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Not Just Another Trends Article: Actionable Animation Advice for 2023

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: trends article season. Every company in every industry (animation included) is working to publish a piece reviewing 2022’s takeaways and predicting what 2023 will bring. 

To buck the trend of merely sharing trends (although we’ll do that, too), we’re offering advice on what to do with the information you’re seeing. With a strategy on how to approach 2023’s animation trends, your work will be evergreen. 

Know the (Trend) Rules to Break Them 

Trends change. They lack longevity by their very nature. Even the trends we list below are ultimately fleeting. Chasing after trends can feel like a Sysiphian climb bound to end in discontent as the goalpost of what’s in vogue keeps shifting. So why read about trends at all? Because you have to know the rules to break the rules.

Seek inspiration from trends content. Trends are a compass pointing you in the right direction. Not a GPS announcing turn-by-turn instructions. Chart your own path from where your brand is now to the near-term trend that speaks to you most. Once you’ve arrived at the trend, keep going. Where should your brand take the trend next? What’s hot now starts you on a path to what will be hot next — making you a bonafide trendsetter instead of another trend follower. 

How to Create Relevant Animations  

Trends aside, there are ways you can ensure your animations maintain their luster long-term

First, commit to giving your style a chance. Trends are temporary because they’re forgotten almost as soon as they’re noticed. But a brand with a long-term view of its content can make any style familiar by applying it to several animations over time. This type of purposefully designed art with repeated elements and known context will always be relevant and recognizable to your audience (or your client’s audience). 

Also, review your signature design style periodically. Make minor updates to details like line widths, textures, contrast ratios, movement types, and interactive behaviors. 

These updates may or may not be in-line with what’s trending. The point is that just because global trends are constantly changing doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Iterative style tweaks allow your content to feel contemporary while preserving its connection to your earlier work. In turn, your earlier content retains its relevance. It can still feel like it belongs in a campaign even as the campaign evolves to suit trends or whatever style adjustment makes it feel modern. 

For example, we’ve periodically refreshed the design of a long-term Pfizer campaign we’ve produced over the course of three years. This approach ensures new content is contemporary enough to keep audiences engaged while matching the evolution of the brand and also staying true to the campaign that spawned it.

Abstract representations

Code Representation

Characters

3 Animation Trends to Make Your Own in 2023

Now you know how to properly handle trends. Let’s explore three we’re seeing in the animation industry.

1. Tradition Is No Match for the Mishmash 

Technology like AI has given us the ability to make pixel perfect animations. An exact circle is possible. And so much of what we do is wrapped up in code. 

The first trend — what we’ve dubbed “the mishmash” — is a rebellion against the digitalization of an animator’s work. Artists are ready to rage against the machine of “good” techniques and traditional “beauty” in illustrations. 

What does the mishmash look like in action? It’s a hodgepodge of styles coming together to create something new and unique, like:

  • Mixing 3D and 2D
  • Newfangled combinations of textures and brush styles, such as fine lines and thick, sloppy brushes 
  • Outlined body parts complete with texture-filled clothing and solid background colors 

The mishmash in final animation form would be a lot of frame-by-frame or staggered frame-rate playback to enhance the artisan, imperfect perfection of this style.

Going forward, we’d love to see this trend evolve to combine purposeful geometry and clean edges to maintain a balanced and “chic” look. Think of the whole thing as controlled messiness.

Here’s a few examples: 

2. Art and Animation Collide 

Animation is taking a cue from the art world, specifically the Light and Space movement. Light and Space movement artists manipulate light, volume, and scale to influence the perceptual and sensory experience of their work. They might direct the flow of natural light, for instance, or embed an artificial light within a structure. Take a peek at the work of James Turrell and Robert Irwin if you want an idea of this art movement in action. 

The art movement’s themes are translating to the animation world in the form of subtle gradients to challenge expectations, trick the eye with depth filled environments that don’t distract from the main action, or create expressive backdrops to effectively frame and highlight foreground action in a contemporary fashion.

To take this trend to the next level, we think animators should continue to play with animated gradients mapped in both 2D and 3D. There should also be further exploration of how real lens behavior can be applied to 2D animation to elicit a physical sense of movement from viewers. Or to create other types of unique transitions within animations. 

3. Joy Finds a Host in Animated Work   

We don’t need to tell you that our world has gotten really dark in recent years. Climate change, wars, political unrest — the list goes on and on. Brand animations have too often become serious and somber with muted tones to reflect the uncertainty plaguing us. 

Thankfully, there’s a new sensibility trending that can serve as an antidote to the darkness. We’re calling it “joyism.” It’s simply infusing more joy into your work. 

Animations influence people’s emotions. As much as possible, everyone should choose to impart joy and levity with their designs this year. How? By thinking up friendly characters and playful silhouettes. Or choosing brighter colors and softer edges. Animated characters also exude more joy when they’re slightly inhuman. It’s a sophisticated take on a classic cartoonish style that’s simply fun.   


We’ve been especially inspired by the work of DABSMYLA, Cachetejack and Haley Wall, and we’ve also tried our own hand at bringing variations of joy to the work we create at MOWE when possible:

We dare you not to smile at the whimsy!

MOWE Takes on the Trends

We’re working on some fun and interesting projects that will propel us into 2023. And they’ll all be markedly different from anything we’ve done in the past, so stay tuned. 

In the meantime, browse through our blog header images — like the one above. We use this space to experiment with new techniques and styles we haven’t been able to employ on client projects. 

This freedom to explore keeps us in front of many trends. Still, trends come and go. And no one can say for sure what’s next. What’s in this article is simply a time capsule of stuff that’s piqued our interest in this current moment. The best you can do is stay abreast of the trends coming your way this year. Use them to challenge yourself, your team, and your clients, and to push past comfort zones to develop unexpected work.

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David G. Stone
David G. Stone
Creative Director at MOWE

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