Given how much easier and cheaper it is to use 3D animation, it’s no surprise that 2D animated films are no longer being produced in America. However, 2D animation has yet to be obsolete and is still a large presence on television. That doesn’t mean 2D animated shows rely entirely on 2D techniques. Like I said earlier, 3D animation is cheaper and easier to produce, so certain scenes or objects tend to rely entirely on 3D techniques nowadays.
These shortcuts tend to be more prevalent in anime, which have a shorter time to churn out weekly episodes compared to western cartoons. And while some studios do a better job at blending CG with 2D animation, others…aren’t so subtle…
So, what objects or scenes am I specifically referring to? Here’s the list:
Cars move a lot. They’re detailed. They’re fast. And sometimes, an animation director would much rather have their artists spend more time drawing the characters or more important scenes instead of drawing the same speeding car frame by frame.
Gone are the days when robots used to be meticulously drawn frame by frame. They’re big, they’re complicated, and they’re usually the real stars of the show. CG techniques have made it easier for mecha anime and cartoons to produce better overall animation quality, since all of the animation teams’ efforts are no longer poured into spending weeks drawing the same robot for a thirty second long fighting sequence.
A common shortcut used in anime, particularly those with sub-par production values. While it is more cost efficient to use 3D background characters instead of spending time drawing a large amount of characters that the viewer probably won’t bother remembering, it can be distracting if they don’t blend well with the 2D environment. Especially if the animators don’t really bother to try and hide how obviously three dimensional these mob characters are.
Animating dance sequences is hard. It takes up a lot of drawing, requires a lot of reference images, being able to perfectly sync the music with characters’ movements, and did I mention a lot of drawings? That’s why most anime that feature dance sequences turn to CG or motion capture. Shows like Love Live! and Uta no Prince-sama have attempted to preserve the sanctity of 2D dance animations…somewhat. When the characters get a close up or only a few appear on screen, then those specific dance sequences are animated traditionally. If the entire group is in the shot or the camera is farther away, then the characters are rendered and animated in 3D. It’s efficient, but the transition from 2D to 3D can be pretty jarring. I’d debated which video to link as an example, and you can all thank me for deciding to spare you all from the campiness that encompasses Uta no Prince-sama.
They’re round. They’re simple. They’re usually the first thing you learn to animate in 3D animation classes. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find most sports-oriented anime using CG techniques when animating balls. More capable studios, like Production I.G, are able to successfully have the 3D balls blend in with their 2D environment by choosing to only use CG techniques when a character does not physically interact with the ball.
Monsters/ Mythical Creatures/ Elaborate Supernatural Designs
Quite possibly the most elaborate designs to animate, it’s no wonder most animators would opt to use CG methods instead in order to meet deadlines. Even in the past, before CG techniques were commonly used, drawing creatures with such complex, elaborate designs usually resulted in some less than stellar animations from studios that weren’t quite up to par. Now, with 3D animation entering the fray, even studios with a passable budget can at least create a passable looking model to use for the rest of the scenes it appears in.
And finally, scenery. Yes, that’s right. Those lush green trees, fluffy clouds, or that crystal clear stream of water could all very well be CG. This isn’t as common compared to the above examples, possibly because using CG techniques as a backdrop against 2D characters is the most difficult of the above tasks to accomplish. In the hands of a capable studio, however, water, foliage, buildings, and clouds can look right at home alongside the 2D characters that traverse that world.