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2D vs. 3D Animation – Settling the Debate

“With film, TV, and video game fans all over the world hungry for fresh content, there are more opportunities than ever before for aspiring 2D and 3D Animators.”

Nadia Stefyn, Animator and Writer

There are numerous animation styles that you can try out to create and sustain a successful career as a freelance animator.

Deciding what animation style to specialize in can be difficult, especially when there are so many benefits of specializing in both 2D and 3D animation. But this isn’t for everyone, and some animators want to specialize in either 2D or 3D animation and perfect their craft.

However, it is hard to choose between 2D and 3D styles as many questions arrive when working on your project. For example, how complex is 3D animation vs. 2D animation?

Knowing which one to choose can be difficult because there are considerable pros and cons to both 2D and 3D animation. The decision is made even more difficult when considering that it’s a highly personal choice that depends on your needs, capabilities, interests, and lifestyle.

While 2D animation is still considered the more traditional style, 3D animation has become increasingly popular since the 1990s. It seems to be increasing in demand across all sectors of the media industry, from gaming and advertising to feature films. However, 2D animation is also still a popular animation technique.

These two animation styles have been increasing in popularity for quite some time, especially on social media. Whether they’re used in full-length films, promotional materials, or infomercials, both 2D and 3D animations remain in high demand.

2D animation is one of the oldest kinds of animation, and some of the most popular animated films in history are 2D animations. On the other hand, 3D animation is computer-generated and gives viewers a more immersive experience – depending on how it’s done.

While they can be pretty tedious to execute, technology has made 3D animations more accessible for animators. Plus, the end result is definitely worth the effort.

Many people suggest learning both 2D and 3D animation because they are useful skills when freelancing because of the storytelling capabilities that animation clients often look for. This is why you must specialize in at least one of these skills so you can offer tailored services for your animation clients.

In this blog, we’ll be settling the debate of 2D vs. 3D animation by looking at the pros and cons of both to help you decide which is best for you.

2D vs. 3D Animation - Pros and Cons

the pros and cons of 2d vs 3d animation is a long but equal list

Image by bednar.48 via OSU.EDU

The main difference between 2D vs 3D animation is that 2D is more artistic and 3D is more technical. 2D requires a large amount of illustration, as every frame needs to be drawn, either on a digital tablet or hand drawn. In contrast, 3D animation creates movement with the use of rigs.

Most contemporary 2D animation relies on 2D animation software, just like 3D animation. 2D and 3D animation techniques also share a lot of common production attributes.

It’s important to note that neither 2D nor 3D animation is better than the other. The style you pursue will mostly come down to your artistic preference. If you are creating a new video game, TV show, web series, or even a static medium such as a comic book, you might decide that one style suits the project better.

While it is impossible to compare the ratio of 2D vs. 3D animations that are created around the world, they can be compared in different ways. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of 2D vs. 3D animation.

Let’s go over some general differences between 2D and 3D animation:

  • 2D animation budget vs 3D animation cost

2D animation is generally considered to be more affordable than 3D because 3D requires more resource-heavy software and hardware, as well as a lengthier creation process. However, a recurring 2D animation show can be even more expensive than a 3D show because the 3D show will traditionally reuse models with little effort and cost.

  • Demand

This is a tricky quality to measure, but we can make a general assessment by looking at current trends. For example, there is a huge demand for 3D animation in video games, film, product presentations, and virtual reality. In contrast, 2D animation holds a stronger position in television shows, mobile and PC applications, websites, and advertisements.

Both 2D and 3D are used prominently in all of the aforementioned visual mediums. However, it is generally safe to assume that the demand for 2D animation vs 3D animation, both professions are coveted.

  • Quality

Quality is a very subjective term, so everyone will have their take on which style gives better quality. Obviously, there is a big difference between 2D and 3D graphics-wise, so if you prefer detail and realism, you may find 3D animation to be right up your alley, while those who prefer inventive and otherworldly visuals may like 2D best.

In the end, the quality will depend on the impression of the content and not on which content was used to create it.

Pros of 2D Animation

there are plenty of pros to 2d animation such as the lower cost required for production

Image via Dreamstime

  • Lower costs

2D animation is far cheaper than 3D animation. While this is dependent on the style of your animation, 2D animation is still considerably lower in cost to create than 3D animation.

This is mainly due to the advancements in software, meaning that not all animation needs to be drawn frame by frame, therefore reducing production time and, in turn, costs.

  • Quicker processing time

The production lead time for 2D animation is low, and it is quicker to produce. With advancing software such as Toonboom and After effects, 2D animation is becoming faster and more accessible to create.

