Why Should 2D Animation Be Abandoned? (Part 1)

2D animation dead? No, but SHOULD it be?
“2D Animation is dead.”
You hear the phrase all the time, in spite of recent 2D releases, the likes of which make it to the top of the Oscar short list. Whether it’s dead or not, today we’re going to do something very different and look at reasons why 2D should be left in the past and abandoned completely from here on out. What case can be made for that?

First of all, let me tell you why I’m writing this editorial. (No, it’s not “to get hits on a website.” I truly could care less about such things, personally. Not much less, but a little.) 2D hand-drawn animation is one of my life’s passions. I consider myself a passionate person, but I only have a few that make it to the very top of the list, and animation (2D specifically) is right there.

Why, then, would I argue it should be abandoned?!

I came to the realization while working on an upcoming book I’m publishing on Creativity that in order to get a full understanding of a certain topic or idea, you must consider all angles. If people say “2D is dead” then we must understand WHY, and why that might be good and bad. For that reason, let’s go all-in and consider reasons we as creators might completely walk away from a tradition that began more than one hundred years ago. No hyperbole here, only actual, reasonable rationales. By understanding these reasons, we better understand both 2D and 3D animation.

1. 3D Animation is Easier

Controversy on top of controversy! There are animators who will tell you that 3D animation is most certainly NOT easier, and will argue that point until you slowly back out of the room and run to the safety of your car. Stay for a moment and hear me out.

Animation is animation. It is not “art style” or even medium (2D, 3D, stop-motion, etc). In order to get beautiful movement, you must apply the exact same principals in 3D that you would in 2D (or 1D or 4D or any other D you’d like to consider). Because of this, no form of literal animation is “easier” or “more difficult.” So we must turn our attention to PROCESS instead.

If only it were this easy!
If only it were this easy!

Let’s say you have an animator who is a master of movement. Somehow, without any experience animating (which is impossible, but this is Hypothetical Land) she has a grasp of the principals of animation the likes of which would make Glen Keane envious. It would be a waste to let her skill go unused, so it’s up to us to put her to work on an animated film.

In order for her to animate in 3D, she will need to learn a piece of animation software. It might be Maya, or Max, or RenderMan. (EDIT: As Paul points out, RenderMan is not technically software to “animate” in. Thanks for catching that!) Learning a new piece of software is hard, but manageable. With some dedicated classes and a handy reference book sitting alongside, our Fantastic Animator can put her existing animation knowledge (ie. movement, flow, timing, etc) into the 3D space and have rigs dancing about on screen with the best of them. Another animator can also link their scene next to hers and the character will transition perfectly, both artists using the same rig already created.

In order for her to animate in 2D, however, she will need to learn draftsmanship (drawing) at a masterful level. There are no reference books to check when you run into an issue with the graph editor here, because there is no graph editor. While you can take classes, those classes are merely a push in the direction towards a lifetime of practice. The skill required to keep a character consistently drawn and on-model is astounding, and it’s a wonder any artist even attempts such a ridiculous goal.

Don’t take my word for it, go try.

Get some paper and do 100 drawings in a range of poses and try to keep the character – who you didn’t design yourself, by the way – looking identical in size and shape throughout. It’s a nightmare.

It is not that 3D animation is inherently easier than 2D, because again “animation is animation.” It is the skill needed to bring animation to the screen that differs. One requires a moderate level of comfort in a particular piece of software. The other demands a mastery of drawing that very well might cause Leonardo DaVinci to set down his quill and toss his sketchbooks into the trash bin.

The truth is there are fewer and fewer artists every day that can pull off the drawings needed to make beautiful 2D animation. This is because animation is so much an apprentice/master style craft. You NEED a more experienced animator to show you where things have gone awry, and the fewer there are to do that in 2D, the fewer new 2D masters there will be in the future.

Certainly we can use digital tools to lessen the need for every frame to be drawn, as in limited-style animation, but then we must ask ourselves if this is worth while. Because:

2. Computers are Superior to Humans (Detail)

We’ve already got a nice fire going, so let’s throw another can of gas on it, shall we? The simple fact is a computer is capable of a level of detail and perfection than no human hand is going to come close to. Don’t believe me? Try to pull this off by hand:

Brought to you by 3D Animation

One could argue “Well, you just don’t do those sorts of shots in 2D; you plan differently.” Then the question above remains: Why? Why limit yourself when the technology is right here at your fingertips to pull off a shimmering, glistening, geometric ice castle being conjured up out of a snowy mountain cliff? Why go backwards and do things that are more difficult and much more limited due to the human element? Why not embrace the future instead of living in the past?

These are questions that need sat with and answered by every and all animators, whether your focus in 2D, 3D, or another type entirely. We MUST ask “Is this the best way? Would this story be told better in 3D? Would the characters connect with the audience from screen to seat better if it were live action? Do these beautifully rendered shots of skyscapes and ocean waves really push the purpose forward or should they truthfully stay on the cutting room floor, no matter how ‘pretty’ they are to watch?”

Using technology for the sake of technology is just as fruitless as doing things “the old way” because that’s how they’ve always been done. If the new way is superior, it is a fool’s errand to grasp tradition for no reason other than nostalgia. As artists, we should know why we choose the mediums we choose, and that choice should never be “because some other artist used this one time.” Being inspired by our art ancestors is a wonderful thing. Comparing ourselves to them, or worse trying to BE them, is the fastest way to failure. You are you, and they are they.

3. Computers are Superior to Humans (Subtlety)

I ran this “What Makes 3D Better” idea past the supremely skilled Tom Bancroft in the hopes of getting his thoughts on the subject, being that he’s one of the best 2D animators currently living. (If you disagree, just go watch some Mushu scenes.) He was kind enough to share his perspective on subtlety in animation. From Tom:

One thing that I can concede that 3D (and the animators behind the machine, of course) can do much better than 2D animation is Subtlety.

Extreme subtlety to be more accurate.

I animated some of the most subtle scenes of Disney’s 2D modern age’s most subtle film: Pocahontas (like her thinking about her dead mother). I can attest that even with the best clean up artists in the world working on those scenes, its incredibly hard to show a character barely moving for an extended amount of time and make it look good on a large screen. And at Disney, in the 2D days just like today, we wouldn’t just hold a character drawing for any extended amount of time because they would go “dead” and look like they were part of the background.

Pocahontas by Disney

But in Computer animation? No problem. Barely moving something is easy and remains ever solid. No wobbly lines- ever. And the best CG animators have taken great advantage of this ability of the computer with even the first Toy Story having some really subtle moments of acting. I have heard that many CG animators look at 2D animation as “vaudevillian” acting/ performances because to them they look very rudimentary and over-preformed. There’s SOME truth to this since 2D animation acting works better with broader performances and we 2D animators needed the drawing ability of a Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, James Baxter or Ruben Aquino to pull off that kind of subtle control of your drawings.

Has the pendulum swung too far the other direction in CG animation? Yes, I think we’re seeing that now. Ultra realistic animation performances have given way to CG animated films that can feel like watching a live action film and, therefore, loosing the magic of what is at the heart of animation: Believable characters that are imaginative and fantastic in some way.

Big thanks to Tom for his insights, and be sure to check out his animation podcast with his brother Tony at Taught By a Pro.

It’s also important to note his point of “and the animators behind the machines.” Obviously contrary to what many non-artists think, the computer doesn’t “do all the work.” When I say it is superior to humans, I mean that as a tool it has a greater degree of accuracy. It allows an animator to do things a pencil doesn’t. As said before, animation is animation.

In Part 2 of this article we take a look at a few more reasons 2D should be dropped for good, and then one single very compelling reason why the pain, effort, and life-long endeavor that is hand-drawn animation deserves to stay out of a lonely grave and continue on until the end of time.

