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3D vs 2D Animation: What Are the Major Differences?

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3D vs 2D Animation: What Are the Major Differences?

Do you like to draw or paint? Are you more inspired by Japanese anime or The Incredibles? Do you want to create the most innovative and immersive virtual reality game that exists?

Or, do you love architecture or robotic modelling? Do you want to create NFTs or the new 2D game everyone’s talking about in TikTok?

What form of animation do you need to do these things and what are the major differences between 2D and 3D animation?

In this overview and comparison or 3D vs 2D animation, we’ll define each one. We’ll outline the major types of 2D animation and the major types of 3D animation. We’ll look at the general skills and animation processes of each and we’ll finish with a final comparison.

3D and 2D Animation Defined

What Is 2D Animation?

2D animation is an animation technique that uses and merges two-dimensional images to create an illusion of movement.

The images are often drawn by hand, but can also be drawn using software programs such as Adobe Flash or After Effects.

2D animation is often used for cartoons and video games, and has a long history dating back to the early days of cinema.

Today, 2D animators continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with this versatile medium.

Did You Know?

Japanese anime creators still prefer 2D animation to create their incredible work.

What Is 3D Animation?

3D animation is the process of creating moving, three-dimensional images on a computer. It’s not the illusion of movement – it’s actual movement.

Unlike traditional hand-drawn animation, which is created frame by frame, computer animation is created using a series of software programs that allow the animator to create and manipulate moving images on screen. This results in a more sculptural, realistic look.

3D animation is widely used for movies, video games, and other high-budget forms of entertainment.

3D vs 2D Animation Types

Types of 2D Animation

There are many different types of 2D animation, each with its own features, look, and application.

It often starts with hand-drawn images, a technique that requires drawing each frame of the animation by hand, then merging them later.

While computer-generated 2D animation is the most popular form of 2D animation, 2D animation does not have to involve a computer at all.

Popular types include stop motion, rotoscope, and Claymation.

Popular Types of 2D Animation

  • Environmental and architectural design
  • Characters and backgrounds
  • UI/UX software and motion graphics
  • NFTs and conceptual art

2D animation examples include South Park, classic Disney, Mark of the Ninja and Fez 91.

Types of 3D Animation

3D animation will always involve a computer. CGI animation is created using specialized software to generate realistic and immersive images.

There are many types of 3D animation but three of the most popular are 3D film and video, 3D immersive art, and 3D virtual reality.

Other Types Of 3D Animation

  • 3D sculpting and art
  • 3D skeletal animation
  • Fluid Simulations

3D animation examples include Finding Dory and The Incredibles. Gaming examples include Minecraft and City Racing.

3D vs 2D Animation Processes

The 2D Animation Process

The 2D animation process begins with planning and can include scripting, storyboarding, or sketching.

The 2D source artwork is created frame-by-frame using a variety of methods, including photography, traditional hand-drawing, or digitally.

2D animation software is then used to blend and merge all the frames. Characters and settings are often drawn separately, then combined as a video file.

Next, audio and design elements like coloring and shading are added and finalized.

The entire process can take anywhere from a few hours to several months, depending on the complexity of the project.

The 3D Animation Process

The process of 3D animation is very different from the 2D animation process.

Like 2D, it also starts with planning and might include storyboarding, which is used to plan out key scenes or shots.

While these can be sketched by hand, most 3D animators do visual planning in a software program.

Next comes a stage called modelling. Essentially, animators create the digital models and environments that will be used in the final animation.

Once the models are complete, they’ll be rigged, or given the ability to move. This process can be quite complex, as it involves adding bones and joints to the model so that it can be animated.

After rigging is complete, it’s time to begin animating. This is typically done by keyframing, or creating a series of “keyframes” that represent the different positions of the characters and objects in each frame of the animation.

Once the animation is complete, it’s edited and rendered into a file format that can be played on a screen.

3D vs 2D Animation: A Final Comparison

Both 2D and 3D animation are incredibly creative and full of potential. If you’re trying to distinguish between them, keep these core differences in mind:

  • Dimensions: 2D is based on width and height while 3D is based on length, width, and height. For this reason, 2D animation usually looks more cartoon-ish while 3D looks more realistic.
  • Creation And Skillset: 2D animation often relies on hand-made art while art in 3D is created in software programs. 2D generally requires traditional art skills while 3D draws heavily from design. 3D animators don’t need drawing skills.
  • Animation Processes: 2D can have a strong analog component while 3D is digital
  • Cost: 2D is often cheaper to produce than 3D, although each has free software available.
  • Production Time: 2D is often a simpler process so it generally takes less time than 3D.
  • Surrealism vs. Realism: 2D is often used to create surreal and cartoonish images. 3D is more sculptural so it’s preferred for projects that require more realistic or immersive imagery.
  • Industries and Uses: 2D animation is commonly used in things like commercials, film, cartoons, websites, e-learning courses, and engineering. 3D is commonly used in film, gaming, medical, biotech, and aerospace.

We hope this general overview of 3D vs 2D animation helps you spot the major differences between 3D and 2D, and hone in on which form will best suit your natural skills and interests.

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