Commentary

Why Should 2D Animation be Abandoned? (Part 2 – Plus Why Not)


Last time
we looked at reasoning animators might consider giving up on 2D/Hand-drawn completely and moving on to the future that is 3D/CGI animation. Today we take a look at a few more of these ideas and conclude with a possible justification for keeping the old “dead” art form around a little longer (aka, forever).

– You can find Part One of this series here. –

4. Changes are Much Faster

Say you have a scene in 3D and your director suddenly realizes that the whole thing might work a lot better from a bird’s eye view than the worm’s eye currently in place. In 3D, no problem! A quick adjustment of the completely flexible camera and no chairs are thrown or scripts tossed across the room. In 2D, though? Better have a lot of chairs and scripts on hand, because there are fits to be thrown and nervous breakdowns to be had.

Animate this scene in 3D and you can place the camera anywhere you want.
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Animate this scene in 3D and you can place the camera anywhere you want.

In 2D an animator would need to completely start from scratch with a blank page in order to do something as simple as a slight camera adjustment. There is no “rotate slightly around the character to the left” in 2D. What you’re saying is “reanimate this entire scene, please.” Because of the flexibility of the 3D “world” that exists in the computer, changes are much faster and easier.

5. Moving Holds Are Not Torture in 3D

The more subtle the animation in 2D, as discussed last article, the more difficult things become. This applies not only to subtle emotion and acting, but simply keeping characters feeling alive. Doing tracebacks without near-perfect clean-up can ruin a scene. The inbetweens to a moving hold that are mere millimeters apart are one of the most painful experiences of an inbetweener’s career. There’s no room for error, and as we said before, humans are far from computers when it comes to technical detail.
Thanks to the modern marvel of technology, we can create a moving hold in 3D that lasts a full hour with the same amount of work as one that lasts only 10 frames. Consider how many holds are in an average film and the benefits add up to astounding levels.

6. 3D is “More Real”

We go outside of our little animation box for a moment for this one. While prepping this article, I asked several people their thoughts on why, hypothetically, 3D is the only way to go for all future animation. Some of these people were animators, and they literally asked me if I had some sort of fever, or had lost my mind. Others were only animation enthusiasts. One, however, is a personal friend who only ever watches animation if I invite him to the theater with me.

Apart from his childhood, he has rarely ever made an effort to see an animated film on his own. I ask if he’s watched Frozen, and his response is no. How about Big Hero 6, or How to Train Your Dragon 2? Nadda. It would be a waste of breath for me to inquire about The Tale of Princess Kaguya. He did watch Hercules on Netflix many years back, because he enjoys Greek mythology and “old Disney films” but he found he didn’t enjoy the movie.

His response to my question of “why 3D?” was simply that 3D animation is “more real.” To him, 3D animation “blurs the line between fantasy and reality” and “a child’s daydream – and all other ages – is theoretically 3D, so its like their fantasies come to life.” His words, not mine.

Can't argue the "reality" aspect of this short film.
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Can’t argue the “reality” aspect of this short film.

Ask any 2D animator and they’ll tell you it’s compelling characters that create the sense of “real” infinitely more than any technology, design, or model. The problem is, theaters are not filled with animators. They are filled with average people who have little to no idea how animation is made. And to at least one of them, 3D is “more real.”

It is what it is. Argue if you like, but this is from the mouth of the audience. (One of them, anyway, and many others share the opinion.)

7. The Infrastructure is Already There

I ran the concept of this article past a number of people, as I mentioned. Charles Kenny of AnimationAnomaly.com responded with one angle I had never even considered: Infrastructure.

“Traditional animation, while having similar time pressures to CGI, doesn’t have near the same amount of capital tied up in infrastructure,” Charles noted. “If you’re going to make the investment in a render farm and dozens of PC workstations, you aren’t going to only use them now and again.”

Likewise Samantha Youssef of Studio Technique and the upcoming book Movement and Form adds to this idea of infrastructure and cost:

“Ultimately I think that 3D is a more business effective medium and the industry is a business not an art.  Thats the bottom line.  Artists work in the industry and create art within it but the motivating decisions are based on money.”

