Back in the early thirties, films were animated frame by frame. Literally. Each and every frame had to be hand drawn meticulously by a designated animator, and they needed to match with the preceding and subsequent frames in terms of dimension and shading. It was a painstaking and arduous task. Back then, though, 2D animators had no other options.
These same animators dreamed of making something better, a more efficient way of creating an animated work that didn’t involve rendering each frame individually using a pencil and paper. From that desire arose computer animation. 3D animation has propelled the animation industry leaps and bounds by making it easier and cheaper to create beautiful works of art. With each new animated film, people grow more and more accustomed to the “3D look” associated with Toy Story and other iconic movies. The style has come to define the animation industry.
Due to this progression in art form, however, a rift has been created in the community between 2d and 3d. Films such as The Jungle Book are incomparable to Big Hero 6. Visually, they are from different worlds. As a result, many groups such as Studio Ghibli have been forced to stick with the traditional way of animating. However, is it possible to bridge the two worlds? Can you achieve 2D using 3D?
Lets take the most commonly accepted argument first: No, it can’t. There have been many attempts to create a 2D like environment using 3D software, and many, if not most of the attempts have failed(in many people’s opinion). An example of such a mishap(once again in many people’s opinion) can be seen in Berserk, a manga that was created into an anime. To save time and money, the studio behind the show used 3D animation during intense fight scenes. It didn’t fool their viewers, as many noticed and complained immediately.
However, not all of them were failures. Cassette Girl was a film created for the Japan Animator Expo. Hiroyasu Kobayashi created an amazing display of how 3D and 2D can be combined gracefully. The character design and strange but entertaining premise made this work a piece of 2.5D art.
Regardless of how successful both of these works were, there is one thing that viewers notice immediately upon inspection; they are both 3D. What gives them away; animation. 3D animations, unlike their 2D counterparts, are not drawn by hand. They are rendered, using thousands of dollars worth of computer machinery. A computer makes no mistakes when drawing. Every line they make, every pixel they render, ends up exactly where the creator of the art intended them to be. Every translation or turn of a character’s head is interpreted perfectly. There is no room for mimicking, for cheating. Everything needs to be (generally) physically accurate. 2D art, however, isn’t physically accurate, nor was it intended to be. 2D animators use techniques such as stretching and squashing to make their characters seem more alive than they are. These techniques also exist in the 3D world, but the way they are utilized is completely different from the way they are utilized in drawings. This creates a discrepancy in views.
Bringing it Back
Now to answer the question: Is it possible to create 2D art in a 3D world? My answer is yes. Despite what I said before about the animation side of things. Although I was able to tell right away that Cassette Girl was 3D, the film was visually appealing, and I enjoyed it very much. This leads me to believe that the key to creating good 2.5D(?) animation is to create something that not only looks 2D, but also utilizes the best of 3D. With technology making leaps and bounds everyday, I can see animation studios creating full feature length films using 2.5D within the next decade.
Of course, this is all just speculation. There is no right answer to why 2.5 D simply doesn’t look right a lot of the time. You may think differently, or agree but have some more points to add. I am open to all other answers to this question, as I feel this subject as been largely unexplored, and I would like to learn more about this myself.
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