Super-Easy 2D Animation Exercises With Circles & Ellipses for Beginners

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I’ve received questions and requests from several awesome readers asking for real beginner-level tips and tricks for learning to use 2D animation software.

Some readers were looking for baby steps info for getting started with software tools like Toon Boom Studio, Toon Boom Harmony, Synfig Studio, Adobe Flash, and Anime Studio.

So, based on your requests, let’s go back to basics!

We’ll take one baby step at a time.

As good news to most beginners without advanced equipment, you don’t even need a drawing tablet (like the Wacom Bamboo or Intuos tablets) to follow along.

In this post, we’ll learn the real basics about the Circle and its close relative the Ellipse.

Next, we’ll draw the shapes.

Finally, we’ll animate the circles/ellipses and do cool animation tricks with them.

We’ll be using mostly Toon Boom Studio for the demos/examples, but other 2D animation software programs with vector keyframe animation support should let you do the same things.

And just so you know, this topic fits nicely with my current focus area, the digital 2D cut-out animation technique.

The Circle

As an introduction, let’s get to know a little about the circle, oval, and ellipse, from our simple 2D animation practical viewpoint.

First off, the circle has a center and a radius. It also has a circumference, which is the length or distance of its perimeter. We can calculate the circumference of the circle using a mathematical formula. But since we’re talking about animation, and not mathematics, let’s not get into equations and such. I can almost hear a few sighs of relief. You’re welcome!

Parts of a Circle

In your graphics software, you can change the circle into an ellipse by squishing its sides. For a picture, see the example further below that says Vertical Scale and Horizontal Scale.

An ellipse is always an oval because the ellipse is a subset of the oval. So, an oval may or may not be an ellipse.

For those who are mathematically inclined, you can find many online references and discussions on the definitions of circles, ellipses, and ovals, as well as how they are different.

For our animation purposes, we’ll just use whatever term the software uses. For example, in Toon Boom Studio and Toon Boom Harmony, we use the Ellipse Tool to draw ellipses and circles.

Other graphics tools may call it differently. For instance, it’s the Oval Tool in PowerPoint and the Circle Tool in SketchUp. In InkScape, it’s simply the tool to “create circles, ellipses, and arcs.”

Various Circle Tools

How to Draw Circles & Ellipses

Watch the following video for a demo of how to draw a circle (in Toon Boom Studio). First, you select the tool. Then you draw the shape in the drawing canvas or workspace by holding down the mouse button (it’s the LEFT mouse button in most graphics software) and dragging the mouse.


Try it. Select the tool. Press and hold down the mouse button and drag. Release the mouse button when you’ve got the shape drawn the way you want. You’ve drawn an ellipse! Draw a few more.

To create a perfect circle, in Toon Boom Studio and Toon Boom Harmony, hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard while drawing your circle.

By the way, this method of drawing a perfect circle (by holding the SHIFT key while dragging the mouse) also works in PowerPoint. In InkScape, you have to hold down the CTRL and ALT keys simultaneously while drawing the shape. But I digress. PowerPoint and InkScape are NOT dedicated 2D animation programs.

Adding Color to Your Drawings

You can leave the drawing as it is and proceed with animating the object.

However, if you prefer, you can fill the shape with color.

In Toon Boom Studio and Harmony, use the Paint Tool to fill the shape with color, as follows:

  • Select the Paint Tool
  • Select the color
  • Click inside the shape

Here’s a little demo showing how it’s done in Toon Boom Studio:


You can do many more things with the Paint Tool, which we’ll cover in a future post.

Animating The Circle

Now let’s get things moving–literally–by animating our circle object.

First, let’s talk about the TWO basic animation “movements” or “actions” that you can apply to your circle object, or ANY animation objects.

The first animation action is MOTION, as in changing the location of the object from position to another position. Below are some simple examples to help demonstrate the idea of motion actions.

Simple Motion Animation Example Simple Motion Animation Example Simple Motion Animation Example

As you can see in the examples above, a simple single motion animation involves moving an object from the starting position (Point A in the diagrams) to the next or final position (Point B in the diagrams). Additionally, the motion path does NOT have to be a straight line, as shown in the third example.

