If you were asked to picture a dragon in your mind, how would it look like? Would it be a colorful and physics-defying beast resembling a Disney cartoon character, or a realistic and textured moving monster akin to the likes of Game of Thrones? 2D and 3D animation can be found practically everywhere we look nowadays, and this miraculous achievement can certainly be attributed to the animations’ flair for capturing our imagination and depicting things both real and fictional in ways impossible to achieve with filming.

Though 3D animation only became popular and widespread approximately 40 years ago, it has become an integral part of the global animation industry and makes up a huge part of the total volume of animation created every year. For example, if you are a movie buff, you have probably noticed how many 3D animated movies come out each year, with some making billions of dollars during their run. Given this dynamic growth of 3D animation, you might be wondering where this leaves 2D animation. Is it being replaced by 3D and fading away into the history books, or is 2D much more enduring and robust than some give it credit for? How hard is 3D animation vs 2D animation? We will examine these questions and dive into how things stand between the two animation styles.

What does 2D mean

The easiest way to understand 2D is by thinking of a square on a blank paper. The square has 4 sides, width, and height, but there are no other dimensions or depth to speak of. Because it has a width (1) and height (2), this is considered a two-dimensional (2D) object. Naturally, 2D animation often has other characteristics, such as color and movement, but they do not change the “flat” appearance of the objects and animation in general.

So how exactly does 2D animation work?

2D animation is achieved through sequencing. To begin with, the artist(s) must come up with the animation concept and create all of the unique drawings that will be part of the animation. The set of drawings is then sequenced (joined sequentially) to create one second of animation, with longer animations requiring a correspondingly larger quantity of drawings. Typically, a second of animation includes 24 frames, with every 2 frames consisting of a different drawing. At this speed, the switch between frames happens so quickly that the movement of objects in the frame looks smooth and unbroken to the human eye. Most people associate 2D animation with television cartoons and cartoon films, but the usage of the style is much faster. 2D animation is also prevalent in advertising, mobile and desktop applications, video games, websites, and most other visual mediums.

Evolution of the 2D hand animation

The first forms of 2D animation appeared in the 19th century, and drawings at the time were hand-drawn and implemented in different instruments to achieve rapid sequencing. Notably, the kineograph (now known as the flip-book) was invented in 1868. The tradition of creating drawings for animation by hand remained stable until the 1990s. In this period, computer use became common among animators, and they began to take advantage of the first animation software. Thus, the first computer-created 2D animation appeared, and it came to be known as vector-based animation due to the fact that movement in the animation was controlled by vectors. Eventually, live action 2D animation films made with this methodology were released.

Today, most animation is created through computer software, as it is much cheaper and faster to make than drawing by hand. The most popular 2D animation programs around today include Adobe Animate, Toon Boom Harmony, CelAction2D, and Synfig. Many 2D animation programs are free and easy to use, so spending just 10 minutes tinkering with such a program can easily convince anyone questioning “Is 2D animation easier than 3D?”.

Advantages of 2D animation:

  • Easy to learn
  • Comparatively low production cost
  • Quick to create in comparison with 3D
  • Greater artistic freedom

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to achieve a high level of realism
  • Relies heavily on creativity and originality
  • Demand is comparatively smaller

3D animation: What is it?

As you probably understand by now, 3D stands for 3-dimensional. While 2D uses the dimensions of width and height in objects, 3D adds another dimension – depth (also sometimes called length). If the analog used to explain 2D was a square, then the accurate analog for 3D is the cube. The cube (as one of the 2D vs 3D animation examples) is not visualized as flat, has perceived depth and volume, and seems to occupy space, despite the fact that the surface on which it exists is flat. 3D animation allows for the addition of very realistic visuals, like lighting effects, tiny details, textures, and this is considered to be the main difference between 2D vs 3D animation.

How real 3D animation works

The creation of 3D animation is no easy process, and there is no universal approach to it. Still, we can describe it by looking at the 2 main approaches. Firstly, there is a hand-drawn approach. Like 2D, 3D animation can be drawn into frames and connected via sequencing, but this approach is rare. Usually, some kind of computer software is used, and this approach involves 3 essential steps:

1. Modeling. In this phase, all 3D objects that are present in the animation are created in a 3D animation program.

2. Layout and Animation. The background and setting of the animation are implemented, and the mechanics (movement, changes) are added.

