You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

It’s Time To Admit That 2-D Animation Does Not Need ‘Saving’

It's Time To Admit That 2-D Animation Does Not Need 'Saving'

This is a
problem that has persisted
for years; over a
decade even, and has been
regurgitated so often
that it is now
considered fact. Yes,
it is the concept
that 2-D animation (read:
traditional, hand-drawn animation)
is ‘dying’.


Why use the
word ‘dying’ though. It
conjours up images of
a worn and feeble
art style, struggling to
stay on its feat
like the champion boxer
who, eight rounds in,
has taken just about
all the punches he
can and staggers around
the ring in a
foggy daze, unsure of
where his opponent is
or even how to
even hit back. In
this case, CGI is
the up and coming fighter, and
is getting ready to
deliver the one knockout


Except that it
can’t, it just can’t
seem to land in
the right spot. Traditional
animation continues to
duck and weave despite
what the mainstream press
will have you believe,
and what many thought
at the turn of
the millennium.


Yet what plenty
of media outlets would prefer to believe
is that the judge’s bell is ringing loud and clear when they
reported on a crowdsourcing
campaign for a 2-D
animated production. Practically
every one made light
of the need to
‘save’ 2-D animation or
at least stave off its untimely death.


You could chalk
it up to marketing-speak
(plenty of people will cough up to save a dying anything),
but it conveys a
terrible inaccurate picture of
both the industry and
the artform. It’s 2014
and 2-D animation is
thriving! It dominates
TV and the web
and the most innovative
and creative features are
no longer CGI, they’re


Switch on any
TV station with animation
and 2-D is more
than likely what you’ll
find. Any Sunday on
FOX will have the
traditional look that
was established with The
Simpsons and continues all
the way through to
the forthcoming Borderlands.
Both Cartoon Network and
Disney have stayed with
2-D for their bigger
shows and even Nickelodeon,
which dabbled with 3-D
CGI has come back
around to 2-D for
hits like Legend of
Korra. Interestingly, newcomers
such as the TBS without
an animated history decided
to pursue the 2-D route
as well. Comedy Central
even increased their animated
presence with a revival
of Futurama, and original
show Brickleberry. While many are no longer drawn on paper
and cels, they are still drawn by hand to a greater extent than 3-D CGI or


The web is,
for want of a
better word, awash with
2-D animation in just
about any shape and
size you can imagine.
It’s the de facto
style for the simple
reason that’s it cheap
and quick to produce.
Who knew; 2-D animation
is flexible! True plenty
of it lacks finesse
and quality execution, but
the more expensive shows
like Bravest Warriors hint
that 2-D animation will
continue to play a
role as the medium


What about features
though? They are, after
all, the format that
the articles and detractors
seem to take aim
at. Traditional animation does
not dominate the way
it used to, right?
Well yes, but there
is a good reason
for that: it has
competition! Traditional,
2-D animation dominated for
so long because it
was the most viable
solution both creatively and


Once Pixar proved
that CGI was viable,
its prevalence increased, and  while it
currently dominates, that
doesn’t mean that 2-D
is dying. The potential
contenders for the
Best Animated Feature Oscars
contains two traditional
films (Song of
the Sea
, and The
Tales of Princess Kaguya
in addition to the
stop-motion Boxtrolls. While
they are the minority,
they are they ones that are pushing the artistic boundaries of
animation these days.


It’s time to finally shake off the
lingering aftertaste and indigestion of the Disney renaissance and look forward
to a much more varied future where both technological and creative films can be
possible and popular. There’s a few more rounds in this fighter yet.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged


Red Baron

I don’t think that the expression "traditional animation is dying" or "traditional animation is dead" has the meaning that many people think it has. I do believe that such expressions are more related to both the popularity and commercial success of such type of animation.

There has definitely been a steady decline in traditional animation for the last 15 years or so especially when it comes to Western animation studios (yes, including Disney). However on the East the anime is still thriving and has gained immense popularity even in the western hemisphere. The fact that 8-9 years ago I couldn’t bare watching anime is an evidence for that. The reason WHY I did so much research on it and decided to give it another go 8-9 years ago was the fact that there were barely any good quality traditionally animated TV shows or films…Especially films. You see, when it comes to TV shows I can’t say there aren’t plenty of those out there. The quality is that bothers me quite a bit. Many, many years ago I saw for the very first time on Cartoon Network an episode of The Powerpuff Girls. I was disgusted. Poor storytelling combined with the ugliest animation I’ve seen until that time broke my heart. The series along with other early runners spawned a new era of what I call "geometric" animation – traditional animation that uses very basic shapes to create the characters and the backgrounds resulting in a very crude look. So TV channels started spawning such poor quality animation. At the same time the big Western studios basically gave the finger to the traditional animation while investing their full time and resources in 3D (I’m not saying I don’t like 3D animation at all). When I decided to do my research on anime to see if there isn’t really something worth watching there I discovered Ghibli Studio. Their films blew my mind. It was nothing I’ve seen before especially considering the amount of detail in the animation – both characters and backgrounds – so untypical for anime. Sadly, I am noticing in the past 2-3 years that more and more CGI is put in such productions resulting in very awkward visuals. So 3D is taking over anime too.

