2D Versus 3D Animation
Friday, September 16, 2005

The current hot topic around the TME office is the third dimension or, more to the point, the 3D aspects of the Spawn: Animation, which is currently well into its production as you can see by browsing through any of our previous Updates. Our 3D animators at Film Roman/IDT are hard at work creating their portion of the Spawn: Animation, which makes now as good a time as any to discuss the differences between, two-dimensional and three-dimensional animation.

2D animation is a very repetitive and time-consuming process. It involves tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hand-drawn and hand-painted characters and backgrounds to bring together even a short bit of animation. If a shot is not right or needs a few slight changes, it involves drawing the whole scene over. While all of the work and attention to detail 2D animation requires may be tedious at times, the benefit of such meticulous work is that it allows you to capture the smaller more intimate details of human emotion and expression along with the realistic elements of the environments showcased in any given scene. Such dedication to the finer points of movement and atmosphere is a key ingredient to the entertainment value of a project -- the reality you can infuse into the world you are creating, the easier it is for your audience to buy into the story you are presenting.

These qualities - fluid movement combined with life-like expressions and real-world environments - were first seen in the animated production of Walt Disney. The Disney animators used their talented and influential hands to help push the medium forward and mold it into a very unique and imaginative brand of storytelling (they were the first to create an animated movie to sync sound with Steam Boat Willie, and The Flowers and The Trees was the first full color animation).

Now, in a whole new era of technology, with 3D animation your characters, environments and props can all be computer-generated prior to laying out the scenes. This allows the animator or director to take any character, place them anywhere within the environment, light it however they like and even place the camera at any angle they desire. Thus, giving the creator a freedom never experienced in traditional 2D animation. In addition to the ease with which items may be manipulated, today's super computers make it possible to render entire models of characters and backgrounds in a small fraction of the time it would have once taken a whole team of animators to illustrate.

However, even after taking into consideration all of the benefits of today's 3D animation programs, there are some drawbacks to relying too heavily on the on the glitz and glamour of the latest technological advances. For one, characterizations are not as realistic as they are when created in 2D -- there tends to be "stiffness" when it comes to facial expressions and the intricacies of the human mouth during speech. As such, it takes caring hand and an eye for detail from the creators when it comes to determining when 2D and 3D elements are needed -- at time to compliment on another and other times simply because one works better to convey the essence of a given scene.

From the late 80's to the early 90's you can really start to see a boom in 3D animation and over the last 20 years it just keeps getting better -- growing, evolving, breaking new ground - as animators fine-tune their craft. In 1986 Disney's The Great Mouse Detective was the first American feature film to use 3D computer animation - the moving gears seen in the chase sequence are rendered in 3D. Beauty and the Beast, released in 1991, took what had been done five years earlier even further when it utilized 3D technology to create breathtaking movement never-before-seen in animation and became first animated movie to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Fast-forward to 2005 and with films like Toy Story, Shrek and The Incredibles bringing in huge numbers at both the box office and in DVD sales, 3D is not only the wave of the future; it is the here and now. Although, to get the most out of an animated world (unless you are lucky enough to have a 100 million dollar budget) you must have the ability to combine the old and new methods into something that can transport an audience from their world to the one you have created.

3D critics complain the computer generated characters fail to capture the feeling and realism traditional animation is famous for. 2D critics point out the time consuming effort it takes to draw every scene by hand. That being said, 2D and 3D producers have found that amalgamating the two art forms can generate the best product with the highest entertainment value, something that is always our goal at the McFarlane Companies. We are excited to once again be participating in the evolution of one of the world's greatest storytelling mediums and are extremely confident that what we have to offer with the new Spawn: Animation -- in terms of not only 2D and 3D presentation, but also story and atmosphere -- will be a welcome and exciting addition to animation's ever-growing library.