This is a tremendous point from the logistical side of things. (I know, as artists we sometimes ignore logistics. They exist, however.) Studios are now set up to do huge 3D films much more than they are to work in 2D. In fact, many years ago the big studios like Disney sold off their traditional animation desks en masse. While one can certainly animate hand-drawn style on a Cintiq, the physical systems in place are better suited to 3D these days. As Charles said, no decision-making-suit is going to let millions of dollars of rendering machines collect dust while their animators work with paper and pencil, and as Sam points out, our industry is a business first and “art” second. If the tools for 3D are there and set up, why not use them and leave the pencils in the closet?

2D is Dead, Long Live 2D

When I set out to write this article, I did so because I am such a fan of 2D Hand-drawn Animation that I wanted to immerse myself in an alternate perspective, to see what it looked like. I must admit, by the end of my research and writing I had nearly convinced myself that 2D should be abandoned.

And yet, not quite.

You see, there is one reason that refuses to budge from the recesses of my mind on why 2D should be continued. The reason is illogical compared to most of the information above. It seems counter-intuitive, and irrational. Yet it is the most compelling of any that I’ve come across:

2D Animation is Human

I have watched and loved many 3D animated films. They have been compelling, and rich, with visuals that left me in awe in some moments. One of my earliest memories of life regards a 3D animated scene – when Basil chases Rattigan through the whirring gears of the clock tower. Yet in spite of all the joy it has brought me, I have never felt the soul of an animator in the same way via computer than I have via pencil.

By giving some level of control to the machines, I truly believe we lose some level of soul in the final product. There are animators who will disagree with me, saying it is merely a tool and the humanity still shines through. This is a fair point, and I understand their perspective. Then there are animators who will argue that The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians were a pinnacle of animation BECAUSE they showed the raw lines of the original animator, perfect cleanup be darned.

101 Dalmatians was a brilliant example of the human element in animation
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101 Dalmatians is perfect because it doesn’t try to be.

Humans are imperfect, and it is – in my opinion – THROUGH that imperfection that great art is great. When a line compels you with the passion of the person who drew it, that is a moment that cannot be achieved unless a human hand has created it. The rough edges, and some would say “mistakes,” are exactly what makes 2D animation as compelling as it is to me. You see beyond shape to soul. Beyond form to thought. Beyond films to the poetry of life.

Is this sappy? Yes. Because we are sappy. We are human. We feel and think and love and hate. Removing that element, even by one stage as the perfection of a computer cleans up our intention in a logical attempt to make it “better,” is my biggest reason against abandoning 2D. Why I personally never will. So, at least as long as I continue to breathe, traditional hand-drawn animation will not be dead or abandoned. It will live on and continue in its majestic imperfection as long as there are humans who so dearly love it. Imperfect, passionate humans.

In the end 3D has its place, and 2D does at well. Neither is a suitable replacement for the other, and all the animators who chimed in for this editorial would no doubt agree. Big thanks to Tom Bancroft, Charles Kenny, and Samantha Youssef for helping me think through this topic! I appreciate their willingness to set aside their own love of traditional animation and really consider all angles for the sake of open, honest discussion.

To conclude, as I said in a discussion about Part 1 via Facebook:

We need to have discussions. We need to think deeply about what we do. We have to keep dialogue open or we stagnate and never learn anything. The whole point of this is to THINK a little more. Ask “Why SHOULD 2D be abandoned?” and answer truthfully, not defensively. Give real reasons why it should, then make decisions once you have those answers, and others. Not hide from questions like that and refuse to ever look any deeper, you know?

If we don’t know why 2D animation SHOULD be abandoned, and also why it should not (which is a different article plenty of people have written) then we can’t make a wise choice going forward as artists, because we’re not being open to all angles. The reason I wrote this post is because I myself wasn’t being open to all angles, so I wanted to see the honest reasons Pro-3D vs 2D.

Jungle Book
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I hope this series has been as helpful to others as it was to me! What are your thoughts now that both parts have been released? We had some great comments last time and I hope to hear if anyone has anything more to add now.

