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Disney 2D Animation Returning: What Animators Need to Know

ben marvazi 2020

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The Legacy of Disney 2D Animation

Disney’s animation has long been the standard in the animation world. It has always helped set the bar for quality, creativity, and storytelling. 

From early movies like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" to 90s hits like "The Lion King," Disney 2D animation films have entertained millions of people and inspired countless animators to pursue careers in this artistic field.

Animation frames of Tarzan animating from hand drawn to fully animated feature


However, in recent years, the animation industry has seen a significant shift towards 3D animation. This change has been so pronounced that it has led many to question the relevance and future of 2D animation, sparking debates among professionals and enthusiasts alike.

In this blog, we’ll delve deep into the rich legacy of Disney 2D animation. We’ll explore why it continues to hold a special place in the hearts of audiences and discuss how today's animators can benefit from mastering this timeless art form.

Cover GIF by Walt Disney Animation Studios via GIPHY

Why Did Disney Shut Down 2D Animation?

The last Disney 2D animation feature film was "The Princess and the Frog" in 2009. After that, Disney shifted its focus towards 3D animation, following the industry trend. Several factors contributed to this significant shift.

Technological Advancements
Mickey Mouse putting his hands through a computer screen, moving into the other side

GIF by FaZe Clan via GIPHY

One of the primary drivers was the rapid advancement in technology. Software and hardware improvements made it easier to produce high-quality 3D animations. These technological leaps allowed for more intricate details, realistic movements, and a level of depth that was challenging to achieve in Disney 2D animation.

Audience Preference

Another significant factor was the changing tastes of audiences. With the success of 3D films like "Toy Story", viewers began to expect a more immersive experience, something that 3D animation could offer more readily than Disney 2D animation. 

The three-dimensional aesthetic became synonymous with modernity and innovation, attracting larger audiences and, consequently, higher box office revenues.

Industry Trends and Competition
Mickey Mouse getting a fright and running away, leaving his shoes behind


Disney was also influenced by broader industry trends and competition. Studios like Pixar and DreamWorks were gaining ground with their 3D animated hits, putting pressure on Disney to adapt and innovate. The market was moving, and Disney chose to move with it to maintain its position as an industry leader.


Contrary to popular belief, 3D animation can sometimes (but not often when compared to 2D animation) be more cost-effective in certain aspects. While the initial setup and software can be expensive, the ability to reuse models and environments can save both time and money in the long run.

Disney’s "Wish" Movie: A Return to Their Roots?

In a surprising move that has caught the attention of both industry insiders and fans alike, Disney has announced its upcoming feature film, "Wish," which marks a departure from the 3D animation style that has dominated the studio's recent releases.

Asha from the Wish movie shielding her eyes from bright light

GIF by Walt Disney Animation Studios via GIPHY

This new project has generated buzz not just for its storyline but also for its artistic direction, which leans more towards a “Disney 2D animation aesthetic”.

Audience Reception of the Wish Movie

The announcement of "Wish" has been met with a wave of nostalgia and excitement, especially from those who grew up with classic Disney 2D animation films. This positive reception suggests that there's still a significant audience hungry for the 2D aesthetic, challenging the notion that 3D animation is the only way forward.

Implications for Animators

For freelance animators and animation studios, the shift represented by "Wish" could signal new opportunities in the market. If the film is successful, it may encourage other studios to explore 2D animation, potentially leading to more diverse job opportunities and project types

It also serves as a reminder that mastering the art of 2D animation can be a valuable skill, even in an industry increasingly dominated by 3D.

What Software Does Disney Use for 2D Animation?

a large hand throwing a pencil transforms into a small hand

GIF by Make it Move via GIPHY

When it comes to Disney 2D animation, the studio has used a variety of software over the years. Programs like Toon Boom and Adobe Animate have been staples in Disney's 2D animation toolkit. 

Understanding the software used by industry giants like Disney can provide freelance animators and animation studios valuable insights into the tools that can help them produce high-quality work. Moreover, mastering these tools can give you a competitive edge in a market that is increasingly leaning toward 3D animation.

The Disney 2D Animation Process

The Disney 2D animation process is a blend of artistry and technical skill, honed over decades of filmmaking. It typically starts with concept art and storyboarding, where the visual and narrative elements are laid out. This is followed by the creation of animatics—rough animations that give a sense of timing and flow.

