Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) has been on a roll in creating great box office movies (Big Hero 6, Frozen, Wreck it Ralph, Tangled ). WDAS is also been producing intriguing short films that uses brand new technology that incorporates the company's heritage: 2D animation. I think in the next couple of years we'll see this 2D/3D animation technology being use more and more, slowly replacing the 3D look with more of the traditional cartoon animation style. This possibly could lead the return of 2D animation back onto the big screen.
Why would the studios bother to bring 2D animation back?
Over the years, the animation studios have been trying to grab the look and feel of traditional animation without actually doing traditional animation. I know that sounds sort of weird, but hear me out. Traditional hand drawn animation is a tedious undertaking. It's comprised of lots of drawings, making sure each animator is consistent, painting the backgrounds, etc. Studios want to make movie without spending too much on making the actual film, hence why the popularity of 3D animation has risen over the last 20 years. Most of the 3D animation in the 2000s never had the same feel as a traditional 2D animated films.People still have an attachment to 2D films. I am sure if I asked what your top five Disney animated films are, one of them would be a 2D film. It wasn't until recent developments in technology (specifically in Tangled) that 3D characters were re-animated to have the feel of 2D characters. Not to mention that the Animation Director of Rapunzel was the well-known traditional animator, Glenn Keane. Since then, more animated movies are again adopting a more 2D cartoony style that has WDAS winning big in the box office.
Enter Paperman, Get a Horse, and Feast:
WDAS has recently taken to presenting new animated short films before every animated feature, which I think is quite genius. It's not only good for entertainment value, but also helps them to try out new techniques and technology to see whether or not the public will enjoy it. In 2012, Paperman debuted right before Wreck it Ralph. Paperman debut the 2D-3D technology that gave it the look and feel of 2D animation but was animated entirely using 3D characters. Check out Director John Kahrs explaining how Paperman was created:
This short film won the 85th academy award for Best Animated short film. Then came Mickey Mouse: Get A Horse. The first part of the film is all traditionally animated by traditional animators like Eric Goldberg and Mark Henn. While also using the original voice of Mickey Mouse.....Walt Disney! Check out the video below for more behind-the-scenes footage:
This was more of a classic animation vs. 3D animation situation. Even so, the when the characters enter the 3D world, they still have the feel and look of their 2D counterparts. This was another case of a 2D/3D film winning Best Animated Short in the Academy Awards and the Annie Awards.
Finally, we have the recent WDAS animated short Feast. This is almost a 2.0 version of Paperman, but in full color. If you've ever looked through any of the art of books that Disney publishes on their films, Feast captures those images in the film. You really have to examine the short to see any glimmer of 3D elements because they're hidden away by the story as well as by the amazing artwork. We are getting to the point that you won't be able to tell the difference, and that's what excites me about the future of 2D animation in feature films.
Just because they use 2D/3D technology in their shorts doesn't mean that they will use it in a feature film.
A thriving studio will continue to push the bounds of technology to keep them relevant and productive. I mean, why would they bother to create those shorts if they weren't going to implement the technology. WDAS spends millions just on developing technology for their films. Plus, like I said earlier, the genius of them presenting the new technology in their short films is to see whether the audience would respond to it or not. The fact that Paperman and Get A Horse won awards (and I am sure Feast will be in the running) would certainly push WDAS to use those technologies in a feature film. I could see WDAS' new film Moana implementing the 2D/3D animation style.
Disney tried traditional animation before and it failed....Remember the Princess and the Frog!
While not a huge success in the box office, (total gross of $104,400,899 according to IMDB, with an estimated budget of $105,000,000), The Princess and the Frog had positive reviews and is an overall good movie. However, what I felt made the film less that a huge success was that they tried to use the same formula that worked back in the 1990s; not to mention that they released concept art for the 3D films Tangled and Frozen during the time Princess and the Frog was in the the theaters. Now, if they took Tangled and made that into a 2D animated feature, then we wouldn't be having this discussion.
What I also thought was lacking in Princess and the Frog was ingenuity and originality. They went with what they knew rather than trying to push the bounds of 2D animation like they did with 3D animation. With the 2D/3D animation they developed for their shorts, it would be an easy transition for them to get the audience interested, then slowly bring in more and more 2D animation into feature films.
Will 2D ever make a comeback like it did back in the day?
I think it will, and there have been encouraging signs that 2D's comeback has just begun. The company Laika (Known for Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls) announced that they want to bring back 2D animation. Recently Hullabaloo , a 2D animated film created by traditional animators, raised $470,726 on indiegogo. The use of 2D animation in dream sequences or ending credits has help keep traditional animation alive on film. Along with the short films, I feel we will begin to see a Renaissance of 2D animated films within the next decade. It'll just take one successful 2D animated film to get to that point. I want to know, what do you guys think? Leave your comments below!