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Kevin Fraser

Having watched the development of virtual geometry based imaging as a spectator and sometime participant since its earliest days, I have to point out that its history’s development is marked not by innovations that make it more realistic nor more sterile, but by developments that make it resemble more the subjectively sensed and humanly expressed output of the artist. The method of digital 3D virtual puppeteering keeps trying to become a real boy, skaking off the ugly shackles of “hard” reality, in order to more resemble some sense of what 2D animation at its finest and most artistic can be. I think the future will see the ability to “dial in” to 3D what the 2D animator can’t help but bring to the table. Meanwhile both poles of the argument will continue to advance. Look at “Klaus”.

Ian

Totally agree. I still prefer 2D myself, because it has a human warmth to it that 3D just doesn’t. I’ll help you 2D purists keep the flame burning as long as I can.

Kevin Fraser

Ian I’d like to make a distinction. I don’t think it’s an either/or answer but a more thoughtful both/and response. I think a photograph doesn’t accomplish the same thing as a 2-minute figure pose drawn with Conté crayon on 18×24″ smooth newsprint. Technically a photograph doesn’t employ line so it’s a meaningless comparison. With animation all the questions of character of motion enter in — no matter the methodology the animator chooses. Ultimately I think audiences will vote with their patronage based on story and quality of execution, not production methodology. There has been plenty of bad animation made, whether hand drawn or “geometrized” so drawn animation has no special case. The worst hand drawn animation isn’t automatically better than any 3D animation etc. Each has its place in our 21st century animation landscape, and I think the technology will develop to offer the animator more and more useful choices for balancing the benefits of each method. We will end up with our cake and eating it too.

Nestorantonio

As a lover of both, would say that at the end everything comes down to what you like and your goals. If you want to work within the recent animation industry, at least on the most popular references,perhaps embracing 3D animation would be a good idea, but these also depends on:

Your love for the process.

Applying any technique, put 2D/3D/Stop Motion… etc, just to work on some place or market when you don’t enjoy it doesn’t make sense, these only leads to frustration . Of course, making a living it’s equally important but I don’t think that was the first thing on our minds when we entered on this medium.

Still haven’t heard any parents screaming to their kids I WANT YOU TO BE AN ANIMATOR either, or any imposition of society regarding the subject. We are here by own decision, why to choose something that could make you unhappy? Still there’s a plenty of shortfilms, series and movies being made on every different technique of these wonderful art we call animation.

Go grab that pencil,mouse, clay or whatever and make something that leave us breathless.

Cheers.

Sean Ramsdell

In other words, there are no perfect techniques, just preferences

Chris

I know I certainly for me I struggle between 2d and 3d. Though I feel lately that the technology is there for 2d to make a comeback. Considering the costs of some major 3d programs (Maya and 3ds max) can cost significantly more than most of the 2d programs out there.

Also just from a filmmakers perspective. I look at 3d animation as a giant ocean and 2d animation as a river. A filmmaker trying to navigate from the middle of the ocean he can go anywhere he wants, however can get lost within the giant ocean. The vastness of possibilities can cause a crew to get lost within production.

Whereas 2d animation, there are possibilities to have your within site of the shoreline. A filmmaker can be able to navigate the waters within the bounds of the river. Plus limiting what you can do in a film can allow more ingenuity towards your film. Allows for more planning for fore thought and at the end keep within budget.

As far as audiences concerns, I get a sense from people I talk is that while they enjoy 3d films, they do miss 2d animation. I mean look at just the crowdfunding of Hullabaloo Steampunk 2d film. While I am sure part where animation enthusiast, the rest are regular people. Raised over $300,000 to make that film. Klaus getting big recognition for being a 2d film with new technology techniques.

Plus the push of 2d/3d hybrid shorts creating a presents in the Academy awards.

I am seeing a Renaissance of 2d happening in the near future. 2d technology is catching up with 3d and it going to be awesome!

Kahana

Both positions have great arguments on their side, I’d say, but personally I don’t think 2d will ever really be dead.
True, the latest Disney movies for example have all been 3D, but as someone who is also into animes I’ll have to say that both art forms are required to fit different stories. There are not many Anime I can think of that are 3d, and I would not want to watch them in 3d. They have a unique style, a style that can only truly be preserved in 2d (at least in my opinion 😉 ). And it’s the same for other stories.
Some have more need of that ‘human touch’ you mentioned and some stories need action shots and the great particle effects you can make with a computer. We’ll always need both kinds of animation – and there is still a huge audience who loved 2d.