In the meantime, please feel free to comment (hopefully reasonably, but yell if you must) below and discuss the ideas listed here. The purpose of this article is to bring things to the table for deep thought on why we do what we do, instead of doing things blindly. Discussion is necessary if we are to truly understand our own reasons for what we spend our time and energy on. Given the amount of overall time and energy animation requires, scheduling time to talk about the “why” is time very well spent.

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Sabina K
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Sabina K

Great article and really valid arguments! Having tried both 2D and CG I can say that while animating in CG, all my focus is on the movement. I don’t have to worry about the lineart, the character shrinking etc. I don’t get distracted by those things, and can work on the poses and the movement alone. But 2D makes me feel more like an artist, because I actually create the character from nothing, not manipulate the rig. I’m not the puppeteer, but the creator. How about merging both? So far, from what we have, it looks very interesting and beautiful.… Read more »

Josh K
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Josh K

The imperfections of 2D animation are a reminder that humans aren’t perfect. That is why we are drawn to it. Anyone can pick up a piece of paper and draw a 2d character on it. It’s a closer relationship for the average person than CGI. A lot of CGI films rarely stylize the environments. Only CGI characters. So you have these goofy cartoony characters in these photorealistic environments, because that is what the computer is best at. Simulating real life. With 2D, you are forced to stylize everything, because humans can’t draw every single blade of grass or every strand… Read more »

Chris
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While I agree with doing traditional animation on paper is dead, I have to say the rest of the article I have to disagree with. I think its possibly far easier for rising animator to become a better draftsman than having to learn overly complicated software and learn the basics of animation through 3d. Reason being as artists we need to continue to draw better our skills. 2D animation allows us to build up on those skills while making great animation. I cannot say that the years of being a 3d animator/ graphic artist that my animation skills have improved… Read more »

Paul
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Paul

Interesting piece. As a guy who started in 2D and now works almost exclusively in 3D, a lot of what you say rings true.

One note: RenderMan is rendering software, not a piece of animation software.

Steve
Guest

Judging from your reply to the last comment I’m going to assume that in this article you are just playing devil’s advocate, but I want to comment on some of the points. I think that a lot of the points are kind of silly. As far as CG being easier in the way you described, I think you are just pointing to CG being easier to keep on model, and that is only true of decent rigs and models. I am speaking from experience when I say that crappy rigs can take a lot of finesse and visual skill to… Read more »

Juan Carlos Valdez
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Juan Carlos Valdez

I totally agree with you. Thank you for your comment

Juan Carlos Valdez
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Juan Carlos Valdez

Firstly, I must say this. There is never a reason to abandon 2D animation. Whether it’s on paper or digital, and no matter what your reasoning is, there’s no need to abandon it. It’s a different medium. That’s like saying, artists should abandon painting with paint on canvas because painting digitally is so much better and easier. If you prefer cg animation over 2D, don’t assume others do too. And don’t try to convince others to abandon the greatest form of animation. Which brings me to…. Secondly, traditional animation will always be superior to cg animation. The movement, style, and… Read more »

JohnSmith
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JohnSmith

3D animation and CGI might be cheaper for big companies because they require to hire less people but most of the time 3D animation out there is usually really bad and very bad animated and only because big companies are pushing it too much. 2D animation requires real skill and even if it’s not blooming in big hollywood movies is not because is not popular, it’s because like I said before they don’t want to spend money on a good quality like is 2D. 2D animation is blooming all over the internet and youtube. This article is very ignorant if… Read more »

Michael
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Michael

Here is one of many comments from “Cartoon Research” on their facebook pages: “This author is a complete moron. Animation is about art, not technology. When Picasso and his ilk came along with their abstract paintings, people didn’t stop painting like the French Impressionists or Dutch Masters. But when computer animation comes along, traditional techniques get dropped like a hot potato because it’s more expensive and time-consuming. But art cannot, and should not, be limited by cost or time. Most of the great masterpieces we love today were not done with those considerations in mind. The simple fact is that… Read more »

