steamboatmouse: (Sleeping Beauty)
Steamboat Mouse Animation ([personal profile] steamboatmouse) wrote2009-08-23 11:00 pm

2D vs. 3D, or the Death of 2D Animation

IT'S a long, tiresome, and repetitive fight in the animation field, and one that many people are already sick of. And yet, at the same time, it's a topic that very few people know about when it comes to discussing it more deeply. Many who do talk about it know nothing about the process of making an animated film. Even some people interested in or working in the animation industry know very little. Thus, we have all this build-up on the idea that 2D animation is not only just dead, but gone, forgotten, and entirely useless for animators now.

This is entirely untrue, and I guarantee you all the workers in Pixar will say the same. We've entered an age where everything can be easily accessed and portable. A copy of Maya on your laptop is convenient to carry around, while carrying a camera, scanner, paper, pencils, erasers, lightbox, and peg bar is not so easy. But this is where we get the problem - people generally think 3D is easier to do, while 2D only takes longer and costs much more.

In many ways, 3D can be easier to animate in, but this is an area often incorrectly talked about. It is more than just getting the computer to do the movements for you. Putting too much faith in the computer's ability to animate will leave actions stiff, robotic, and overall looking lifeless. Sure, 3D is supposed to look more realistic, but nothing looks more realistic in life than believable actions and movements. Pixar's John Lasseter studied the old Disney techniques religiously for the ability to make characters seem realistic through their acting. The medium does not matter.

Mike Disa couldn't have said it better: "The people who are in 3D animation now, if they don’t get very familiar with 2D animation techniques—proportion stretch, spacing, timing, silhouette, that kind of stuff—they won’t have jobs in five years. Knowing the software won’t be enough. That doesn’t mean that a 3D animator needs to know how to draw—not at all. But they need to know classic 2D animation techniques well enough to translate....And what’s going to happen is, they’re not going to work. They’re going to end up doing effects. They’re going to end up doing particles and stuff."

Animators are actors showing expression through art. The techno-savvy young animators polishing their modeling and layout skills will likely find themselves doing nothing but effects for the rest of their days if they don't take time to try out ways of expressing personality and thought.

This, however, is only the petty side of the argument. It is no longer about medium used; that is not important. So what is?

"Story, story, story," is what animator John Canemaker says. "A story well-told can be done with flip books."

Paper and pencil, computer, cut-outs, clay, whatever - nothing grabs the audience better than a good, solid story. WALL-E required thousands of hand-drawn storyboards before it got even close to the computer. What's been adding to this 2D-3D stigma is the rise in studios like Pixar and Dreamworks while Disney's 2D films went on a sudden downhill slope in the new century. With Disney's 2D department faltering in delivery, people immediately assume that 2D has lost its luster if even the original king of 2D animated movies can't keep up. DreamWorks had a brief shot at it with The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and Sinbad - and then quickly made up for all their losses by releasing Shrek (El Dorado, for example, only made half of what it cost to make).

Here is where we enter the biggest problem. Disney's early 2000 movies lacked much in story while DreamWorks and Pixar sped ahead with fresh 3D films. The idea started up that there was no longer a market for 2D, thus making 2D films almost completely scarce from the movie screen. 3D takes advantage of this extra space, grabbing lots of techno-savvy youth to fill in the new career slots to quickly pump out 3D films, regardless of whether or not they understand what makes an animated film great.

The one thing they forgot to include was storytellers: writers, artists, and animators who know exactly what it takes to truly grab the audience.

So let's end this idea that 2D animation is dead, or else all future animation will look dead as well. There is room for all forms of animation, but how that animation is told, not drawn or modeled, is the deciding factor on its success and impact.