I think that in the future traditional animation will still be alive however it will be a very small fragment of the animation films market and will probably restrict itself to Indie productions and a couple of full featured films a year.

PS: You’ve mentioned stop-motion animation – I love it!


Great article… Glad to read your article …. I like traditional and digital animation, both.

GameYan Studio


I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Asif Juran

sorry, every 3D game – ie, the more recent releases are almost all 3D, even the ones that are sidescrollers (ex: "Abe’s Oddysee: New ‘n’ Tasty" is 3D rendered)

Asif Juran

You guys do know that 2D animation is a different style of animation, right?
Borderlands is not a 2D animated game. It uses models, every game does. Unless we’re talking about a different Borderlands that I don’t know about, in which case, sorry. Still yeah, I agree.


There is nothing greater than a good and funny 2D cartoon!


Well, what I feel is dying is the big budget hand drawn animated features that is pushing the development forward. One can only hope that Glen Keane is given the opportunity to complete his journey. As he once said; "no when it has been shown what hand drawing techniques can do for computer animation, it’s time to see what computers can do for hand drawn animation." I would like to see them go all the way. Imagine Disney without Xerox or CAPS. The animation would still look good, but there would be restrictions in both art and budget.

Dennis Tamayo

I just wanted 2D animation back from the dead for next year. I’m busy finishing the script of Animaniacs Season 6 Episode 3 now.


We're not worried about Japan abandoning hand-drawn because all manga are hand-drawn and almost all animated TV in Japan is based on manga. The "complaints" we have as lovers of hand-drawn animation is that in the United States, it's birthplace, it is being ignored by AFI. Animation has throughout history been rather side-lined in terms of AFI, and personally I think they are highly political and they sometimes make really bizarre choices when it comes to what they feel deserves to be recognized. Seeing as they just added an Animated Film category to the list of awards they give come Oscar time, and that Snow White (not actually the first animated feature) received special recognition from them (albeit CGI didn't exist then, at all) it makes no sense why Disney would want to side-line something so Hallmark to their company that they revived it, only to literally "Let it Go" again… pun intended. In fact, Disney actually was essential to the creation of manga and thus greatly responsible for Japan's animation industry as well. I was extremely sad to see a great film, watch it if you can find it, "The Wind Rises," lose the Oscar to "Frozen," which is actually a TERRIBLE MOVIE. The music is bad, the animation is bad, the characters are stock aside from their tremendous stupidity, it is riddled with bizarre plotholes… so why the hell is it so popular? Just… WTF is going on here? On the other hand, you know what was a surprisingly good CGI film, "Monster's University." I admit it. They actually made a good sequel (well it was a prequel) that wasn't connected to "Toy Story." In fact, I want them to make a sequel to Monster's Inc. which is one of my very favorite Pixar Films. I actually (I'm a screenwriter) wish I could pitch them an idea for it. I have it all plotted out.
I don't hate CGI, I just wish it wasn't every single AMERICAN ANIMATED FEATURE, especially shit like "Frozen." Frozen would be terrible animated, live action, whatever b/c it's terrible… but take "Tangled" for instance… that was really good and a lot of that "goodness" was actually b/c of Glen Keane, known mostly for his beautiful hand-drawn animations. Glen Keane brought hand-drawn to CGI, which, aside from a decent story, created a besutiful look for "Tangled," which I would have preferred to just have been hand-drawn, but I think you get my point… even "The Princess and the Frog" Disney's "big return" to hand-drawn… that lasted all of one movie… those pandering pussies… could have stood to have less CGI invade it.