  • Software effect computing power

2D animation software doesn’t require as much computing power as 3D animation. Therefore, you won’t need a huge render farm with beefy graphics cards to run the software, although it would make your renders fly.

  • Story focused

Because 2D animations are generally more straightforward, they seem to be more focused on the storyline than fancy graphics. When working with 3D objects, it is easier to get the ‘wow factor with sweeping camera moves and powerful effects, but this can sometimes distract from the story or more intimate moments.

However, there are plenty of 3D animations that have amazing stories and graphics, so this shouldn’t be a general assumption about 3D animations.

These are the general pros of 2D animation, but there are some others you also need to be aware of before you make your decision:

  • Easy controlling:  2D animation is easy to learn and control without any tutorials.
  • Simple and works without complexity: 2D animation involves less technology and software, and hence it is easier to produce when compared to 3D animation.

Cons of 2D Animation

the cons of 2d animation include how the medium can be less dynamic compared to 3d animation

GIF by Vivien Bertin via Dribble

  • Less dynamic

2D animation can feel dynamic compared to 3D animation. This is mainly due to the fact that 2D animations don’t have the range of movement of 3D animations, and this makes it hard to animate really dynamic and engaging.

  • Less in demand

As 3D becomes more available, there seems to have been a decrease in demand for 2D animation. It is still popular and widely used, but 3D seems to be increasing in popularity quite a bit.

  • Time-consuming

While there are many 2D animation software available for animators to use, some people might still want to use traditional cell animation. This would make the processing time a lot longer because you would have to redraw every frame. However, this con is just for those wanting to specialize in traditional animation.

  • It can be expensive

When specializing in traditional cell animation, which won’t be for everyone, you have to keep in mind that it can increase the cost of your animation process. This is mainly due to requiring more equipment and more time, which will drive up the cost of your animation projects.

Pros of 3D Animation

the advancement of 3d animation brings out a lot of pros for the medium

Image Nerdist

  • Superior movement

Because all characters and objects are created in a 3D space, you have more freedom to create a dynamic movement for your characters and camera. This also allows your characters to rotate in 3D space without having to redraw each frame.

  • More realism

3D animation software and technology have advanced so much that it is possible to create photorealistic renders of your animations.

  • More possibilities

3D animation allows you to do things that might not be possible in 2D or the real world. You can create fantastical worlds and characters, and 3D animation can even be used to simulate real-world situations that would be too dangerous to recreate in real life.

  • Time-saving possibilities

Once your character is modeled, the animation process can be quite quick, excluding texturing and rendering of course. You can also reuse models an infinite number of times to save time with new projects. This will save both time and resources.

Here are some more pros to using 3D animation:

  • Motion communication: 3D animation has a greater and superior ability to portray movement.
  • Visual appeal: 3D animation is much more appealing and realistic.
  • Good quality: 3D has a higher quality compared to 2D.
  • In demand: Most people now prefer 3D over 2D animation.

Cons of 3D Animation

the complexity of 3d animation brings out a lot of cons

Image via Manufacturing Hub

  • Limited imagination

3D animation is tricky to stylize compared to the vast array of styles that can be created in 2D. There is a reason that most 3D animated characters have a similar style. You are somewhat limited by the rig when creating a character.

  • More complicated

There are several elements involved in making a 3D animation that complicate the process compared to 2D animation.

When making a 2D animation, you design the characters and animate them. When working in 3D, you need to model the character, animate the character, add lighting and create textures before you are able to see a glimpse of what the final animation will look like. It is a time-consuming process and requires a lot of computer power to produce.

  • Long lead times

Before you even get to see your character, there is a lot of work involved, which results in longer lead times.

2D vs. 3D Animation - Which One is Right for You?

There are many pros and cons to both 2D and 3D animation, and the style you choose really depends on a number of factors.

For example, simple vector characters will be cheaper than a 3D character, but cell animation can be more expensive than 3D animation. So, when it comes down to your final decision, you really need to settle on what’s best for your project in order to fulfill your creative vision.

Choosing between the two styles will primarily come down to personal preference. It's not really a matter of 2D vs. 3D animation; it's what you find most enjoyable. Though it is by no means a hard rule, 2D tends to suit people who are more artistic in nature, whereas 3D often suits those with a more technical mind.

When it comes down to it, the best way to choose might be to try both 2D and 3D animation. If you really want to experience the difference, try a bit of both and see what appeals to you the most. CG Spectrum offers beginner animation courses in both 2D and 3D disciplines.

You can also check out our free marketing handbook and master class, as well as our blog post on how to start your own animation studio.

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