The second animation action is TRANSFORMATION, which changes non-positional properties of the shape such as its size and rotation.

Below are examples of simple transformations that you can create for your animation. Among the most common transformation are scaling, skewing, and rotation.

Simple Transformation Animation Example Simple Transformation Animation Example

Simple Transformation Animation Example Simple Transformation Animation Example

Note that you can combine both motion and transformation actions and add multiple actions to create more complex animations.

Simple Motion Animation

In the cut-out animation technique, we set KEYFRAMES to pose and animate the object.

For example, to make your circle move from one position to another position, you need to create/set two keyframes. The first keyframe is for the starting position, and the second keyframe is for the ending position.

Here’s a quick demo (in Toon Boom Studio) of how you create the 2 keyframes along the Timeline to create a simple motion animation using the Motion Tool. Let’s animate our circle object moving from left to right.


As you can see from the video above

Now let’s add a third keyframe further down the Timeline and set your circle object back to its starting position, as shown in the video below:


You’ve just created a looping animation, or an animation loop. Here’s how it looks like when you render and play the animation as a video:

Simple Motion Loop

Go ahead, try animating your circle object using your 2D animation software.

Yes, now you can move things!

Note that in this article, we are not going into advanced concepts of using motion pegs to improve your workflow. It's supposed to be a baby steps post, remember? We'll talk about pegs in future posts, so stay tuned!

Simple Transformation Animation

Now let’s make the circle expand and contract using the Transformation Tool, as shown in this next video:

I also showed you how to use two important keyboard shortcuts for extending the exposure (extending cells along the Timeline) and for copying and pasting keyframes. Let’s recap:

  1. Extend Exposure keyboard shortcut: go to the desired frame, press CTRL+SHIFT+1
  2. Keyframe copying and pasting: copy a keyframe using CTRL+C, paste the keyframe using CTRL+V

As you can see, just like in the motion animation example, we create keyframes along the Timeline. The difference now is that instead of setting a different position for the object, we are changing its shape or size using either the Transform Tool or the Scale Tool. The figures below show the buttons/icons for these tools in Toon Boom Studio.

Toon Boom Studio Transform ToolToon Boom Studio Scale Tool

Need another example? Watch this video to learn how to create a beating heart using Toon Boom Studio.


Now it’s your turn. Play and experiment on your own with your 2D animation software and try to recreate the Skewing and Rotation animation examples above.

The Skew Tool and the Rotate Tool for Toon Boom Studio are shown in the figure below:

Toon Boom Studio Rotate & Skew Tools

More Experiments You Can Try

It’s true that practice makes perfect, so go on and do more of your own simple animations.

You don’t have to write any scripts, draw up storyboards, or create characters for now. Just have fun with simple loops!

If you’re stuck without ideas, here are some suggestions for you. See if you can reproduce the following animation loops.

Bouncing Ball

And why stop with circles? Go ahead and play with the Line Tool and the Rectangle Tool. They’re just as friendly as the Ellipse Tool!


  • Combine several rectangles to draw the car.
  • Create the car’s body in its own drawing layer, and the tires in 2 other layers.

Bouncing Car

And how about some circles going around each other?


  • Use the Rotate Tool.
  • Draw each circle in its own layer.
  • Place the layers in a hierarchy.

Orbiting Particles


What can I say, you’ve gotta love them circles!

We’ve covered the following topics:

  • The basics about circles and ellipses
  • How to draw circles and ellipses
  • How to pose and animate basic objects by creating keyframes and using the Motion, Transform, Skew, Scale, and Rotate tools
  • How to use keyboard shortcuts to (1) extend your cells’ exposure, (2) copy and paste keyframes
  • How to create animation loops

As you have seen, there are lots of easy yet pretty cool animation tricks you can do with circles and ellipses. And we’re just getting started!

Next up, we’ll learn how to create cool (yet super-easy) tricks using circles and ellipses. These are actually simple cut-out rigs with very few parts. The first one is my basic Hemisphere Rig. Go check it out!


Until the next post, HAPPY CREATING!




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