2D vs 3D Animation: Exploring the Pros and Cons

2D vs 3D sign pointing in different directions

From the first flip book over 150 years ago to modern computer-generated images, the ever-evolving art of animation has made a profound mark on the world. Through the years, both 2D and 3D animation have helped bring storytelling to life and captivated audiences with iconic characters. From beloved hand-drawn cartoons like Mickey Mouse to the life-like CGI cast in Avatar, these animations have not only entertained audiences but have sparked a debate about the merits of 2D vs 3D animation. Join us as we compare the timeless charm of 2D animation with the immersive worlds produced by 3D animation services. In this article, we'll explore the unique characteristics of both animation styles, some of their many uses, and their pros and cons.

2D vs 3D: Shaping Perception

Most of us understand the general concept of 2D vs 3D, in that 2-dimensional shapes look flat and 3-dimensional shapes seem more life-like. But what makes these shapes appear so different from one another? The following attributes make each one visually unique.

What Are 2D Shapes?

2d vs 3d shapes

2D shapes are fundamental building blocks in geometry and design. As the name implies, 2D (or 2-dimensional) shapes exist in just two dimensions and only occupy an area. These flat figures are formed by connecting lines that lie on a single plane with measurable length and width. They do not take up 3-dimensional space. For example, four lines drawn on a 2D plane surface, like a piece of paper, can form a 2-dimensional square. This shape lacks depth or thickness and can only be measured on two faces, thus making it appear flat to the human eye. While these seemingly simple designs lack the visual depth of a 3-dimensional shape, you'll find them everywhere around you. 2D shapes are used in everything from architecture to advertising and are the foundation of all animation.

What Are 3D Shapes?

2d vs 3d shapes

Three-dimensional shapes, or 3D shapes, are objects with length, width, and depth. Unlike 2D shapes, which are flat, 3D shapes occupy space and have a physical presence. They are characterized by their volume, surface area, and various facets, edges, and vertices. In our 3-dimensional world, most of the objects that surround us are 3D shapes and take up actual space, but the perception of a 3D object can also be achieved by adding the illusion of depth. Creating the appearance of depth or thickness allows for a more realistic representation of objects in the physical world. In engineering and computer graphics fields, 3D shapes are extensively used to create life-like models, visualizations, and simulations.

2D vs 3D: The Shape of Animation

Animation is the art of bringing static images or objects to life through the illusion of movement. 2D animation refers to the traditional form of animation where characters and objects are depicted in a two-dimensional space. In contrast, 3D animation involves the use of computer-generated graphics to create three-dimensional objects and characters. The primary difference between the two lies in their visual representation and how they are created.

What is 2D animation?

2d animation

2D animation refers to the process of creating motion and visual effects in a two-dimensional plane. 2D animation is flat. You can think of it as sort of a moving painting. Its origins date back to ancient times, and it remains one of the most popular forms of animation even today. In 2D animation, characters, backgrounds, and objects can be traditionally hand-drawn or digitally generated using specialized computer software. Though the technology and process of creating 2D animation have dramatically evolved over time, its basic fundamentals remain the same.

2D animation involves the sequential rendering of 2D images, or keyframes, to create the illusion of movement. Traditional or hand-drawn 2D animation can encompass a wide range of creative expressions and tends to have a hand-crafted look and nostalgic feel. Digital 2D animation utilizes vector-based computer programs to draw and move images. Though this technology may sacrifice a small amount of fluid movement and artistic detail, it automates some of the tedious work, allowing for much faster production. 2D animation is versatile and finds applications in many areas, such as film, television, marketing, gaming, and web content. It can be effectively used to create anything from 20-second explainer videos or whiteboard videos to full-length video games and movies.

The key attributes of all 2D animation include its simplicity, stylized aesthetics, and ability to convey emotions through expressive and exaggerated movements. It has a rich history and has captivated audiences for generations. Because it allows for such artistic freedom, 2D animation studios typically offer it as an incredible tool for illustrating complex ideas or imaginative storytelling. As the great Walt Disney once said, "Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive."

What is 3D animation?

3d animation

Unlike flat images in 2D animation, 3D animation utilizes graphics in the three dimensions of height, width, and depth. Think of it as a moving sculpture. The perception of depth creates more vivid and realistic images. Characters and objects can be moved, rotated, and viewed from unique perspectives and angles. 3D animation can simulate an entire three-dimensional space, allowing the viewer to relate to an image much like they experience the natural world around them. 3D animation was developed in the 1970s for airplane design, but with advancements in technology and innovation, it has become a highly creative and complex art form.

