The easiest way to make a live animation in matplotlib is to use one of the Animation classes.

Animation A base class for Animations.
FuncAnimation Makes an animation by repeatedly calling a function func.
ArtistAnimation Animation using a fixed set of Artist objects.

In both cases it is critical to keep a reference to the instance object. The animation is advanced by a timer (typically from the host GUI framework) which the Animation object holds the only reference to. If you do not hold a reference to the Animation object, it (and hence the timers), will be garbage collected which will stop the animation.

To save an animation to disk use or Animation.to_html5_video

See Helper Classes below for details about what movie formats are supported.


The inner workings of FuncAnimation is more-or-less:

for d in frames:
   artists = func(d, *fargs)

with details to handle 'blitting' (to dramatically improve the live performance), to be non-blocking, not repeatedly start/stop the GUI event loop, handle repeats, multiple animated axes, and easily save the animation to a movie file.

'Blitting' is a standard technique in computer graphics. The general gist is to take an existing bit map (in our case a mostly rasterized figure) and then 'blit' one more artist on top. Thus, by managing a saved 'clean' bitmap, we can only re-draw the few artists that are changing at each frame and possibly save significant amounts of time. When we use blitting (by passing blit=True), the core loop of FuncAnimation gets a bit more complicated:

ax = fig.gca()

def update_blit(artists):
    for a in artists:


artists = init_func()

for a in artists:

bg_cache = fig.canvas.copy_from_bbox(ax.bbox)

for f in frames:
    artists = func(f, *fargs)

This is of course leaving out many details (such as updating the background when the figure is resized or fully re-drawn). However, this hopefully minimalist example gives a sense of how init_func and func are used inside of FuncAnimation and the theory of how 'blitting' works.

The expected signature on func and init_func is very simple to keep FuncAnimation out of your book keeping and plotting logic, but this means that the callable objects you pass in must know what artists they should be working on. There are several approaches to handling this, of varying complexity and encapsulation. The simplest approach, which works quite well in the case of a script, is to define the artist at a global scope and let Python sort things out. For example

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
from matplotlib.animation import FuncAnimation

fig, ax = plt.subplots()
xdata, ydata = [], []
ln, = plt.plot([], [], 'ro')

def init():
    ax.set_xlim(0, 2*np.pi)
    ax.set_ylim(-1, 1)
    return ln,

def update(frame):
    ln.set_data(xdata, ydata)
    return ln,

ani = FuncAnimation(fig, update, frames=np.linspace(0, 2*np.pi, 128),
                    init_func=init, blit=True)

The second method is to use functools.partial to 'bind' artists to function. A third method is to use closures to build up the required artists and functions. A fourth method is to create a class.

Writer Classes

The provided writers fall into a few broad categories.

The Pillow writer relies on the Pillow library to write the animation, keeping all data in memory.


The HTML writer generates JavaScript-based animations.

HTMLWriter Writer for JavaScript-based HTML movies.

The pipe-based writers stream the captured frames over a pipe to an external process. The pipe-based variants tend to be more performant, but may not work on all systems.

FFMpegWriter Pipe-based ffmpeg writer.
ImageMagickWriter Pipe-based animated gif.
AVConvWriter Pipe-based avconv writer.

The file-based writers save temporary files for each frame which are stitched into a single file at the end. Although slower, these writers can be easier to debug.

FFMpegFileWriter File-based ffmpeg writer.
ImageMagickFileWriter File-based animated gif writer.
AVConvFileWriter File-based avconv writer.

Fundamentally, a MovieWriter provides a way to grab sequential frames from the same underlying Figure object. The base class MovieWriter implements 3 methods and a context manager. The only difference between the pipe-based and file-based writers is in the arguments to their respective setup methods.

The setup() method is used to prepare the writer (possibly opening a pipe), successive calls to grab_frame() capture a single frame at a time and finish() finalizes the movie and writes the output file to disk. For example

moviewriter = MovieWriter(...)
moviewriter.setup(fig, 'my_movie.ext', dpi=100)
for j in range(n):

If using the writer classes directly (not through, it is strongly encouraged to use the saving context manager

with moviewriter.saving(fig, 'myfile.mp4', dpi=100):
    for j in range(n):

to ensures that setup and cleanup are performed as necessary.


Helper Classes

Animation Base Classes

Animation A base class for Animations.
TimedAnimation Animation subclass for time-based animation.

Writer Registry

A module-level registry is provided to map between the name of the writer and the class to allow a string to be passed to instead of a writer instance.

MovieWriterRegistry Registry of available writer classes by human readable name.

Writer Base Classes

To reduce code duplication base classes

AbstractMovieWriter Abstract base class for writing movies.
MovieWriter Base class for writing movies.
FileMovieWriter MovieWriter for writing to individual files and stitching at the end.

and mixins

AVConvBase [Deprecated] Mixin class for avconv output.
FFMpegBase Mixin class for FFMpeg output.
ImageMagickBase Mixin class for ImageMagick output.

are provided.

See the source code for how to easily implement new MovieWriter classes.