2D animation is not dead, say animators

Whether you are five, 21 or pushing 90, the charismatic nature of animated films has colored our world in so many vivid shades that it’s hard to keep count.

Whether you are five, 21 or pushing 90, the charismatic nature of animated films has colored our world in so many vivid shades that it’s hard to keep count. But new and ever-changing digital methods have transformed the way feature-length animated films are made today.

The future of animation boils down to a single question: Are 2D hand-drawn and stop-frame cinematography becoming obsolete due to the growing popularity of computer-generated (CG) animation?

“The thing about mainstream 2D films were that they reached a level of boring clichés -with a few exceptions such as Ironman, Lilo and Stitch and Triplets of Bellville-which made the 3D films quite fresh when they came out at first,” said Bjarne Hansen, art director for the 2010 French film The Illusionist. “Also, they had other stories to tell and they tell them in different ways.”

The Illusionist, however, took on a captivating and stylistic approach to renewing the 2D world. The film was nominated for an Academy Award this year for Best Animated Feature Film. Hansen and Evgeni Tomov, who worked on the early stages of The Illusionist as well as other 2D animated films such as The Triplets of Belleville and The Tale of Despereaux, agreed that CG animation has contributed a positive role in the development and evolution of animated films.

“The new technology gives us quite powerful tools which were not available for the previous generations,” said Tomov. “CG lighting allows us to create a very believable atmosphere and integrate the characters better in the environment of the scene. These are only tools, though, and if used without clear idea for what is good for a particular project, one can end up with technology leading the aesthetic and with a cold and soulless digital look.”

But perhaps the answer isn’t so black and white. For Hansen, the 2010 Disney film Tangled demonstrates that a combination of the two mediums can produce beautiful results.

“It seemed [to be] a look back into what they have done before than a step forward,” said Hansen. “Tangled has the same link to the Disney legacy. For example, the Pinocchio-styled houses and the brilliant horse had a graphic pattern of movements that had the feel a 2D film horse, but with the volume and precision of a 3D character.”

According to Jess Morris, artist and animator for the recently released 3D/CG animated film Rango, the medium used is not the most important factor of a great animated film.

“I think the most important thing that makes a movie successful is story and character development,” Morris said. “Regardless of the medium it’s done in. But beyond that, yes, CG is still new and exciting. And it keeps on evolving way beyond what I ever imagined. But none of that would mean anything without that good story.”

Many animators believe 2D animation still has a future in the film industry. Tomov said cutting-edge CG technology could help the 2D medium continue to evolve.

“Despite the trendy CG and 3D look there is a lot of potential in the old format, and I think by using some of the new techniques, one could really enrich the 2D animation and bring it to another level,” Tomov said. “I can see a possibility of creating a 2D look and feel with entirely different CG tools which, when used strategically, can improve the process and make it easier.”

Morris believes the success of a film still depends on whether it has a good story to tell, no matter which medium or method an artist decides to use.

“I don’t think 2D animation will become obsolete,” Morris said. “It has definitely died down in the U.S. over the years, but it’s still here in the U.S. and there is also a good amount of it being done around the world. The Illusionist, for example, was an amazing film done in 2D. I also see a lot of animated shorts and commercials done in 2D. It’s harder to find, but it’s definitely still out there!”

Tim Harrington, Art Director of Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology in San Francisco, believes the great popularity of 2D animated television shows also reflect the public’s sustaining interest in 2D animated films.

“Ever since the original Toy Story came out in 1995, the big question has been, ‘Will 3D CGI eventually replace traditional animation?'” Harrington said. “My personal observations lead me to believe that no, it won’t. In fact, both fields are actually doing very well. The most successful animated TV shows of the last 20 years such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, King of the Hill, South Park, etc., have all been 2D and there’s no indication that’s about to change.”

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

(Read the interview in its entirety in this week’s “Artist Spotlight.”)