The 3D animation technique uses specialized rendering, advanced 3D animation software, and a highly technical skillset to create computer-generated images that are so detailed and realistic they rival live-action films. It is a complex animation process with many steps and a lot of work involved. As a result, it tends to be more time-consuming than 2D animation. Not unlike live-action video production, 3D animation utilizes camera blocking and set building. The process even involves applying techniques like rigging, texturing, and lighting to computer-generated 3D models. Although people often think of 3D animation in feature films and special effects, it has extensive applications in areas like advertising, science and medicine, education, manufacturing, and gaming.

The advantages and applications of 3D animation are almost limitless. Some of the main benefits are abundantly clear, however. An incredible aspect of 3D animation is creating hyper-realistic images with amazing detail. But one of the most functional features is the ability to illustrate perspectives that would be impossible in the real world, such as exploring the moving parts inside a machine or simulating the possible outcomes of a medical procedure.

Check out Levitate Media's portfolio for some 2D and 3D animation examples!

The Best (and Worst) of Both Worlds

While 2D and 3D animation are both fantastic tools that can be utilized across many industries, they each have their unique advantages and disadvantages, and there are some clear differences between them. There are certainly die-hard fans of each technique, but trying to compare the value of 2D vs 3D animation is almost impossible. Both animation styles have appeal in various fields, and deciding which one is better depends on the application. They are each distinctive formats with their own artistic style, but there are a few significant differences to keep in mind.

  • 2D animation appears flat, like looking at a painting. 3D animation is like looking at a sculpture.
  • 2D animation can be hand drawn or computer generated, while 3D animation is only made with specialized computer software.
  • 2D animation tends to be more artistically expressive and “cartoonish,” while 3D animation is more technical, detailed, and realistic.

When comparing 2D vs 3D animation, consider that each has its own set of pros and cons.

2D Animation Pros

  • Tends to be more cost-effective than 3D animation
  • Can have less production time and be faster to produce
  • Less complex (and less costly) software needed
  • Often better at relaying emotions and intimate storytelling
  • Generally more straightforward to produce than 3D

2D Animation Cons

  • Characters may have less range of movement and less realistic flow
  • Hand-drawn, traditional animation can be pretty expensive and time-consuming
  • Does not have the "wow factor" of 3D animation and is currently not as trendy

3D Animation Pros

  • More dynamic movement
  • Can be photorealistic
  • Ability to create perspectives that are impossible in real life
  • Option to re-use previously created models
  • Tends to be more visually stunning and in demand

3D Animation Cons

  • More difficult to stylize
  • Requires complex software and numerous steps, often making it more costly to create
  • Long lead times due to the involved production process

Best of Both Worlds

Fortunately, when it comes to 2D vs 3D animation, you can reap the creative benefits of both by using them in one video! By combining the flexibility and expressive power of 2D animation with the lifelike realism of 3D, you gain a wide range of artistic possibilities.

2D animation allows for intricate portrayals of complex emotions and ideas, while 3D animation enhances the relatability of characters through realistic visuals. This fusion of techniques provides a unique blend of creativity and connection, enabling storytellers to engage audiences on multiple levels. Using professional software or a professional animation studio, you can maximize the advantages of both types of animation in one film and get the best of both worlds!

Combining both 2D and 3D animations allow you to:

  • Add more depth to a scene, making it easier to view the action
  • Create more lifelike movements with cartoonish characters
  • Use multiple creative elements to perfectly match your project
  • Have a unique and captivating video that stands out among others

2D vs 3D Animation: Both Winners

The comparison between 2D and 3D animation reveals the distinct qualities and techniques that make each form unique. While 2D animation captivates with its artistic charm, simplicity, and expressive movements, 3D animation offers a visually immersive experience with life-like characters and environments. Both art forms have their pros and cons, catering to different preferences and serving various purposes in the modern world. In the same way that paintings and sculptures are both equally valuable art, the value of 2D vs 3D animation really depends on your preference and where you’ll be using them.

From classic 2D animations that have stood the test of time to cutting-edge 3D visual effects that push the boundaries of realism, these art forms continue to evolve and thrive. Both play significant roles in entertainment, advertising, education, social media and beyond. As we embrace technological advancements and innovations, we should also celebrate the incredible artistry and versatility that both 2D and 3D animation offer in shaping our visual storytelling landscape.

If you want to create high-quality 2D animation, 3D animation, or a combination of both, contact the professionals at Levitate Media. Levitate Media has talented artists and a skilled production team that can help you create the animation you’re looking for!