Difference Between 2D And 3D Animation

Computer animation is the process used for digitally generating animated images. The more general term computer-generated imagery encompasses both static scenes and dynamic images, while computer animation only refers to moving images.

There are many similarities between 3D and 2D production. The stages of development and part of the pre-production are practically identical. The design stages, development of expressions and lip-sync, storyboarding, scene planning, and, more than anything else, the controlled production circumstances (the fact that everything happens within the production studio) are very much the same. Recruiting, contracts, budgeting, and scheduling are also identical processes in both 2D and 3D productions.

The real differences emerge when the main production phase begins. The computer takes over from the paper and pencil, and thus the process requires a different production pipeline. This process begins with the construction of 3D computer-generated models of all characters, props, and sets.

What is 2D animation?

2D animation, short for two-dimensional animation, is a traditional form of animation in which images and characters are created and manipulated in a two-dimensional space. In 2D animation, the objects, characters, and scenes are flat and lack the depth that is characteristic of 3D animation.

2D animation has a long history in the world of animation, dating back to the early days of animation with hand-drawn cartoons like those created by Walt Disney and other animation pioneers. Techniques such as squash and stretch, anticipation, and exaggeration are often used to give characters a sense of life and personality.

2D animation is dynamic and can be used to create a wide range of content, including traditional cartoons, educational videos, explainer videos, advertisements, and more.

While traditional 2D animation involves the use of paper, pencils, and lightboxes for hand-drawn animation, digital tools and software like Adobe Animate, Toon Boom Harmony, and others have become popular for creating 2D animation in a more efficient and flexible manner.

Characteristics of 2D Animation

  • In 2D animation, characters and objects are typically drawn or created as flat, two-dimensional images. These images are often referred to as “sprites” or “frames.”
  • 2D animation can be created through traditional hand-drawn techniques, where each frame is individually drawn by artists, or using digital tools and software, which allows for more efficient creation and manipulation of 2D elements.
  • Traditional 2D animation often involves creating a series of individual frames, each slightly different from the previous one, to simulate movement when played in rapid succession. This process is known as “frame-by-frame animation.”
  • Unlike 3D animation, which can create objects and scenes with depth and three-dimensional qualities, 2D animation is limited to a flat, two-dimensional perspective.

What is 3D Animation?

3D animation, short for three-dimensional animation, is a digital animation technique that involves the creation and manipulation of objects and characters in a three-dimensional space. Unlike 2D animation, which is flat and lacks depth, 3D animation allows for the representation of objects and environments with depth, volume, and realism.

3D animation allows for the use of realistic lighting effects and textures, which contribute to the overall visual realism. This includes the simulation of shadows, reflections, and materials like metal, glass, and skin.

3D animation is widely used in various industries, including film, television, video games, architectural visualization, product design, and scientific simulations. It offers the flexibility to create a wide range of content, from highly realistic cinematic sequences to stylized and imaginative worlds.

Characteristics of 3D Animation

  • In 3D animation, objects, characters, and scenes are created and exist in a three-dimensional space. This means that they have width, height, and depth, allowing for realistic portrayal of depth perception and spatial relationships.
  • 3D animation is primarily produced using computer-generated imagery. Artists and animators use specialized software and 3D modeling tools to create the 3D models, textures, and animations.
  • 3D characters are often constructed with a digital skeleton, known as a rig. This rig is used to control the movement and articulation of the character’s limbs and body, making it possible to animate them realistically.
  • Animators use keyframes to define specific poses or positions of objects or characters at key points in time. Animation curves are used to interpolate between these keyframes, creating smooth and natural motion.
  • 3D animators have complete control over virtual cameras, allowing them to create dynamic shots, angles, and perspectives within the 3D environment.
  • Creating 3D animations can be a time-consuming process, as it involves modeling 3D assets, applying textures, setting up lighting, rigging characters, and animating them frame by frame.

2D vs 3D Animation: Key Differences

Basis2D Animation3D Animation
DimensionCovers Two Dimensions (X-axis and Y-axis) – Height and WidthCovers Three Dimensions (X-axis, Y-axis, & Z-axis)- Height, Width, and Depth
Method of Creation2D animation can be done by only Sketches and Drawings (Early-stage). It can also be done by Computer Software very easily. (Now)3D animation can not be done by doing sketching only. It requires following the complete development cycle starting from sketch, vector drawing, modeling, unwrapping,  texturing, rigging, skinning, animation, camera angles, lighting, and post-processing in order to get the animation done.
First IntroducedIntroduced in the 1800sIntroduced in the 1900s
Realism levelIt doesn’t look much realistic.It looks like real characters.
Required skills2D animation requires only a sketch & concept artist.3D animation requires concept artists along with multiple 3D model creator expert artists.
Main FocusIt is all about frames.It is all about movements.
CostComparatively LowComparatively High
FramesEach frame was manually drawn (Early-stage). The software helps in creating the frames.Frames can be automatically added by the animation software.
Learning TimeRequire less amount of time to learn 2D animation. It is easy to learn.Comparatively require a higher amount of time to learn 3D animation. It is not easy at all to learn.
Best Suitable for2D animation is best suitable for creating cartoons, advertisements, animation movies, education learning, and more.3D animation is widely used in creating movies, high-quality 3D games, medical & health visualization, and more.
Production TimeRequire less amount of time to get 2D animation done.Producing a 3D animation requires a lot more time in order to get it done.
Animation SoftwareAdobe Animate, Moho Pro, Blender 2D Animation, Photoshop, Pencil2D, Synfig Studio. PicsArt, and more.Blender, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max, Cinema 4D, Motion Builder, Mixamo, and more

Key Takeaways

  • 2D is a style of art based on creating a movement of objects and characters in a two-dimensional space. They are catering only to length and width.
  • A two-dimensional object is a plane shape and its two dimensions can be plotted on an x-axis and y-axis. Whereas, 3D shapes, or three-dimensional shapes, also require a z-axis to plot the additional dimension—width, or depth—alongside the length and height.
  • In traditional 2D animation, everything was hand-drawn, frame by frame. In 3D animation, you animate your characters and objects in a 3D environment using 3D animation software to manipulate these characters and objects.
  • 3D animation is done using computer software and deals with creating 3D models and their movement inside a digital environment. 3D animation is far more complicated when compared to 2D animation, involving modeling, animation, and rendering.
  • 2D is widely used in 2D animated films, videos, websites, engineering demonstrations and video games whereas 3D is widely used in 3D animated films, architecture, medical and video games.
  • 2D form of animation comprises of frames and does not have much realistic appeal. 3D animation consists of movements and it has realistic appeal.