So no, it's not gone, but it's sad to see what is happening to such an amazing art form in America, despite success on television more and more shows are going all CGI… and frankly it just makes me mad. I hate to think my kids will grown up in a world where hand-drawn will be such a small part of their lives. (Hence I hoard DVDs of all my favorite shows… stupid Disney btw… stop making me a pirate and just release your TV shows in a normal way… I'd pay for it if you'd just release it!!! We want our Care Bears, and Aladdin, and ALL the episodes of shows like Duck Tales, not just almost all of the episodes… seriously… they release hardly any of their shows and when they do they do it in such a stupid-ass way. Grrr…)


I totally agree with the article. I may add that the massive production of cgi and 3d movies exists because of the consumerism that affects our economies and politics. Animation industry being part of it, it's affected by this disorder too. European funding system pushes European animation companies (and often force them) to produce 3d feature films instead of 2d promising and giving a lot of money for it. While a 2d movie requires virtually a lot of people and few machines to be produced, in the 3d production a lot of the budget goes into objects rather than people. Computers, servers, render farms etc. So the money of the European funding will go mainly to the studio (who will keep the material at the end of production or even resell it) rather than to Europen tax payers/workers. On top of this a 3d movie will naturally "decay" after a while because of techological improvement (when we watch toystory nowadays we do feel it's technically obsolete and has lost a bit of its magic because of it) while a 2d animation film won't stop being a masterpiece in every sense for ever. Think about Jungle Book or any Ghibli movie. This is the insane logic of a market that has stopped making long term plans. Most studios and distributors want a lot of money here and now, they don't invest in the long term future. So, they prefer to get the money from European funds tomorrow and get no more money from their product in 4 years. Also, I heard with my own ears big shots distributors affirm that 2d is a lost cause because the boxoffice shows that people prefere 3d. It's a lie. The truth is that, again, big companies like Disney and Pixar spend half of their budgets in merchandise and promotion, regardless of 2d or 3d, while European studios simply don't. So the same people who don't pay for merchandise and promotion on 2d animation will tell you that 2d movies don't sell…. (because they didnt promote them) and convince studios to go 3d instead…


Hand drawn animation will never die out, but if you need to make a living off animation it's usually easier to find 3d work (at the moment anyway).

Filipe Augusto Miranda

Agreed. I only think you forgot to mention "The boy and the world", not just a great 2-D animation but a beautiful example that this kind of animation is alive and can inovate and deliver amazing works! And I hope it is a strong contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.


Look up the Hullabaloo Steampunk Animation on Indiegogo! 2D animation is alive and well!

Take a look guys!


Someone relied too much on spellcheck and not enough on actual editing.

Annie T.

I see your point, and it's very true of television and non-American animation, but actually… the term "dying" could be applied pretty well to American theatrical animation. The last major studio film that was traditionally animated by an American studio was Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" in 2011 (which I was lucky enough to see in theatres). To my knowledge, not a single major American studio currently has a traditional animation unit. That is what people are talking about when they say "2D animation is dying".

Annie T.

I see your point, and it's very true of television and non-American animation, but actually… the term "dying" could be applied pretty well to American theatrical animation. The last major studio film that was traditionally animated by an American studio was Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" in 2011 (which I was lucky enough to see in theatres). To my knowledge, not a single major American studio currently has a traditional animation unit. That is what people are talking about when they say "2D animation is dying".

Annie T.

I see your point, and it's very true of television and non-American animation, but actually… the term "dying" could be applied pretty well to American theatrical animation. The last major studio film that was traditionally animated by an American studio was Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" in 2011 (which I was lucky enough to see in theatres). To my knowledge, not a single major American studio currently has a traditional animation unit. That is what people are talking about when they say "2D animation is dying".

Josh K

Cool, let me just head over to the movie theater to watch the latest 2D film. Oh wait….

Stephen Brooks

THANK you! We literally just talked about this on the podcast (rubberonion dot com podcast episode #45) this week talking about how people have been sharing the "Hullabaloo" campaign to save 2D. Discussion starts around the 1:25:00 point

And the image in this post struck me because I specifically brought up that Secret of Kells wasn't that long ago and Song of the Sea is upcoming… 2D isn't dead at all!

Andrew Kaiko

I don't wanna go through life in the only career I both love and am good at that people keep saying is "dying" or "is saved" over and over for decades!!


By the logic of the media, we wouldn't have a single sheet of paper by now.

Hey, what's that on my desk? It's…no way, it's paper!


I enjoy traditional and digital animation, both are unique! I agree that the media is exaggerating a bit when they say that 2-D animation is a dying art form, it's the foundation for 3-D animation, it's not dying and it's not going anywhere; just because we have not seen a 2-D animation from the big animation companies does not mean the art form is dying, there are many other animation companies who are still using the traditional art form and will continue to do so until they run out of lead.

Anywho, I'm excited to see this "Hullabaloo," I hope it's a full length feature film and if it's successful…maybe the creator will put together a team and continue producing unique 2-d full length feature films and jump in with all the competitors.

R.J. Smoth

Finally, someone's talking my language.

As much as I would like to see the new "Hullabaloo", I hate the way they say that it will "save" 2D animation, especially since it says that executives are trying to destroy it for good. That said, I still would like to see Disney Feature Animation dabble into it, maybe for shorts like "Get a Horse!"

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *