Quick Level Set: What is 2.5D?

Image Credit: https://www.disneyanimation.com/projects/paperman

I just finished watching Howl’s Moving Castle, a film made by Studio Ghibli.  The movie almost doesn’t need an introduction; it has been touted as an amazing work of art for years.  The way it subtly blended 3D and 2D works made me struggle to find what was rendered by man and what was crafted by a machine.  It absolutely blew me away; easily one of the best 2D films to utilize 3D software that I have seen in my life.

However, as the line between 2D and 3D is blurred, one can raise the question:what makes something 2.5 D in the first place?

To my knowledge, there is no clear definition to what makes something 2.5 D or not, but I’ll try my best to express most of the rules in an organized fashion.


2.5 D Animation has to strive for a 2D look.

This aspect is the first and most important; 2.5 D animation has to strive for a 2D look.  The whole point of 2.5 D is to replicate 2D art in a 3D space.  If failing that, a 2.5 D animation may go for it’s own style, but it should be inspired in part by 2D.  An example of a 2.5 D animation that is more 3D than 2D is the trailer for Guilty Gear.  It uses cel shading to create a stylized profile that retains 3D aspects, but takes some good inspiration from 2D art.

2.5D has to be created in 3D.

This rule is pretty much a given.  I won’t go into it too much.

2.5 D Should be a Combination of 2D and 3D Elements(or in simpler words, a pencil should be involved at one point during the animation).

I say “should” because this is where things become unclear for me.  I have always considered the first two rules to be the most important when it comes to this field, but when defining something such as 2.5D, one should look at the works that came before.  Paperman is one film that comes to mind.  During production, artists working on the short used a 3D program to render a base frame, then drew over those to enhance the 2D effect.  Some say that 2.5 D animation is defined by that aspect of the production process.

What 2.5 D is not:

  • 3D animations only depicted on one side.
  • Cartoon-like Renderings that are intended to look 3D, and draw little inspiration in final product from 2D art(concept art doesn’t count).

I have been seeking the perfect 2.5 D look for years, and although I have achieved certain styles, it is a struggle that I continue to endure.

A few days ago I wrote an article on whether or not pseudo 2D/3D art is viable.  You can read more on that topic here.


Just like I said on that article, this article is based on information I have learned over my life, not from any school in this field.  If you have a different opinion on what 2.5 D art or animation is, please feel free to leave a comment!  I am open to new ideas.

This article was inspired by a Reddit thread discussing a work I submitted here.


One thought on “Quick Level Set: What is 2.5D?”

  1. This article refers to the term used to describe a certain style of animation associated with films such as Paperman. It is a colloquial term that doesn’t have an official definition. 2.5 D animation can also refer to this concept often found in games:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2.5D

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