Creating 2D Art in a 3D World; is it Possible?

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?

Two Sides

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.

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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.  I would love to here what you guys/girls/its have to say on this subject!  Please leave a comment if you 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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11 thoughts on “Creating 2D Art in a 3D World; is it Possible?”

  1. You bring up some good points, but I feel like shading also plays a big role in why 2.5D looks so different.

    I agree, though. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank you for comment! Shading can play a huge role if done wrong. However, shading also depends on animation, as the way a character is shaded depending on how he moves. Most 2D characters stay in the same orientation for the majority of a scene, which makes the shading static. 3D shading, on the other hand is very dynamic.
      I’ll be sure to mention shading next time though. I appreciate your input!

  2. Real life is 4D. We create 3D and 2D in real life. It is possible to create all kind of Ds in 4D.
    *cough cough* I have all dem Ds *cough*

  3. This Comment was taken off of, from the user 409coffeemaker:

    I actually love that this art form is starting to become more popular, and personally I think it’s going into a boom.

    The author is correct in saying that there are some failures of animes that use 3D graphics. My favorite example that gets a lot of flack is RWBY[3:28]. Although they really don’t try to hide the fact that they don’t mind about “being 2D,” it’s still a good example of people using 3D motion to simulate 2D graphics; their colors are flat, some objects and colors have a black outline to simulate inking, but they use dynamics for the cape, weather, and rose pedal effects. Although they didn’t do so in this trailer, they also use Mocap[from 4:29 on] to imitate real people movements that a 2D animation studio could never do.

    As for the “looks too much like 3D” problem; it can be fixed really easily. Animation in 3D uses specific algorithms (I’m not really a math person, can you tell?) to move from point A, to point B. Maya, for instance uses a Graph Editor[2:44] that allows you to change the way something moves from A to B. In 3D animation, things move very fluently to simulate real life movements, but in 2D, the animator chooses to stop things short more often to simulate a cartoon look. I haven’t seen it being used too well yet, but you can definitely manipulate that graph editor to make these cuts harder and much more like 2D animation.

    Programs like Maya, 3DMax, Blender, Mudbox, Poser, RealFlow, RenderMan, and Blender are becoming more popular to know on a learn-at-home level. This is absolutely becoming more popular, and I can’t wait to see what’s to come.

    P.S. Let’s not get into a discussion about how RWBY isn’t an anime because it’s not Japanese. I can argue with you all day on that haha.

    Edit: Times of videos

  4. My personal opinion is that 2.5D works wonder for action scenes, but beyond that people simply don’t know how to use it to create “softer” scenes properly. Take “Ajin” for example, the dialogue scenes looked weird and twitchy, but when the fight scenes kicked in, it looked great. The solution, in my opinion, is that you use a mix of 2.5D and 2D. Of course, this comes with the problem of transitioning between then, so you’d need to pay top dollar for a good art director and colorist. (Although Studio Gonzo did a pretty good job of using CGI and 2D in Gankutsuo). Either way, I don’t think technology has advanced far enough yet for 2.5D to become totally viable.

    1. You bring up some good points. 2.5D might not be viable right now for studios, but just like everything else, it will get better with time so long as people continue to have faith in it.

      Now I haven’t watched Ajin yet, so perhaps others can speak on that. I’ll try to watch a few clips and answer if and when I can.

  5. The following comment was taken off of reddit and was composed by user OutdoorAnimator:

    I suspect that the reason why 3D to 2D can look awkward is largely because of the way animators are treating these character rigs, and not in fact the result of shader issues (shaders still have room for improvement, but that’s not the bulk of the problem). A lot of people think the way to “cheat” the 2D look is to bump down the number of unique frames within a second, but that just makes things look stuttery due to our eyes trying to determine what is inbetween the rendered unique frames.
    On the topic of your example, Cassette Girl, here’s one thing I noticed immediately. The animators are framing the 3D characters rigs and animating them as they would in a 2D environment. They have completely control of the frame and at almost no point in the video do they let the computer’s interpolation dictate how the frames will look. That idea itself is how you’ll be able to emulate 2D using a 3D package.
    One thing that might help to further push the idea of 2D emulation is to have a rigging tool that can help shape the silhouette of the character from any angle. Sony Pictures Imageworks have already developed extensive tools like these for Hotel Transylvania; it’d be interesting to see similar applications used in 2D emulation.

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