Cut out animation explained.

Cut out animation, sometimes styled as cut-out animation and/or cutout animation, is one of the most accessible, basic and most importantly, fun forms of stop motion animation there is. 


The beauty of cut out animation lies in the simple art, design materials and techniques used. But it can be used for more complex animation too. Whether a child or young at heart, the only limit is your imagination.

Child cuts paper with scissors.

What is a cut out animation?

Cut out animation is one of the oldest and most simple techniques there is. It involves making 2D animation using characters, props and scenes made from materials including:


  • Paper

  • Card

  • Fabric


Characters are made from smaller shapes of the material, pieced together and placed flat on a background. When moved in small steps and filmed, it gives the impression of movement.


The oldest surviving feature-length animation is cut out animation. The Adventures of Prince Achmed was made in 1926 by German director Lotte Reiniger. Since then, cut out animation has evolved and although it can still be done the old-fashioned way, it can also be replicated with computers.


Cut out animation involves making 2D animation using characters, props and scenes from materials including paper, card and fabric.
Cut out park and city skyline.

Cut out animation techniques.

Over the decades, cut out animation was used to make quirky, simplistic animation. Paper cut out animation and the other materials described above were made painstakingly by hand. Although cheap, it would take a long time to create the characters and scenery and then animate them. 


With the advent of digital hardware and software, animation processes have evolved - even cut out animation. Many animation studios now use computers to replicate the look and feel of traditional cut out animation.


Software enables users to add pivot points to the body parts of animated characters. Then the parts can be fit together and made to move as if it was paper cut out animation or some other basic material.


Replicating cut out animation digitally saves a lot of time and does a great job of creating a similar atmosphere. It’s also useful if you’re on a budget. But it can limit the finished result, giving less freedom than paper animation. And you may feel prouder if you take the time to create an authentic, rough-and-ready but charming piece of cut out animation.

Fascinated by the world of animation?

Keep learning by reading our beginner's guide to animation.

Hand and cut out man.

What are the advantages of paper animation?

Despite the advancements in technology, paper animation remains popular with amateurs and pros alike. And there are many reasons why.


It’s fun and creative. 

Paper cut out animation reminds us of simpler times and transports many of us back to childhood, when we could let our imaginations run wild. It gives us the chance to flex our creative muscles.


It’s basic and cheap.

It’s not expensive to find affordable materials at home, school, college or wherever you might want to put a cut out animation together. Recycled materials can be used too. And you’ll save money not having to buy paint, celluloid sheets or hire lots of help. 


It can be a gateway for beginners.

Due to its affordability and simplicity, paper cut out animation is a great way for budding animators to dip their toes into more complex visual storytelling methods.


Make films.

You can tread in the footsteps of pioneers like Lotte Reiniger and make your very own stop motion animated films.


Time effective.

You don’t need too many resources for paper cut out animation and you can reuse assets, so it saves a lot of time when compared to other animation techniques. Cut out requires far fewer drawings than cel animation.


A challenge for professionals.

Expert animators may actually find using such a simple technique challenging in itself. Reverting back or trying cut out animation for the first time to create a clever and innovative animation may make a nice, surprising change.


Ideal for social media.

A short, snappy piece of cut out animation is the perfect content to share on social media channels such as YouTube or TikTok. If you’re lucky, you may even go viral.


It evokes a sense of nostalgia.

The chance of going back to basics for animators is very appealing. If you’re experienced in the art, you could be taken back to the early days, when you were just getting started.

Hands hold smartphone.

How to do paper cut out animation.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your very own cut out animation.


1. Get your materials together.


  • Materials such as card, paper, wool, felt and fabric

  • Adhesives such as Blu-Tack and glue

  • Scissors

  • Pencil

  • Paper

  • Wire


Ask yourself important questions such as what material will work best for what you have in mind. Are you aiming for simple card silhouettes similar to The Adventures of Prince Achmed? Or do you want to be more elaborate and use different types of materials? Card is stronger than paper, would that be best? Do you want to use wire to connect the ‘limbs’ and give them lots of freedom of movement or will Blu-Tack do?


2. Think about the story.

You have all your materials ready, but have you decided exactly what story you want to tell? The characters you’ll use? How long it will be? You may want to make notes - creating a plan will help you progress with your creation.