Ehsan

I have to be fair regarding 2D and 3D animation. We cannot simply compare both apple to apple. I have many points here but still open for debate.

1.People start involve in arts as an expression since thousands and thousands of years ago from the walls of caves where we can see many drawings of animals and human figures telling about daily lives of the artists. (Note : 2D drawings)

2. Technology speaking, ancient people use some sort like colored chalks to draw on the walls or stones. Thousands of years later, with skills in stone carvings, people start to express their arts, life or philosophy, hence statue of man, woman or child or animals appeared everywhere. But then, in ancient times 2D drawings still going on as what ancient Egyptians draw 2 men fighting as if in frame by frame on the walls. At that time 3D giant statues were everywhere. What I mean is at that time, ancient Egyptians did not have technology to make their 3D statues became alive. Then come Leanardo da Vinci with his wooden lion animatronics. (Note : 2d and 3d is around)

3. With advancement in bronze, iron and mechanical engineering artists start to invent animatronics in the 20th century. People still want to make these animatronics as alive as possible but failed.

4. Then in the late 20th century coming into 21st century, with the advancement of computer hardware and software technologies/engineering, 3D animation is very well crafted on cinema screen either in cartoon only or combined with live pictures.

5. But is 2D dead now? I believe not.

6. I’m the children of the 1970s. 100% I will love 2D animation as I grew up with all that Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Warner-Bros cartoons. How about the youngster of the 21st century? I have interviewed some young kids nowadays ….. they love Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck etc. Why? They said it’s funny. How about some latest Flash cartoons and 3D cartoons …. They said “I don’t understand the story” See that!!! Oops in 2D world itself there are many school of thoughts that are Disney style, Warner Bros style, Flash style etc). Put aside animation world … we see a moment in music industries. Compare the music of 1970s and 1980s (Bee Gees, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Dione Warwick, Chicago, Michael Jackson …..) Don’t ask ages above 50, just ask young kids …. We can see their comments in Youtube regarding 1970s/80music compare to current music style.

7. Yes, if Disney 3D Frozen film can make millions of dollars is it because of 3D or the strength of the story? If it was made using 2D methods will it also make millions of dollars or even more?

8. 3D animation is beautiful in every aspect. But can this website make a poll to take a statistic sample of votes to either 2D or 3D in few weeks time? At least we can see the reaction of the readers regardless they are animator or not.

9. (Note : sorry my English not good)

10. 2D or 3D cartoon animation (classic or modern times) will make my life happier by each day, because the shows make we smile. Smile is very expensive and the best medicine in life.

Josh K

3D is less friendly to solo independent animators. An independent animator would have to learn how to design, model, rig, texture, light, render, in addition to animating. You could bypass most of that by using someone else’s character, but you wouldn’t be able to call it your own.
2D animator mainly needs to know how to design, draw, animate and paint.

Roland Freeman

But it’ll take more time learning to draw in an effective and pleasing matter. From a purely business standpoint, it’ll be better to use 3D.

JC

I think that animation is waaaay more than a nice, clean movement. You don’t need to be a master (on anything actually) to tell a story and there’s a lot of stuff that just can’t be made in CG. It could be true that 2d animation is dead in a “hollywood motion picture business” but thankfully the world of animation is bigger than that.

Dyson

“After some great feedback from readers, we ve retitled the new post Why Should 2D Animation Be Abandoned?”

😀

Ferdinand Engländer

×)

Taking into account that JK is a 2D animator I would suspect that the “plus why not” part always was his plan.

Juan Carlos Valdez

The problem I have with this article and the previous part 1, is that you’re comparing what’s faster, easier, what’s torture what’s not, and so on. And for those reasons, one can make a decision on whether or not to abandon 2D animation. But really that’s a pointless discussion. Your argument is debating preferences and art style. The speed and efficiency of hand drawn animation or 3D depends on the artist. Both 2d and 3D animation projects can take the same amount of time to complete. Both have difficulties. But in the hands of experienced artists, being efficient is not an issue.

