Difference Between Cartoons And Animation – Is There Really Any?


Cartoons and animation are two words that are used interchangeably in common parlance. And as Craig once explained, – “the need to explain the difference between cartoons and animation is just historical, and that comes from the need to categorize things”.

Ultimately, cartoons are a form of animation, but then one might look at the definition of what is a cartoon… and what exactly is animation?

While cartoons can refer to either a drawing or a television program or film made using the animation technique, animation refers to a technique in which successive drawings or positions of models are photographed to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence. This is the main difference between cartoons and animation.

What is an Animation?

Animation refers to the art, process, or technique of making movies with drawings, photographs of static objects, or computer graphics. Any technique that does not fall into the category of continuously filming live action images can be called animation. Those involved in creating an animation are called animators.

Animation methods include traditional animation, which uses hand drawings; stop-motion animation, which uses paper cutouts, puppets, clay figures, and two- and three-dimensional objects; mechanical animation; and computer animation.

In common usage, we use the term animation to refer to cartoons that are broadcast on television, as well as television shows aimed at children (e.g., Loony Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Garfield, etc.) Animated movies such as Tangled, Finding Nemo, Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Happy Feet, Despicable Me, Frozen, etc. are also a type of animation. Thus, animations can actually be both cartoons and animated movies.

Although animations have historically been aimed at young audiences, animated television shows and movies are seen by both children and adults. Animations should not be confused with anime, which refers to the Japanese style of animation that often includes adult themes.



An example of computer animation which is produced in the “motion capture” technique

What is a Cartoon?

Cartoon essentially refers to two things. It can refer to either a simple, non-realistic drawing depicting a humorous situation or humorously exaggerated characters. These types of cartoons are often found in newspapers and magazines. Cartoons often use satire to make subtle criticisms. An artist who makes cartoons (drawings) is called a cartoonist.

Cartoon may also refer to a short film or television program that uses animation techniques to photograph a sequence of drawings instead of real people or objects. Cartoons are usually aimed at children and often feature anthropomorphized animals (animals that act like people), superheroes, the adventures of children, and similar subjects. Asterix, Scooby Doo, Adventures of Tin Tin, Duck Tales, Tom and Jerry, ThunderCats, Dora the Explorer, Garfield, etc. are some examples of popular cartoons.

What is a Cartoon?

What is a Cartoon?

Let’s now consider the key difference between Cartoons and Animation?


Cartoon can either refer to a drawing intended as a caricature, satire or humour, or a short television show or animated movie, which is usually intended for children. Animation is a technique of photographing successive drawings or positions of models to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence.


Cartoon is a product made using animation. Animation is the technique used to create cartoons.


Cartoons are usually watched by children. Animations are watched by both adults and children.


Cartoons often depict superheroes, anthropomorphized animals, mysteries, etc. Animations can deal with mature and serious themes.


Cartoons are created by cartoonists (drawings), or animators (TV shows or short movies). Animations are created by animators.

Cartoons Vs Animation – What some industry experts have to say

Here is what Craig has to say

Originally, animation was created by stitching together sequences of images to create the illusion of motion. Take the zoetrope:

Of course, people started by piecing together drawings. People were already creating worlds and exaggerating reality in still drawings. Once they had the ability to “move” those drawings, they could go crazy and push some boundaries, like impossible physics, impossible creatures, hilarious situations that were impossible to do in reality…. and all that was entertaining. We call all these moving images “cartoons” (apparently the word comes from the Italian “cartone”, which means strong, heavy paper, like cardboard. In Spanish we also call it “cartón”).

But then new techniques and technologies came along, like stop-motion and pixelation (stop-motion with real actors), and so “animation” was redefined. Then there was CGI, and things changed completely, you could do 3D cartoons or fake live action, and it all came from essentially the same process, and it was still all animation.

Craig maintains that an animated film is a form of animation that exaggerates reality in some way.

Animation is a technique used to create and/or alter the illusion of life and motion.

That might answer the question to some extent, but look at this scene:

It was mostly created in the computer and exaggerates reality a lot, so it might be an animated movie, but it’s not considered one. If you apply “toon” shaders to the same characters, it could become a cartoon in the classic sense of the term.

At the end of the day, animation is just a technique, it’s not a genre as they suggest at the Academy Awards, you can do thrillers, superhero movies, westerns, comedies, anything with animation, we’re just used to certain types of stories and styles being done with it. Animated films could be part of a genre that uses animation, but again, there is no formal definition because they are constantly evolving.

Let me give you one last example, from a friend of mine, that crosses the line between what is animation, live action, cartoons, etc.

Everything you see in this video was originally either a photo or live action footage. He shot everything on camera, then cut frames out of the videos and applied a series of filters to each frame, then put it all back together, it was pretty much all automated and the result, in my opinion, is animation. And if you ask me or a lot of people, that’s an animated film that came from live action and went through an animation process. Is that animation? I had to change my definition from “creating the illusion of life and motion” to “creating and/or changing the illusion of life and motion” because in this case there was already life and motion, it was just modified to create a different style, world and emotion with it.

Avalon Run (Trailer) – Murat Tursan

(You can watch the whole movie in his youtube channel).

In Conclusion

In the end, it doesn’t matter, but we’re going to keep trying to define these things, and these definitions will keep changing as we keep creating things. So for today, I’m going to stick with those definitions:

Cartoon: a form of animation that exaggerates reality in some way.

Animation: A technique used to create and/or alter the illusion of life and motion.

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