even that area is debatable.
However, if you like to draw your own unique characters and then modify and animate them from there, then a drawing tablet will prove a wonderful boon to your workflows.