Jacques Muller
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Jacques Muller

To me there is absolutely no forgiveable excuse to drop 2D all together. It is a style of its own. Why can’t we have 3D & 2D coexisting side by side or merging into one another win harmony? Why is there still this constant bikering over this issue? 3D is here to stay regardless of what some of us thing about it. Realistic 3D is a non issue. Jurassic World triumphs through incredible 3D. What is an issue is more cartoony 3D. Some love Pinocchio or 101 Dalmatians; others prefer Frozen or Shrek. It’s ok. You can love both if… Read more »

minzi
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minzi

What intrigued me most about this article is the ‘still standing’ part. I really cannot think of any certain 3D animation scene where the character is still and looks ‘natural.’ Do you have any examples that you can show? Thanks!

Ferdinand Engländer
Admin

I think holding a character still in 3D doesn’t work the more realistic you get. Realistic humans just never ever stand completely still and if you try to reach a certain level of realism (maybe the point where you animate breathing), you simply have to do moving holds.
However, there are examples in stylized 3D animation, where the character can hold completely still. Pocoyo for example. And I can swear there are some complete still moments in Hotel Transylvania. Of course those instances don’t look “real”, but they suit the style and therefor look “right”.

Mark Oakley
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Mark Oakley

2D and 3D aren’t the same thing. I get why they are compared, but suggesting one should be dropped for the other is like saying, “We should drop Bananas because we have Apples.” The problem with 3D, as wonderful as it is, is that it is locked in 3-Space. It’s inherently materialist. 2D is Dream-Space stuff. You couldn’t make the first 3 minutes of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” with conventional 3D software. You just couldn’t. -Of if you did, you’d have to cheat like crazy, simulating computer insanity in order to stay within the math boundaries of a 3D space.… Read more »

Benoit Cecyre
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Benoit Cecyre

Considering how many people in the industry already hold that view and the current state of traditional animation,we don`t need that devil`s advocate.
As far as “creative people ” are concerned,traditional animation has not even come close to achieving it`s full potential.Let the creative people decide if it should die or not.
CGI and 2D do look different so,yes,medium does matter.

Ferdinand Engländer
Admin

Hmm, I think we do need to play devil’s advocate to really understand why some people think the way they do – even if their opinion might be narrow minded and not thought through. Maybe then we can find the argument that CEOs can understand. 2D enthusiasts that just go into defense mode “just because” will convince no one who isn’t already on their side. And we can be really happy if an article like this makes people not only write about it but actually feeds their flame of passion to create 2D animation (and choose it actually as a… Read more »

Benoit Cecyre
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Benoit Cecyre

I still disagree,playing devil`s advocate (especially with this article)only reinforces certain misinformations and inaccuracies.It offers nothing new,not even in terms of insight,it just repeats what the 3D supporters have said sooooo many times before. The real damage from this article is how it misinforms people who don`t know much animation but have interest in it,and who do to a certain extent have an influence over what can get made(the audience in other words). That why animators like me,who appreciate animation in its different forms and who want to see a greater variety of mediums used respond to this article the… Read more »

Ferdinand Engländer
Admin

Why misinformation? The arguments JK brought up are objective arguments for a production that is suited for 3D (and many of them are already debunked or put in perspective in the article). In both parts JK made clear that 2D has many strengths over 3D and that he prefers 2D. People left misinformed didn’t read the whole thing – or even the first paragraphs. This article is not supporting 3D but questioning it. If anything it supports to use the right technology for the right story and ends with a pro 2D argument. And yeah, you might not need this… Read more »

Pauline
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Pauline

If 3D is easier, that’s what makes it less valuable. I can see why there are so many bad 3D animated films now. You dont have to try AS hard anymore..The industry killed great 2D animators, not lack of great animators killed the industry. Because they became unneeded.