Next comes the key animation stage, where the primary movements are drawn. These are then handed over to the in-between animators who fill in the frames to create smooth motion. The animation is then cleaned up, colored, and composited with other elements like backgrounds and special effects.

Sound design, voice-over, and music are added in the post-production stage, bringing the animation to life. Throughout this process, various software tools are used, from drawing tablets for sketching to specialized software for coloring and compositing.

How to Apply Disney 2D Techniques in Freelancing

a hand spinning a pencil changing color


Freelance animators can learn a lot from the Disney 2D animation process, even if they don't have the same resources or team size. Here are some ways to apply these techniques:


Before jumping into animation, spend time on storyboarding to plan your scenes carefully. This will save you time and effort in the long run.

Key Animation

Focus on getting your keyframes right. These are the backbone of your animation and will guide the rest of your work.


While it might be tempting to cut corners, smooth in-between frames can make a significant difference in the quality of your animation.

Color and Composition

Pay attention to your color choices and how your elements are composed in the frame. This can elevate your work from good to great.

Sound Design
sound graphs changing on brown paper

GIF by Linski101 via GIPHY

Don't underestimate the power of good sound design. Even a simple background track or well-timed sound effect can add depth to your animation.


Take the time to clean up your animation in the post-production stage. This is where you can fix minor errors and add final touches to elevate your work.

Continuous Learning

The world of animation is always evolving. Keep yourself updated with the latest tools and techniques to stay competitive.

The Pros and Cons of 2D Animation

  1. Artistic Freedom: Disney 2D animation allows for a greater range of artistic expression. Animators can easily exaggerate features and movements to convey emotions or humor.
  1. Nostalgic Appeal: The classic Disney 2D animation style has a nostalgic charm that resonates with audiences of all ages.
  1. Resource Efficiency: Generally, 2D animation can be less resource-intensive, making it a viable option for smaller studios or individual freelancers.
  1. Quick Production: With fewer dimensions to worry about, 2D animation can often be produced more quickly than its 3D counterpart.
  1. Unique Storytelling: The 2D format offers unique storytelling opportunities, such as stylized visuals and traditional cel animation techniques that are hard to replicate in 3D.
  1. Limited Depth: One of the limitations of Disney 2D animation is the lack of spatial depth, which can make the animation appear less realistic.
  1. Audience Expectations: Modern audiences have grown accustomed to the immersive experience of 3D animation, which can make 2D seem outdated to some.
  1. Technical Constraints: While 2D animation offers a lot of artistic freedom, it also comes with its own set of technical limitations, such as the difficulty in rendering realistic lighting and textures.

Why 2D Animation Is Still Relevant for Animation Studios

2d animation morphing abstract images into an eye

GIF by guille via GIPHY

Despite the industry's shift towards 3D, Disney 2D animation holds a unique appeal that is irreplaceable. The flat, two-dimensional aesthetic offers a different kind of storytelling, one that many find more emotionally resonant

The artistic freedom in 2D animation allows for exaggerated expressions and movements that can be more challenging to achieve in 3D. This makes 2D animation particularly effective for certain genres and styles, such as comedy, drama, and even horror.

While 3D animation has its advantages, 2D is far from dead. In fact, there are several ways animation studios can still benefit from mastering Disney 2D animation techniques. 

As we mentioned, 2D animation often requires fewer resources, making it a more cost-effective option for smaller studios or freelance animators. Additionally, there's a niche market of audiences who prefer the 2D aesthetic, providing an opportunity for specialized services.

Moreover, 2D animation is still widely used in various applications beyond feature films, such as advertisements, music videos, and educational content. Therefore, diversifying your skill set to include 2D can open up multiple revenue streams, making your animation business more resilient and profitable.

The Timeless Value of Disney 2D Animation

a pencil 2D animation of a man falling through hoops


Disney 2D animation has left an indelible mark on the world of animation. 

While the industry may have moved towards 3D, the art and craft of 2D animation remain invaluable. For freelance animators and animation studios looking to diversify their offerings and tap into niche markets, 2D animation offers a wealth of opportunities

Understanding the tools and techniques behind Disney 2D animation can provide you with the skills needed to excel in this ever-changing industry.

What if you understand the skills but struggle to turn them into cash? Our Animation Business Accelerator Program provides insights, resources, and a supportive community to help professionals navigate the evolving landscape. 

If you’re an animator who’s looking to start your own studio or grow your career, check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio to kickstart your animation career today, or give our free Masterclass a try first if you’re curious.

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