3. Consider your characters.

As well as determining the look of your creations in cut out animation, you’ll also need to factor in how the various parts will fit together. Think about overlapping parts, such as ears and mouths and where you want them to overlap with the rest of their faces. Make several sketches before settling on a final look.


Assemble your characters.

Once the designs are finalised, draw them and cut them out into pieces that will be able to move. Arrange the pieces how you want them to look, on the backdrop you want, which could be elaborate or simply white space. 


Stick the pieces together.

If you’re new to cut out animation, you may want to keep it as simple as possible. For example, stick pieces together using an adhesive. This will hold them together while allowing enough give to manoeuvre them, e.g. make arms swing. If you want certain pieces to remain still, use glue.


Download an app for your smartphone.

The easiest way to create paper cut out animation is with a smartphone camera and the use of a suitable app. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lets you make basic edits on your phone, to then go into more detail using Photoshop on a computer.


Set up space for shooting.

Use a flat, still surface, preferably in a dark room and lit with lamps, so the light doesn’t change while you’re filming - you could be a fair amount of time shooting, remember. You’ll also need to keep your camera securely fixed to one position so it doesn’t move while you’re filming, having a tripod will help to keep your camera in position.


Shoot your animation.

You’re now ready to make your animation. Although 24 frames per second (fps) is standard in animation, 12 fps will work for beginners.



Cut out animation examples.

You’ll find many great examples of cut out animation online. Here are some highlights.



The adorable one.

Coco is a cute paper cut out animation created by Katherine Manaog, who missed her dogs after she moved abroad to attend art school. Working with Annie Wong and Louie Zhang, she has given pieces of paper the ‘awwww’ factor.


The whimsical one.

Kelly Pousette illustrated the children’s book Don’t Rake Your Garden in a Party Dress, by Aimee Bissonette with quirky collages. To promote the book she created a cut out animation using art from the book.


The old-school one.

Leander Huizinga’s The Tree goes back to basics. It’s mostly black silhouettes on a white background, just like those initial forays into paper cut out animation.


The advanced one.

Once Upon a Dream is a stop motion wedding film combining real-life actors among cut out animated art by Shirie Gordon-Feliks. A great example of what can be achieved when different styles of film are combined.


The dark one.

With Elsewhere, The Survivors, Ali Aschman created an unusual, desolate world, with two characters wandering around, haunted by doubt and anxiety.


The musical one.

The animated video to Giangrande’s Paper Plane was a collaborative cut out animation, featuring illustrations by Felicita Sala, directed and animated by Gianluca Maruotti.


The epic one.

This is also a music video, but the most noteworthy element of Prominent Figures’ video for Josh Ritter’s Love is Making its Way Back Home is the effort required. More than 12,000 pieces of construction paper were used to make it, with no effects added in post-production.


The imaginative one.

Voyage by Ali Azami, Bri Levy and John McGraw is a charming piece that shows that possibilities are limitless in the character involved and indeed the animators themselves.


The natural one.

Production studio MoSoMoS created this Stop Motion Paper Animation for Sesame Workshop, charting the growth of a tree. 


The romantic one.

Whistle and Love by Wang Jingjie is a witty look at the world of love. 


Cut out family.

Cut out animation: FAQs.


Who invented cut out animation?

The first person known to create cut out animation was the Italian-born Argentine director and cartoonist Quirino Cristiani. In 1916 he made the one-minute long La intervención en la provincia de Buenos Aires from cardboard cut outs, but unfortunately, it was later destroyed in a fire. Lottie Reiniger’s feature-length Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed from 1926 is the oldest surviving example.


Where is cut out animation used?

Thanks in part to its simplicity and low cost, cut out animation has been used in media for years and is still used to this day and everywhere. Notable examples include:


  • Short films - The Miracle of Flight by Terry Gilliam (1974).

  • Feature films - South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)

  • Television series - Captain Pugwash (1957-66, 1974-75)

  • Music videos - Talking Heads’ And She Was (1985) 


How does the cut out technique save production time?

Cut out animation saves production time because there’s no need to redraw each drawing frame by frame, as with cel animation. Once they’re done and assembled, they can be reuse. And if you’re doing paper cut out animation the old-fashioned way, you don’t need lots of expensive equipment or a team of animators. It’s very much a DIY process.


Discover more about animation.