For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No. 77, Blurring the Pencil Lines: 2D Animation in Today's Independent Films

As digital animation technology matures and disseminates down even to one-person studios like my own, the distinction between 2D and 3D animation becomes less clear--less easy to sort into just two piles and often less easy to identify in viewing.

A film may be animated on paper, then scanned in and completed digitally.  A very similar looking film may be animated directly into digital form, by using an electronic stylus and a Wacom or other tablet, but still adhering to the traditional process of superimposition of images for registration and then either animating straight ahead or by the more controlled method of extremes, breakdowns and inbetweens.

A traditional 2D film can be processed and enhanced digitally to the point that it greatly resembles something done with 3D models in Maya or another similar 3D program. Conversely, a film animated with CGI models can now be rendered to look like it was animated on paper. Then there is the increasingly dominant TV production method of 2D digital puppetry. And there are now numerous examples of hybrid productions, where some elements are singled out to be created as CGI models while others are still done in 2D, the output of both being blended in the production.

But just for fun, let's see what traditional 2D elements we can discern in the nine Oscar contender films I listed last week.

The Plainly 2D

Bus Story



Me and my Moulton

The most obviously and directly 2D are Bus Story, Duet, Me and my Moulton and Footprints. They all show signs of having been animated on paper.  In Bus Story, Duet and Footprints, one can even see the character of pencil lines in the final render, although I wouldn't be too surprised to learn than someone has developed some automatic and logarithmic way to convincingly duplicate even that look.

Me and my Moulton looks inked in the same way that hand-traced cels used to look inked, but I would bet that this was all done in a computer.

The 2D, 3D Hybrids
The Dam Keeper
An interesting crossover is The Dam Keeper, with a final render style that looks like impasto paints applied with a large chiseled brush. And I rather thought that the characters were CGI modeled. According to online information, however, the drawings were on paper and the painting was digital.  I do think I saw some CGI images here and there, as with the tramcar and the mill interior.

Even with the Disney funded Feast,  I am not sure there is anything done on paper beyond the concept stage. But I have not found anyway production details about this film.  Anyone out there know?
The Unabashedly 3D
Of the three remaining, I feel certain that two are straightforward CGI model productions: A SingleLife and Sweet Cocoon, though the former has opted for a look that is somewhat in the clay animation style of a Nick Park.
A Single Life

Sweet Cocoon

And a Big Hand for Stop Motion
Last, and in many ways most interesting of the whole group, is the extraordinary stop motion film The Bigger Picture.  It is extraordinary in its intended audience, which is emphatically adult; it its scale, which is actual size (a character who is intended to represent a six foot man is actually six feet tall in from of the camera); in its variety of media, including wet, opaque paint on a wall and other flat surfaces, papier maché and real furniture and rooms as props and settings.
The Bigger Picture

So there you are.  But just now, as I type this, it is 5:06pm, Pacific Time, and that's time to go watch the Oscars presentations and see who wins!


  1. It was great post. Could you please explain what exactly the difference between 2d & 3d Animation is??

    1. Hi Sharon! Very sorry not to have answered sooner. Well, the difference used to be easy to define but becomes more difficult all the time due, as I have pointed out, to a blurring of the dividing lines. I will define 3D as being something that exists in front of the camera as a solid, capable of being rotated and viewed from any angle. This includes not only the virtual 3D of todays high-tech production, where the "solids" are defined mathematically and cannot be touched, but also the much older forms like the puppet animation of George Pal or the clay animation of Will Vinton or Gumby. 3D in this sense has no relation to the 3D visual process where an image may seem to leap out at you from the screen.

      2D includes animation comprised of drawings or flat images that may be created on paper or in the computer and which are intended to be viewed only from the front, as you view a page in a book, such as my own work and that of, for example, old Bugs Bunny cartoons, the work of Norman McLaren, and earlier Disney work like The Lion King.

      I hope this makes the distinction clear for you.