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WHY 2D ANIMATION WILL EVENTUALLY DIE



I want to talk about why 2D animation will eventually die. I am speaking entirely from a commercial perspective, as the reason will certainly be because of money.

I know many fans don't like cel shaded, CGI anime shows, but you look at some of the current shows, like Bubuki Buranki, Ajin, or Knights of Sidonia, you can see that the quality of said cel shading just keeps getting better and better. It stands to reason that there will come a day when that quality looks identical to the 2D animation that fans know and love. This has already happened with CGI in other aspects of the industry.

Take spaceships for example. In the old days, spaceships were done with really large and heavy plastic models which had to be hung on a motion control rig in a studio to shoot. Not only that, they had to shoot it in multiple passes, to get the different lights, the glowing parts and so on. This was a tedious and expensive process. Along comes CGI, and while the early shows using CGI for spaceships, like Babylon 5, or Space Above and Beyond, didn't look as good as the models, by the time you get to shows like Firefly, or the new Star Trek films, CGI has 100% replaced models for spaceships.

The same thing has happened with other hard surface objects, like cars or planes in the real world. I recently wrote to a buddy of mine still working in Hollywood and asked him if we have reached a point where it is easier and cheaper to do a plane flying by in CGI rather than go out and shoot a real plane. He said we have long since passed that point.

Another case where we have seen incredible improvement is in human characters. In early work, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the CGI characters looked a little off, or creepy and there was much talk of the uncanny valley. In more recent efforts, though, such as in Superman Returns, you have many shots where a CGI double is used and people, even some profession artists, can't tell. You see CGI human characters getting more realistic like in Tron Legacy, with the CGI Jeff Bridges, or Terminator Genisys, with the CGI Arnold. The best example might be in Fast and Furious 7, where they needed CGI to finish the scenes involving actor Paul Walker because of his untimely accident. They did nearly 400 shots of the Paul Walker double, using a few different techniques. I have watched the film numerous times looking for them, and I have found lot, but nowhere near 400. This means that there are a lot of shots in there that have fooled us all.

I mention the CGI humans because I believe that it is a lot more involving to create a realistic human character on screen than to make a cel shaded character mimic a 2D drawing. The day is surely coming where they will get there, and audiences will no longer be able to tell. On top of that, once they get there, the only place to go is faster, cheaper and easier.

2D animation has never gotten cheaper. If you read the Disney book, The Illusion of Life, you will see how the company had to deal with enormous financial burdens as 2D animation just kept getting more and more expensive over the decades. It will only continue to get more expensive. There has never been an innovation that made 2D animation cheaper. The reason is there is no technology which can make a human artist draw better or draw faster. To achieve this, you need more time and/or more manpower, and both make the process more expensive.

I am aware that there will always be artistic reasons to want to do 2D. People love to draw and love to see drawings in motion. I love 2D animation and always will. Another thing to consider, though, is that the people doing artistic 2D works, like Richard Williams, Bill Plympton or Glenn Keane, are getting up there in age, and will one day retire. To make matter worse, if the schools around here in Asia are any indication, fewer and fewer students are even bothering to learn 2D. The reason is simple. If you learn 3D, there are more job opportunities and the pay is better. A LOT better.

You can't even survive on a 2D animators wage anywhere in Asia right now. If, however, you learn 3D animation, and get good at it, you got it made. You will have a good salary, a good career and a good life. So in the future, if a commercial publisher or company wants to do a 2D animation project, the manpower may not even exist to make it happen. Yet, there will be dozens of cel shading artists or studios who can make it happen for a tenth of the cost.

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