A normal user may not realize it, but they have animations all around them. From the moment you turn on your Windows computer to the time you shut it down, animations are all over the place. The mouse cursor, the Windows icons, the webpages, and game menus, all have animations displaying in one way or the other.
Animations help individuals thoroughly understand the concepts with a visual aid, which normal, static images lack. At other times, animations keep the users engaged and make things less boring, like the small animations in the Windows icons that have no purpose – but are only created to perform a small movement when clicked upon.
That said, animations can neither be replaced by videos, nor by images – they have their own importance. Additionally, if you are creating short films or visual aids in short videos, then you may want to consider making an animation instead.
In this article, we discuss the different animation file formats and everything you may want to know about them.
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What is animation?
An animation is a 2D or 3D moving graphic that is most likely created using a computer. In simpler words, animation is the moving of inanimate objects, like cartoons, etc.
Animations can be both long and short. There is no defined duration for an animation. Therefore, there is no defined file size for an animation either. However, as a basic practice, animation files are usually kept smaller so they can be used on the web and shared easily, consuming less bandwidth.
At this point, you may be wondering if any inanimate moving object is an animation, then what is the difference between a video and an animation?
Video vs Animation: What’s the difference
You may be confused between a video and an animation. By definition, all videos must be animations, and all animations could be considered videos. Well, that is not true.
A video or an animation is not differentiated by its duration, but rather by the file’s format, and which electronic medium was used to create it.
Videos usually refer to the moving content shot on electronic cameras. They are not inanimate objects, but rather 3D objects captured by the camera’s lens.
In contrast, animation refers to moving inanimate objects created on a computer using specific tools and applications.
That said, you may now also find short animation file formats that contain objects captured through a camera’s lens. Note that this is usually a video, or piece of a video, converted into an animation file format. This is usually done to change the size of the file or to be used in an environment where resource utilization is less.
Now that the confusion between a video and an animation is cleared, it is time to check out the common animation file formats and how they are different from one another.
Common animation file formats
Graphics Interchange Format (GIF)
- Compatible with most applications and platforms
- Ideal for logos and instructions
- Poor quality
- Greater file size
GIF is perhaps the most widely-used animation file format currently available on the internet today. GIF is a raster/bitmap file format, which means that it stores each pixel individually. A regular, image GIF file supports 8 bits per pixel for every image, allowing a single image to reference its palette of up to 256 different colors chosen from the 24-bit RGB color space.
In the case of an animated GIF file; it has bundles of different frames that roll in a sequence to show an animation. Now, the aforementioned color and depth characteristics apply to each frame inside an animated GIF file.
A GIF file is compressed using a lossless compression algorithm, which means that the file size is reduced without compromising the animation’s data. But even so, the file size is significantly larger than other animation file formats, Like PNG and SVG.
Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)
- Small file size
- Good quality
- Can be edited
- Ideal for illustrations, charts, and logos
- Resource-hungry when rendering
- Poor browser compatibility
SVG is a vector-based animation file format, which means that it consists of mathematical equations that make the animation/frame highly scalable.
An SVG file is either powered by a CSS animation or a Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL). Since SVGs are widely popular to be used on the internet, they are programmed to tell web browsers how and when to animate the shapes within the file.
SVG files are relatively smaller than other animation file formats. However, the instruction part increases the overhead payload of the file, which then in turn makes it more CPU-intensive. Therefore, SVG files with significant animations are not recommended to be used on the web.
That said, some of the resource heaviness is compensated since an SVG file does not need an HTTP request to load the animation – making it load faster. Additionally, you can also edit SVG files since they are text-based.
Animated Portable Network Graphics (APNG)
- Good quality content
- Automatic fallback to a static image if animation isn’t supported
- Huge file size
- Poor browser compatibility
If the APNG name sounds familiar, it is because it is an extension of the PNG image file format. APNG is also a raster graphics file that can store multiple frames inside a single file. It supports alpha-channel 8-bit transparency and therefore provides superior quality to a GIF file.
That said, the APNG animation file format is not widely used because of its huge file size and poor compression. However, it is still used where the animation quality is of utmost importance.
Web Picture (WEBP)
- Very small in size
- Loads quickly
- Older browsers do not support it
- Poor exporting interface
- Often loses quality with lossy compression
WebP supports 8-bit transparency and 24-bit images. It has both lossy and lossless compression, making it quite adaptable. In fact, because of dual compression abilities, WebP is perhaps one of the most compressible file formats available.
Moreover, WebP is now widely adapted because it is ideal for webpages and servers. Compared to GIF, WebP uses fewer bytes. Lossy WebPs made from animated GIFs are 64% smaller than lossless WebPs, which are only 19% smaller.
Animation Cursor (ANI)
- Significantly small in size
- Can create to customize Windows cursor icons
- Used only for Windows cursor animation
ANI files are Microsoft’s proprietary animation file formats used for Windows mouse cursor animations. An ANI file has multiple .ICO files that create the animation. Moreover, ANI files are similar to CUR files, with the only difference of having multiple image files instead of one.
That said, you can edit or create your own ANI files using the supported applications.
Shockwave Flash (SWF)
- Small in size
- Widely used and supported
SWF is an animation file that may contain text and either vector or raster graphics. It was created by Adobe to be used with Adobe Flash. However, Flash was discontinued at the end of 2020, and therefore, the SWF animation file format is also no longer used.
Before the Flash Player was discontinued, the SWF animation file format was widely used as the files were compact, loaded quickly using the Player, and supported by almost all platforms. The SWF file format became so common that the abbreviation was changed to mean “Small Web Format.”
Adobe Motion Exchange (AMX)
The AMX file format is another animation format that is created using the Adobe After Effects applications. All animation files saved using this program are saved with a .AMX file extension.
That said, the AMX file did not gain much popularity, and therefore, is supported by very few applications today.
AV1 Image File Format (AVIF)
- Even smaller than WebP files with the same quality
- Loads quickly
- Supported by very few browsers
The AVIF animation file format is open-source and royalty-free. It was created by several high-profile companies coming together, which included Google< Amazon, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Netflix. They initially created the AV1 codec, which was later transformed into the AVIF file format, when they realized that it could be saved in the .HEIF format.
That said, the AVIF file format is newer, and thus, is still not widely adopted yet. However, it might soon overcome the WebP animation file format in terms of popularity and useability.
Animation files are much smaller than video files and can be used on web servers and web pages. Moreover, animation files can be used for mouse cursors, icons, and similar smaller transition effects. These are the places that cannot include video files simply because of their complexity, and the simple images make them look dull and uneventful.
In this post, we have highlighted the difference between an animation file and a video file, as well as the most common animat file formats, and where they can be used.