3. Rendering. The 3D objects, layout, and mechanics are all combined and captured to create a completed product (animation).

Naturally, there are many additional steps (such as adding sound effects, special effects, and compositing) that can go into making an animated clip, but the 3 steps above are core requirements.

Evolution of 3D animation

The first computer-generated 3D animation clips appeared in the 1980s, but the technology only became popular in 1995, with the release of the first computer-animated feature film – Toy Story. This is also when the term CGI (computer-generated imagery) that is often associated with 3D was popularized, and the debate of hand-drawn animation vs CGI first came up. Since that time, 3D animation came to dominate the animation box office, and the use of 3D in other industries followed as well.

Over time, the amount of detail and real-world imitation present in 3D animation only increased, and the technology of today allows us to make an animation that is remarkably lifelike. The most popular programs used for these purposes today include 3DS Max, Blender, Maya, and Cinema 4D. These programs are also praised for ease of use, so 3D animators sometimes passionately participate in the debate of 2D animation software vs 3D software. It should also be mentioned that 3D animation is used in all of the same visual mediums like 2D, but it is more popular than its counterpart in the creation of animated films, video games, architecture, and virtual reality simulation.

Advantages of 3D animation:

  • Superior visualization and accuracy of movement
  • Great detail and realism can be imparted on all animation elements
  • Completed 3D models can be reused and applied elsewhere
  • Good prospects of modernization in the future

Disadvantages of 3D animation:

  • Production costs can be high
  • More creative limits to movement and action
  • Takes much longer to learn and master

Analyzing the Pros and Cons of 2D vs 3D animation

Around the world, thousands of 2D and 3D models and animations are created every day by animators, graphic designers, game artists, and other creative people. It would be impossible to measure the ratio of total work created in 2D animation vs 3D animation, but we can compare the two styles in other ways. Thus, let us proceed with the analysis of the pros and cons of 2D animation vs 3D animation.

2D animation budget vs 3D animation cost. 2D animation is generally considered to be more affordable than 3D because 3D requires more resource-heavy software and hardware, as well as a lengthier creation process. However, a recurring 2D animation show can be even more expensive than a 3D show, because the 3D show will traditionally reuse models with little effort and cost.

Demand. This is a tricky quality to measure, but we can make a general assessment by looking at current trends. For example, there is a huge demand for 3D animation in video games, film, and product presentations, and virtual reality. In contrast, 2D animation holds a stronger position in television shows, mobile and PC applications, websites, and advertisements. Both 2D and 3D are used prominently in all of the aforementioned visual mediums. Speaking about the demand for 2D animators vs 3D animators, both professions are coveted.

Quality. Quality is a very subjective term, so everyone will have their own take on which style gives better quality. Obviously, there is a big difference between 2D and 3D graphics-wise, so if you prefer detail and realism, you may find 3D animation to be right up your alley, while those who prefer inventive and otherworldly visuals may like 2D best. In the end, the quality will depend on the impression of the content and not on which content was used to create it.

Some final thoughts. 2D vs 3D animation: which is better?

Having analyzed the 2 different styles of animation and their roles in various markets, we can confidently say that there is no clear winner. Moreover, it is clear that 2D animation is safe and here to stay for a long time. 3D may be the newer technology and is certainly gaining ground in the entertainment industry, but people will always love the creativity and ease provided by 2D animation, and continue to use it. As humanity’s technological prowess advances, we can also expect 2D and 3D animation to keep growing and developing side by side. This is in line with the industry forecast (2D vs 3D animation prognoses).

What if you are in need of animation services

Have you got an animation idea that you would like to pursue and develop? If the process is new to you, you may consider learning the basics of 2D/3D animation and get started with implementing your vision. Still, you should understand that the process will take significant time on your first try. Fortunately, there are many studios available that can take of your animating needs with no hassle.

3D-Ace is one such studio, and our team has extensive knowledge of 2D and 3D animation techniques and art creation. If you contact us to discuss your project, our talented team of animators and designers will be happy to give you an estimate and help you out. Furthermore, you can check out our portfolio for a better understanding of the projects we have worked on and brought to fruition.

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