Around this time of year, we at Slurpy are often sent emails by animation students asking our opinions on various matters for their dissertations. When we have time, and when the sender has asked nicely (why do these people think we’re going to waste an hour of our time on their homework if they don’t even have the common curtest to say please and thank you?) we answer them to the best of our ability.
And every year we seem to get one asking us whether or not we think the death knell has sounded on 2D animation. Partly because this is a question which I feel incredibly strongly about, and partly because I think it will save me effort this time next year, I have decided to answer one such email here on this blog.
It’s no secret that 3D has become the new medium of choice for animators, but why do you think this is?
3D has allowed smaller studios to make feature length films, because they don’t need the same budget or talent pool behind it. This is a never ending cycle, because the more people see that most of the films coming out are 3D, the less inclined they will be to study and learn 2D animation. While this is a good thing in that it was widened the playing field and allowed studios other than Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks to show the world what they can do, it is also an incredibly bad thing because the smaller risk associated with making a 3D film seems to have come with a dearth in quality of storytelling. Less time is being spent in pre-production because it is less expensive to make changes to the film once a scene has been animated.
The current audience generally judges films and games primarily by how ‘realistic’ they look, and 3d films automatically look more realistic than 2d. It doesn’t help that 2D is always judged by the standards of Disney, and Disney were producing several of their worst films (ie. Atlantis and Home on the Range) at beginning of 3D, and people therefore equated better films with 3D and tired old films with 2D. I hold out strong hopes that the new Disney film ‘The Princess and the Frog’ will start to erode this opinion in people’s minds, and films will be judged on their own merit, rather than by the medium in which they are made.
Do you believe that in order to stay relevant, 2D animation must change and evolve? If so, how? If not, why?
I actually believe the opposite. I don’t believe that the medium is as important as the storytelling, and a good story makes for a good film. 2D can evolve all it wants to, but it’s never going to be 3D, so it shouldn’t try. Choose the right medium for the story, and the medium should quickly become irrelevant. Walt Disney was an experimenter, always at the forefront of any new technology, and I know that he would have been very keen to embrace 3D animation (and would probably have managed to do so before anyone else. But Walt Disney is not Walt Disney simply because he was an innovator, his main accomplishments were that of a storyteller, and his constant search for the latest technology was simply to find the best ways of telling his story.
3D has it’s purpose, and it’s been used to make some wonderful films, but it cannot relate to people in the same way that 2D can, simply because it is too close to replicating life without ever being quite perfect. Disbelief is automatically suspended when people know that they are watching a 2D film, yet a 3D film has to work extra hard to avoid the ‘uncanny valley’ to make people believe their ‘close but not quite perfect’ people, and the part of the brain that is aware of things that aren’t quite right with the model are not enjoying the film that is being told. Very few of the 3D films that have been made recently would have worked as well in 2D, and very few of the classic 2D films would have been better in 3D. This is because of media specificity – the medium in which a film is made dictates the emotions felt when watching it. For this reason, 2D should stick to what it does best, and 3D should do the same.
Do you think that children as an audience have changed since the golden age of 2D (Loony Tunes, Disney Classics)?
No, I think it’s mostly the adults that have changed. Adults are more afraid of the violence depicted in cartoons, and don’t always have a child’s ability to disassociate it from real life.
Cartoons that were made in the 60s, 70s and 80s are still shown regularly on TV, whereas little other content from those decades still has the same appeal. The appeal of classic cartoons doesn’t change with passing generations, and the issues that affect children remain the same.
Is there a future for traditional 2D animation?
Without a doubt.
It took people a while to notice that 3D films are necessarily better than 2D ones, but the hunger for good films will always be there. Disney’s current slate of 2D productions should reassure large studios that 2D is not a risk so long as it is supported by a strong story.