As far as the artistic argument. Realistic is not and often is not an advantage. I always hold animation to the standard of fine art and unrestrained creativity. Want something realistic? Go film it. But in animation, let your imagination run wild. Realistic renders can be highly scrutinized because audiences will compare it to the real world. Whereas 2d animation is accepted in almost any design style.

I understand the points your trying to make. And I do think you make them very well. But I still think it’s doing more harm than good. You’re giving incorrect and misguided reasoning to executives and producers on why they should never look at 2d animation again.

This is your website, so you can post whatever you like. But you should write another article why 2d animation needs to come back and stay.

Sergey

No. It’s like a said that electronic music will kill the classic or acoustic music. It is two different ways, adjusting computer or real time playing on instrument. Make industrial commercial mass product or individual handmade piece of art. Everything have place to be.

Benoit

What about assisted 2d animation, combining hand drawing with much more felxibility than traditional 2d animation…
I’m a total newbee in the animation art, I barely started to sketch my own characters but I’m interested in animation since childhood. I infortunately choose another path as professional life, I face that with some sadness sometimes. Anyway, now a grown up man, I still sense the feeling of the artist hand in old 2d animation, just as I admire the detail and the subtilities of some great pieces of 3D anims.
I understand perfectly what you say in part one, about how technology can help de animator to get rid of hard work hours to make simple things and let him focus on the acting (all in all it is all about acting inst’t it?). On the other hand… When I see some artist capable to captivate the audience with characters born from extremely simple lines… That’s where the magic lives. When somebody make some stiff single lined character comes to life, and the audience buy it! The audience believe in that actin, that moves, that story.
Despite being a real neewb, I love animation, and for me, as spectator, it is not about perfection, nor about the rich details and special effects, it is about feeling and enter into the animator’s world!
Congrat for the article and your achievement. May you have a long career, for the sake of our childish minds!

Ps: please forgive my English, I’m Belgian and I’m more comfortable using French!

Benoit

Izzy Culbertson

hmm, I’m actually wondering, what about digital 2D animation, where does it come into play to replace traditional works?

Mikhail Lebedev

When you talk about 2d you mean traditional 2d animation right? Traditional animation is almost dead, i agree, but CGI 2d or traditional combined with CGI is not, because it has/speaks a unique visual language!

Scarlett

Exactly! 3D animation is more lively and looks real but again I would like to say that 2D animation shouldn’t be abandoned as it has given us so much to remember and still has so much to do.

Brian

I wanted to go into 2d animation, but it seems like the industry wants more 3d animation. It sucks but that’s entertainment. People choose what they want. All we can do is supply that to them.

Eden L Haddick

HI, I was wondering if you used any sources for this article, I loved reading it and am doing an essay on this topic and would be interested in any sources you may have used. Either way, I loved your arguments and enjoyed this article.

Hansen

Paperman tried to fuse the best of two worlds. Even if it’s perhaps not the best way to make for instance rubberhose animation (I did see a trailer for the never made CGI Popeye feature that used the rubberhose style), what if it could be used to assist 2D animation? Create a digital version of the characters that is faceless, bald and nude, and draw over it with a styles on a tabled to make it move like you want. Then you add a face, clothes and hair the old way over the character. That way the CGI makes sure the shape and size is correct, while the drawings add soul to the animation.
There is just something about the animation of CGI that gives it away. In the Iron Giant, you can see the CGI elements. In old sci-fi animation, robots that is created entirely by hand (like the Fleischer Superman cartoons or Ghibli’s Laputa) feels different.
And we have so-called cel-shading. They try to make it look like it’s 2D, but the movements or whatever it is gives it away. The day when they can use cel-shading on a CGI-movie and it looks and feels entirely like it was made by hand, then they have succeeded. In the meantime, I can’t see CGI recreating the toys in Gepetto’s workshop in the Disney feature the same way the animators did.
Pencil tests are just black lines moving, but they look alive. If you could make a “pencil test” of a CGI scene and it looks exactly as if done by hand, you will know the old principles of animation will live on in another medium.
Then again, the 2D Movie Return to Neverland also feels different from the original Peter Pan, and not in a good way. I don’t want to be disrespectful towards those who made the movie, but the animation of the original movie is superior. The same with the original Pink Panter show versus what is made today, and Sylvester cartoons.