What is 2D Animation? Everything You Should Know

What is 2D Animation? Everything You Should Know
what is 2d animation

Animation brings characters and stories to life in imaginary worlds. It allows creative minds to transcend reality and move objects frame by frame to create vivid illusions of life, emotion, and drama. It is a classic technique that has entertained audiences for decades. From nostalgic cartoons to sophisticated television shows and movies, it remains a staple art form in visual storytelling.

What’s 2D animation?

It is created by manipulating images or objects drawn on flat surfaces of length and width, without depth. All components such as characters, backgrounds, and items exist in two-dimensional space. 2D animators create the illusion of movement by drawing or physically manipulating character or image positions frame by frame, with subtle changes in appearance from one frame to the next to simulate motion.

Why is 2D Animation Used?

While 3D animation has become more prevalent in modern productions, 2D animation still serves important purposes. Some key reasons are,

1. Lower production costs

2D animation generally requires less complex software, hardware resources, and personnel compared to 3D animation. This makes it a more cost-effective option.

2. Faster workflow

The 2D animation process can often be completed more quickly as it doesn’t involve complex 3D modeling, rigging, texturing, and lighting.

3. Artistic charm

It allows for rich, expressive, and exaggerated art styles that can be hard to achieve with 3D animation. Its hand-drawn qualities are charming and lend a unique visual identity.

4. Timelessness

Classic 2D animated works have endured for decades and maintained their visual appeal due to their versatility of visual interpretation relative to photorealism.

How Does 2D Animation Work?

The basic process involves planning each movement and changing frame-by-frame to create the appearance of fluid motion. The main stages are:

  1. Storyboarding involves planning and sketching out scenes and movements sequentially.
  2. Drawing entails hand-drawing or digitally creating characters, items, and background details on individual animation frames (cells).
  3. Inbetweening adds transitional frames between keyframes to smooth out the action.
  4. Scanning may involve converting hand-drawn frames into a digital format.
  5. Editing compiles frames and incorporates audio, colorization, or special effects.
  6. Rendering processes the final animated video frame-by-frame and produces the output.

Masters of 2D animation leverage timing, spacing, exaggeration, and other principles to bring their drawings to vibrant life through seamless motion.

How Is It Different From Stop-Motion Animation?

Both 2D and stop-motion animation involve animating inanimate objects, but they differ in process. In 2D animation, animators string together pre-drawn illustrations. In contrast, stop-motion animators directly animate real-life objects or artworks.

In stop-motion, animators manipulate physical objects slightly and photograph them between each incremental movement to create the illusion of motion. Conversely, in 2D animation, animators manipulate drawn images frame-by-frame without the need for physical repositioning.

Stop-motion also relies heavily on overlapped action for fluid sequences since the objects must interact within a real-world space in each frame. 2D animation provides wider creative freedom through pure illustration.

Additional Read

Top 2D Animation Companies In The Business

How Is It Different From 3D Animation?

  • While 2D animation lives strictly in a flat, two-dimensional space, 3D animation involves modeling and rendering virtual objects, environments, and cameras in three-dimensional digital space.
  • 3D animation can achieve photorealistic results through advanced lighting, texturing, and simulation tools. In contrast, 2D animation maintains a hand-drawn aesthetic quality and exists more as animated line art.
  • 3D animation is also quicker and easier to modify than re-drawing frames in 2D. However, 2D remains more versatile for stylistic experimentation and productions aiming for a hybrid live-action/animation look.
  • 3D animation relies more heavily on complex 3D software, large file sizes, and computing power during production whereas 2D animation has a relatively simpler workflow based around frame-by-frame drawing and compiling.

How Is It Different From Rotoscoping?

Rotoscoping is an animation technique where animators trace over live-action source footage frame-by-frame to extract individual objects, backgrounds, or character performances.

In rotoscoping, live-action references are directly used to guide the animated movements and perspectives whereas standard 2D animation does not begin with pre-existing footage. Rotoscoped animation aims for realistic motion paths compared to the more artistic motion of typical 2D animation.

Rotoscoping also outputs animation with qualities reflecting its live-action source like film grain, artifacts, or shadows, since it is tracing over actual footage rather than generating motion purely through frames of drawn art.

When to Use 2D Animation

  • Branding/art-focused productions where a stylistically distinctive look adds value.
  • Animated series/films where sequential content requires extensive running times beyond the scope of 3D animation’s higher costs.
  • Retro/nostalgic works leveraging 2D animation’s vintage movie/cartoon aesthetics.
  • Low-budget productions where 2D’s easier/faster pipeline compared to 3D proves preferable.
  • Stop-motion hybrids blending 2D animation with live-action/3D for varied appearances.
  • Titles/assets intended to hold timeless visual appeal rather than strive for photorealism.


Below are the essential benefits

1. Versatility

Allows for highly stylized, fluid, and visually dynamic interpretations limited only by an artist’s imagination. Its hand-drawn qualities impart a one-of-a-kind visual appeal and remain well-suited for artistic works.

2. Cost-Effective

2D production typically requires lower costs for software/hardware, staffing, and phase durations compared to 3D animation due to its simpler overall pipeline. This makes it very viable even for indie productions.

3. Faster Production

Streamlined workflow, which involves drawing and compiling frame sequences, can often be executed more quickly than the complex processes of 3D modeling, rigging, simulation, lighting, and rendering.

4. Unique Artistic Style

2D animation carries the lively, richly-designed, and exaggerated hand-drawn qualities of classic cartoons and comics. It allows creators to achieve aesthetics closer to visual art than realism in a way that looks authored rather than computerized.

Final Thoughts

2D animation is a time-honored art form that continues expanding options for visual storytelling despite technical advances. By manipulating static drawings over successive frames, skilled 2D animators generate uncannily lifelike illusions of motion, emotion, and drama.

It possesses a visual appeal reflecting its origins in hand-drawn art while also often enabling productions with greater versatility, lower costs, and tighter turnarounds than 3D counterparts. Modern animation also remains closely intertwined with the history of entertainment as the progenitor of landmark characters, stories, and studios that have shaped pop culture for generations.


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