Animation is one of the most popular form of screen entertainment that most of us has a significant amount of time watching and reacting with joyful sentiments since we still were very small children. With film, TV and video game fans all over the world hungry for fresh content, we have seen many growth and development in the technology as well as techniques used to produce animated content. In this post, let’s take a look at each animation type 2D and 3D, how they works and explore the differences between them.

What is Animation

Animation is a sequence of static images played successively (24 frames per second – 24 FPS) to create motion movie.
The first form of animation to be developed was 2 dimensional (2D) animation, where images were hand drawn or painted to create animation film.

Over time, with significant advance in technology, 3 dimensional (3D) form of CGI (computer generated images) was developed to meet the wildest ambition of making the best use of technology in animation field.


Today both 2D and 3D is almost always created using technologies. Even stop motion animation (claymation, paper cutouts, puppets) use some element of CGI and/or SFX (special effects) at the post production stage.

What is 2D animation?

2D animation simple means the images are expressed in 2 dimensions – height and width. There are no depth of field. Environments and characters appear flat. Classic animation movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, The Lion King, Mickey Mouse were all created in the form of 2D animation.

2D animation, also known as ‘traditional’ method animation, is the assembly of static images in succession to create the illusion of motion. There can be 24 unique drawings in one second of animation. When up to 24 individual frames (24fps) are sequenced together in quick succession, it creates the illusion of movement.

2D Animation Techniques

Back to those very first days, 2d animation were created by hand drawn or painted images be put successively frame by frame and then transferred to film. These days with the advances in CGI technology, 2D is created using software enabling production time be shortened to a fraction of used to

2D animation is faster to produce as it is less complex in its rendering. It can be easily exported as smaller files. Now with computer software, 2D production has replaced traditional hand drawn processes for much faster and more cost-effective digital techniques. This enable to produce animation shots in minutes rather than in weeks as used to.

The advantage of modern 2D animation is that it is much faster, especially with newest animation software compared with traditional 2D animation or 3D animation. The drawback of 2D animation is that it is much harder to achieve natural-looking motion.

What is 3D animation?

Three dimensional animation started from Pixar founder’s academic experimentations in the 1970s and only became mainstream with Pixar team’s ambition of making the best use of technology into animation film making field.

Pixar’s Toy Story made history as the first feature-length 3D animated film in 1995. Since then with technological advances in 3D animation making, many 3D feature films were produced and become block buster movie in cinemas, such as Avatar, The Jungle Book,…

3D animation adopts the most cutting-edge technologies to produce and stimulate real-life models, characters to enhance better sentiments of viewers.


As the name implies, characters and environments are expressed in 3 dimensions – height, width and depth. 3D animation is the art of using motion to bring characters to life. 3D animation ultimately enhances experiences in virtual reality, gaming, TV shows and movies.

3D animation is a layered process that involves many pipelines and skills.


Unlike 2D animation where the ability to draw is sufficient, 3D requires sophisticated skills to ensure 3D models to be ‘rigged’ and animated as motions in real life. In larger well-invested animation studios, there will typically be dedicated Artists, 3D Modelers, and Animators all taking part in the 3D animation making.

3D Animation Techniques

3D animation production has many processes and techniques.



The first step in creating 3D animation typically involves sketching out the concept art and how you want your scene and characters to look. Then create a full 3D model of objects and models. In the early steps of the VFX pipeline, the animation studio need to ensure to produce an animation-ready model.

Next, the model is then textured and rigged. This means creating virtual wire rig of 3D objects and models whose movement is mathematically mapped out and sequenced by software. During the 3D model rigging process, the model/ character is given bones, skin weights, and constraints that allow it to move in specific ways. Now your model is ready to be animated. The responsibility of animators is to give objects weight and timing that result in the object feeling like it truly exists in its world.

Though some of the characters in 3D animation movies live in a fantasy world, they truly fit seamlessly into the world around them. Their facial expressions and body movements are so fluid and realistic that they evoke viewers’ sentiments.


Recent technique that makes 3D animation production process benefit greatly is the utilization of motion capture tools. The actors would wear motion-capture suits and act. The 3D model then would replace the actors and act in the final render. This process is becoming more commonplace in both the film and games industries.

Which one to choose 2D or 3D Animation?

The key difference between 2D animation vs 3D animation is that 2D is more artistic because it requires a large amount of illustrations, whereas 3D is more mechanical as it involves working with a 3D model’s skeleton to be manipulated.

Which one is better? Which one to choose? 2D or 3D animation? Well, there’s no final answer. The “better” choice depends on the time frame, the style and the budget. If you want a classical style or tight budget in constrained time frame, 2D animation might be better.


Should you want some thing that leave an impression of real life characters and a high quality motions while budget and timeframe are not a big deal, then go with 3D animation. Normally, the animation would be more expensive should you choose 3D animation. However, the quality would be much better compared to 2D animation.


You would feel like the world in the 3D animation be more like the real world. Best evidence are the 3D animation in Frozen or Avatar or Toy Story.


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Reference Sources:

  1. Animation World Network:
  2. Cartoon Brew – Technology:
  3. Befores & Afters – Visual effects and animation journalist:
  4. Bloomberg News:
  5. Insider: