Should 2D animation go away?
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.

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.

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 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

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

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.