3D versus 2D Animation

2/11/2004 1:47:03 PM

3D versus 2D Animation

I was just reading this article about the competition between tradition 2D animated films such as "Brother Bear" and new 3D computer-generated films like "Finding Nemo for best animated feature in the Academy Awards.

Audiences seemed to have abandoned 2D animation and moved on to the better realism of 3D animated fares. Is it just the better realism or could it also be the better story that has lead 3D films to captivate audiences and to generate higher grosses?

When I watched recent traditionally animated movies by Disney, they seemed very juvenile with talking animal sidekicks and nonsensical storylines, much less sophisticated than the earlier movies in late '80s and early '90s like the "Little Mermaid," "Aladin," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Lion King." The quality is just not there; what was Disney thinking with films like the "Emperor's New Groove" or "Hercules?"

I do know that Disney's animation studios have been asked to work for less money following lower box office receipts over the last few years and, reportedly, may soon be closed. Other studios, Fox and Dreamworks, have seems to learn the lessons of Disney's and embarked on 2D animated films that were more sophisticated and could be enjoyed by adults. However, even those studios have not fared well in the box office--including 2D films mixed in with 3D technology.

In the meanwhile, 3D films, across the board, have done real well, but, I must say, I haven't really seen a bad 3D animated film. One representative from Pixar claimed that the success of all the Pixar films resulted from having a good story. He added that, for each movie produced by Pixar, each one had been "the worst movie of all time" before further editing.

It reminded me about the Office 97 development process, where, for a while, the Office 97 Professional user interface looked terribly unprofessional. CommandBars, with the initial version of its new flat look, were hideous as did the Office Assistant and many other parts of the product. It was through multiple iterations of progressively less hideous UIs, that Office 97 stabilized on its final look.

I started thinking that, perhaps, with traditional 2D films, the making of each frame is a non-reusable, labor-intensive activity, causing it to be much more difficult to go back. Recreating a whole new set of frames to replace the earlier version requires throwing away the earlier labor and duplicating the costs of that labor. With 3D, while creating a scene may be time-consuming, it's fairly easy to go back and modify the scene substantially to tie it to a different story line. In addition, the various models in the scene can be reused from scene to scene, and a new improved version can be retrofitted to an old scene easily.

My point is that it is probably easier to create a good story in 3D than in 2D, simply because 3D better supports an iterative development process. It's like the difference between typewriters and wordprocessors (or throw-away testing and unit testing); editing is far easier with the latter. At the end of the day, when the film is made and it is later discovered that the story isn't satisfying, it's much easier to change. It's likely the story will need changing because it's hard to get each part of the film right, when you won't see the whole until the end.

It's possible to improve the editing of 2D films with computers, but without a 3D model in place, a drawing cannot easily be rotated into a different perspective and each subpart (like a leg) cannot freely move around independently. Also, I think that the damage has already been done, the poor quality of previous 2D animations have hurt the reputation of the genre.

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Net Undocumented is a blog about the internals of .NET including Xamarin implementations. Other topics include managed and web languages (C#, C++, Javascript), computer science theory, software engineering and software entrepreneurship.

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