MT
Guest
MT

I feel that 2d animation experience is required to fully master the world of 3d animation. However, that may mean that 2d animation will just be a learning process in a path to become a 3d animator. The only way 2d would exsist in the future would be the internet….

…BUT, there is some hope for the future of 2d animation now that a short animation called Pperman has been made. I’ve heard that the program used to make such a gorgeous animation had actually tranferred 2d work to 3d.

I hope I’m not in denial.

James
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James

2d animation should be abandoned? ask that to millions of anime fans out there..

2d animation as an art medium, is getting better and better now days, have you seen 2d movies like ‘garden of words’..
ofcourse, today’s 2d animated animations uses 3d environments and backgrounds, but characters made in 2d are unmatched by 3d. just a couple of companies aren’t making 2d animations doesn’t mean we have to abandon an art medium.

Rahi
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Rahi

Couldn’t agree more .thats exactly what i am doing in my second short animated film .I made envirenments in 3d even the body of characters but the faces in 2d .Why ? I tried the 3d face too but the face wasn’t enough funny (as i wanted to be )in all directions .The same with homer simpson .there are 3 d puppets ,models of homer not funny and comparable with the original 2d homer . Btw Sorry if my english sucks. I am persian.

Abel
Guest
Abel

Seriously, which monkey wrote this article. I like both 2D and 3D, 2D is the pioneer to animators what is wrong with you? Why must both compete? I love both. I don’t want to see both of these styles being abandoned. Author educate yourself in history and the golden age of animation.

Flaze07
Guest
Flaze07

This comment makes me laugh

Estudios Winchery
Guest
Estudios Winchery

I am a total beginner in animation, but this is my humble opinion. My passion for animation precisely started thanks to great 2D animation, I just want to be like those great artists that make drawings come to life. Instead of abandoning this type of animation, why don’t we just extract its full potential and make it perfect with the help of technology?

Dayna luka
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Dayna luka

I personally love 2d animation. It’s not inferior to 3d. And there are a ton of amazing computer programs that can make frame by frame animation efficient beautiful and fast. Leaving it in past is a narrow minded idea. 2d animation comes with its own lovable expressions and styles that appeal to many. And n wen made by passionate talented animators, it can do things that are amazing without being expensive to make. American animation has moved more n more into cheaper ways of making cartoons. N not to say that with the right ideas they haven’t made great things… Read more »

Joe
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Joe

Dude, that’s not gonna happen. 2D animation is way superior when it comes to convey emotions and gesture

Izzy C
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Izzy C

This is an amazing argument! May I quote you in my college research paper about the differences between 2d and 3d animation? You opened my eyes, man!

Rahi
Guest
Rahi

I respect and agree with some of your points however the title is a little bit childish (no disrespect) .What do you exactly mean by “should be abondoned “? Making a law or sth to make it Illegal ? You are just judgging people/studios who still make 2d with this kind of title as if they don’t know the difference between 2d and 3d .Maybe they just have other reasons to do it .More details thanks to technology doesn’t matter .Nowdays you can make it sooo much detailed that it looks completely like a film (not an animation).Then whats the… Read more »

Jane M
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Jane M

I have to say I disagree with this article. I think it’s a little naive to say that we should abandon 2D animation for CG just because CG is “easier”. We can’t abandon 2D just because it’s difficult; I think quantity over quality is really relevant in the field of animation. I also think we’re confusing the goals of both types of animation. The way I see it, 3D animation aspires to be as realistic as possible, whereas 2D animation aspires to be more of a serious art medium (which it already is!). I don’t know, I just think you’re… Read more »

Nat
Guest

I’ve been searching the internet to validate my argument (reality bubble style) and this is the closest I’ve found, although the opposite conclusion. Excuse me for the belated commenting! I talked with an animator the other day and we were both in agreement on this: 2D can and never will die, or at least will arise from the dead once it is gone, and is superior to 3D. I’m going to raise some points that i don’t see considered anywhere. Excuse the roughness and informality of my arguments, but this is just a first salvo and in a comment thread,… Read more »

Ferdinand Engländer
Admin

Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate the discussion. This is a very important characteristic of 2D animation. And I am not sure if you have read part 2 but I think JK ends with a very similar argument (keep in mind that we, the owners of this website, are both 2D animators). 3D can create a beautiful version of reality. Simulations and maybe even AI will make the creation of walkcycles and physical animation easier and more accurate than ever (although it probably will need human input for a long time still). However, if you want a very hand-crafted… Read more »

Luiz Paulo Bruggemann
Guest

I read somewhere that human eyes don’t like too much the perfections of a realism. It’s too perfect. We see these perfections in 3D animation. It’s boring. When we watch a 2D traditional animation, we can see the artist effort. It’s not boring. It’s beautiful. We keep wondering: “how did someone create this.” When we watch a 3D animation, sometimes we think: “ohn, it’s just a computer generated animation… boring…” The same happen with animations created by Toon Boom. Sometimes those puppeta are boring. But I think a merge between drawing and puppets may be wondeful.

Cameron
Guest
Cameron

Thank you.

Cameron
Guest
Cameron

I just watched the movie Balto on Netflix and I saw Alpha and Omega a while ago, and to be honest, the Alpha and Omega 3D was terrible to be honest. It was very flat and unappealing. I’d rather watch Balto 10 times than Alpha and Omega once… I also think Balto has a way better story than Alpha and Omega tbh… I dont know about you guys but I’m sticking to 2D ON THIS SITUATION. I really like 3D but I don’t think 2D should be abandoned.

Cameron
Guest
Cameron

I know a lot of this is not really relevant, but I was just trying to make an example.

Scarlett
Guest

Whenever a software gets to update, the previous version always gets abandoned after some time. 2D animation has been used widely but now it’s time to move on and work on current technologies like 3D animations, motion graphics etc.

jeff
Guest

3d animation is good but cartoon in 2d animation videos was best and still best

mac bryan
Guest

Really the 3d animated video production is much easier than producing 2d animation.

muhammad Atiq
Guest

Practice makes man perfect .easier or toughly is just depend on your practice.But this type of cartoon 2D/ 3D animation article is helpful when you are in trouble. thanks for the article

sunthn
Guest
sunthn

I’m not going to say “I’m totally not biased against 3d” because, for one, every opinion or statement has an element of bias or it isn’t a statement at all, and two, as an artist who use both 2d and 3d animation in a wide array of projects, I have actual reasons to back up my bias. To this day, 3d animation has relied primarily on rigs to animate characters (a.k.a. puppet animation with a third dimension). Puppet animation, whether 2d or 3d, has a wide set of limitations, both in anatomical realism and surrealism. Skinned meshes ignore many physics… Read more »

Emma
Guest

I agree with some of your points, but 2D cartoon animation is always great as compare as 3D animation, but in most places, 3D is the best. Whenever a software gets to update, the previous version always gets abandoned after some time, so don’t waste your time doing this type of argument

Alyxandra Lara Colgrove
Guest
Alyxandra Lara Colgrove

I am not an animator, although my dream is to secure that career, but I will say I am deeply passionate about 2 dimensional animation. Although I admire 3 dimensional animation, I very much devote my heart and soul to the old school ways of 2 dimensional animation. I do understand it is ‘going out of style’ as they say but I am a diehard representative of all of the full-hearted effort that is, or should I say was, put in to make 2 dimensional animation possible. It was an incredible feat to not only commit to significant research but… Read more »

Swati Mane
Guest

Great Article. Thanks for sharing. This blog is really helpful for me

tyler johnson
Guest

That’s a good point that computers make small details in animation look a lot better. I feel like having a CGI animated movie makes it a lot easier to make stunning movies as well. especially now that the technology has advanced enough I feel like 2d hand drawn movies can’t keep up. Even though they still have their place, for the most part, computer animation is superior.