Any animator who’s been in the business for a while has heard rumors proclaiming “Traditional 2D animation is dead!”
The rumors of my death, as they say, have been greatly exaggerated.
Truth is, it’s not dead. Might not be kicking as hard as it once was, but it’s certainly not dead.
Many current animated films lend themselves well to the classic style. Imagine if a fan remade “Moana” in 2D animation! I’d pay to see that. The songs, the stories could be even more intense and meaningful if done in this fashion.
After all, that’s why filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen use black and white cinematography in some movies: When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message.
The State of 2D Animation
It is true that it’s been a long time since there’s been any major 2D movies released in America. There have been some smaller releases, and there have been some foreign releases as well. Perhaps some of the best recent 2D movies have come from Studio Ghibli (“Ponyo,” “The Wind Rises,” “The Secret World of Arrietty”).
There are a lot of good reasons to do animation on computers – it’s easier, it’s cheaper, not to mention faster. Still, everything comes in cycles, and I’d lay money that art styles found in movies are no different.
Change in Your Pocket
Even given that, the major reason for the shift from 2D to 3D movies is going to be the Quest for the Almighty Dollar. 3D movies are indeed faster to make, and easier too. So I wouldn’t blame you for waxing cynical when you weigh this against the effort required to put a few seconds of the Lion King in motion. And although there are plenty of other quality studios out there, the Mouse Eared One is pretty much calling the shots on what kinds of animated features we see in theatres. In short, they have the power to determine if those films are 2D or 3D.
Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to see them. And especially today, if major movie studios don’t give folks what they want, people pick up the slack themselves. Do a Google search for “crowdfunded 2d animated movies” and you get “Hullabaloo,” “Drukten,” “World Destroyer,” and “The Ape Man” — and that’s only on the first page!
Examining “Hullaballoo” shows that the film, created by veteran animators and artists from Disney, has far surpassed their monetary goals. They asked for $80,000 to get it done. And incredibly, as of this writing they have $470,726 pledged. Backers will get to see not only the movie, but three bonus shorts as well.
So yeah, people are putting their money where their mouth is.
But Is 2D Animation Worth Saving?
All animation has a soul. And that soul is 2D – it blooms in every kid who ever made a stick-figure flipbook in grade school. This kind of animation created the entire industry; without it, modern CG animation would not exist. Also, in many ways 2D animation is able to convey amazing detail when it comes to feeling and emotion. In a word, 2D animation is beautiful (still).
Indeed, there is a certain warmth, a certain artistry that hand-drawn animation captures. Mathematically precise 3D characters generated by computer can’t quite match this. Therefore it is an art worth preserving, despite the film industry not agreeing at the moment.
So Where is 2D Animation Now?
Sure, it’s been a long time since any major animated feature film, much less from Disney, or even in America. Still, it’s actually pretty easy to find 2D cartoons in another medium: On television. You might have heard of “The Simpsons.” It’s been on TV since 1990 — that’s 27 years, as of this writing. Other shows are almost as popular, such as “South Park,” “King of the Hill,” and “Archer.” It’s being shown to younger audiences too, by shows such as “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Steven Universe.”
Even if it’s not Pixar-style animation, though, these shows are generated by computer. Most cartoons are made on computers, using Flash and other tools.
Granted, it’s not two dimensional animation, strictly speaking. There is often shading and other effects not easily achievable with cel-style techniques. Even though it’s a blend of traditional animation and some aesthetic anime stylings, it does prove that audiences still love the medium.
Stay tuned for some more notes and musings in our next feature, Making Animation Old-School Again, Part 2.