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Is 2D Animation Making a Comeback... On TV?

The traditional narrative goes like this: when Pixar released Toy Story in 1995, the writing was on the wall for traditional animation. Once audiences tasted the shiny goodness of CG, they could never go back to mere 2D, right? Of course, this wasn't to be the case. Sure, CG animation is the dominant form these days, and Disney may not be releasing hand-drawn features any more, but there's a lot more to the world of animation than the House Of Mouse.  Look to studios like Cartoon Saloon and to 90% of the animated output of Japan, and it can be argued that the 2D animation world is as vibrant as it's ever been.

Yet there's much more to animation than feature films. While on TV 2D never really went away, there had been a steady shift towards CG, and away from 2D over the past few years. It seemed like any series which was revived- such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even Bob The Builder- would inevitably take the CG route. More recently though, you may have noticed a move in the other direction, from some of the biggest names in the biz. Disney's forthcoming Tangled and DuckTales shows will be traditionally animated, and it looks like the Big Hero 6 series could follow suit (if the promotional image is anything to go by). DreamWorks Animation, who had apparently abandoned 2D long ago have recently started out churning out 2D series as part of their deal with Netflix.

What could be behind this apparent trend? As is so often the case in showbusiness it probably comes down to money in the end. Although those working in animation themselves never fell out of love with 2D, the executives- ie. those who made the decisions- did. Or more accurately, the executives believed that audiences did. However recent shows such as Gravity Falls, Steven Universe and Wander Over Yonder have managed to be hugely popular, despite being made in humble 2D. The fact that 'hand-drawn' animation is also now produced digitally means that the gap in budget between 2D and CG is probably not as big as you might imagine.

However, you can almost certainly make a 2D show look decent for a lot cheaper than you can its 3D equivalent. Animation produced on the budget and timeframe of a TV series is understandably always going to pale into comparison with its cinematic equivalent. The DreamWorks Dragons series has some pretty impressive animation for a TV show... but it's nowhere near the stunning visuals that the movies achieved.

It's probably one of the reason that DWA is increasingly turning to 2D for many of their upcoming projects. Outside their biggest franchises (Dragons, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, and Shrek) the spin-offs of films such as Peabody & Sherman, The Croods and Home are getting a two-dimensional makeover. And the forthcoming Voltron reboot looks like it will use a mix of 2D and CG techniques.

I've always believed the idea that modern audiences reject 2D animation to be incorrect. It's certainly not true in primetime animation, as the enduring success of The Simpsons and Family Guy can atest. It's not true for younger audiences either- check out how today's kids still love Scooby Doo. There's a growing affection for traditional animation among those who weren't even around for the Disney Renaissance too.

It's not that CG animation is going away in TV, it's just that it seems like studios no longer feel like everything has to be 3D. If this continues, then the future of US TV animation is looking pretty bright. A good mix of animation styles is healthy for the industry- and can only be a good thing for fans.