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CG, 2D or Stop-Motion: is All Animation Created Equal?

For the past couple of decades, the animation industry has experienced a great deal of change. The medium has exploded in popularity and we've gone from maybe a couple of animated movies being released each year to dozens. The most popular animated movies are among the most popular movies full stop. In this time we've also seen a shift in the way that animation is produced, with CGI now the medium of choice for most major studios.

Among animation fans this has lead to something of a backlash. So much so in fact that I've noticed a trend among some fans that they regard only 'traditional' animation (both 2D and stop-motion) as "true" animation. CG, on the other hand, is seen as a lesser medium, and is considered to be cheating somehow.

Don't get me wrong. I love traditional animation. In fact, if I was forced to choose between the kinds of animation, 2D would always be my number one. And I'm not alone on that among our staff, as 2D is far way and the most written about style here on AFA. However, that doesn't mean that computer animation is in any way a lesser art.

At the heart of this might often be a fundamental misunderstanding for how CG animation is produced. It's easy for anyone who's ever picked up a pencil to understand the hard work that goes into hand-drawn animation. The painstaking process of making stop-motion is also well documented. On the other hand, CGI might as well be witchcraft. To an outsider, it's hard to understand just how it's actually made. When it comes down to it,  just because computers are involved some people believe that the machines do most of the work. It's fair to say that animators don't just press a big button marked 'animate' and sit back and watch the magic happen. Animators at Pixar, Dreamworks and all the other major CG studios work just as hard as any 'traditional' animator. What's more, most 'traditional' animation produced today employs the use of digital in some way- even in stop-motion.

The concept that 2D is somehow a 'lost art' is also not really accurate. Maybe major Hollywood studios are not producing it these days, but elsewhere it thrives. Japan's industry remains primarily two dimensional and wonderful work is being done in Europe by studios such as Cartoon Saloon and others. 2D lives on in the States meanwhile on television and in the web and independent scene. It's not remotely dead if you know where to look. In fact there's probably more being produced today than ever before.

There are suggestions of new 2D Hollywood-made features. Brad Bird and LAIKA have both expressed interest. And I'd be really surprised if John Lasseter allows 2D to stay dormant at Disney for much longer.

Ultimately though, it doesn't matter how animation is produced. Good animation is good animation, whether it's produced with computers or a pen, ink and paper. Computers are nothing more than another tool that animators can use to bring their ideas to life.