2D Animation

What type of animation is best for your project? 2D or 3D Animation?

This is one of the most common questions we hear from our clients at the beginning of their animatic projects—they’re debating 2D animation vs. 3D animation and want to know what we recommend. Here are our thoughts for agencies debating 2D vs. 3D animation.

2D Vs. 3D Animation: Basic Information

2D animation refers to anything that exists in a two-dimensional plane. 2D is what you might think of when you think of “old-fashioned” Disney animation (or cartoon animation in general). It is typically animated in applications such as Reallusion’s Crazy Talk Animator using hand-drawn elements.

3D animation refers to elements that exist in a three-dimensional environment. 3D animation involves computer graphics and is rendered by computer, which results in elements with a higher resolution of detail and texture—3D is excellent for simulating textures and scenarios like water, cloth, and hair.

Ask these Questions First:

1. What’s going to be on the screen?

The type of action in your project is your biggest consideration in 3D vs. 2D animation. If your story involves big movements or action—like cars, explosions, or large camera movements with crowds—the answer is typically to work in 3D. 3D animation is a more accurate way to get these effects, and the results are usually more pleasing to the eye than hand-drawn animation.

However, if you’re working with a character-focused spot—a commercial with people or close-ups or that’s emotionally driven—2D animation may be able to drive the concept better.

2. How detailed does your product need to be in the spot?

If staying fully realistic and true to your product artwork is important, you need to make sure the animatic company you’re partnering with knows this in advance. That way, they can make sure the product art elements don’t get an illustrated finish.

2D Animation Benefits & Considerations

2D animation leaves a majority of the storyline and action up to the viewer.

It’s not an accurate predictor of the finished product, because the animation is created by hand and is only a representation of real-life movement. The intention is to give an overall sense of the impact of the story to the viewer.

Multiple spots done on a tightened timeline may require multiple artists, which can result in the artwork not looking perfectly consistent. If consistency is important to your spot, you can have single artist do everything, but it will extend the timeline. (3D illustrated animation is a better option for jobs that need to be done quickly but need the benefits of typical 2D animation.)

3D Animation Benefits & Considerations

Generally, 3D animation is an excellent predictor of the spot’s narrative and a great option when you need faster turnaround times. We’ve broken down three major types of 3D animation—3D illustrated, hybrid, and fully realistic—so you can see which type may work best in your project and situation.

3D Illustrated

3D illustrated animation works for any concept and offers flexible, customizable, fluid motion.

This style is a great option if you are working with characters and want the benefits of 2D animation (like the hand-drawn quality) but need flexibility in your schedule.

This style allows you to customize various art styles from different artists to create illustrated looks in 3D. This makes it the preferred style for characters and emotional concepts.


Hybrid animation involves illustrated characters on realistic environments.

This style is a great option if you have a client who does not want fully realistic characters but wants to keep realistic-looking elements within the spot—for example, things like food, location, environment, storefronts, etc.

However, if your client is expecting a fully illustrated look, then the detail of the environments in this style may offer too much realism.

Fully Realistic

Fully realistic animation has a very high level of detail and realism while still being a flexible, animated product.

This style is recommended anywhere there is going to be complex movement or choreography (either with or without a camera). It essentially exists in a true-to-nature realm, and it’s a great tool for agencies because it allows them to plan exactly how they should shoot a spot in live action.

This style is an excellent choice for products like liquids, food, cars, technology, product demos, healthcare simulations, scenery, and landscapes.

While the realism of this style is good for commercials featuring celebrities, it is not necessarily recommended for non-celebrity characters—characters can seem so “real” that they are too real—which may confuse or even create discomfort for the audience, otherwise called the “uncanny valley” effect.

The Bottom Line

In the past, clients and agencies were convinced that 2D animation was cheaper, faster, and easier than 3D animation. While this may have been the case years ago, it just isn’t true anymore.

In fact, different types of 3D animation offer benefits people think they’re getting with 2D—inexpensive, flexible, fast animation—plus all of the benefits of 3D. 3D animation offers processes that are less expensive due to motion capture technology as well as the overall flexibility of not having to redraw every single thing when a change needs to be made to camera angles, characters, movement, scenery, etc.

That’s why we think it’s so important that agencies consider all their options (including 3D options) before choosing 2D animation based on misconceptions. Of course, in situations where 2D is the best option, it should definitely be used.

If you’re not sure which type is right for you, we can help you choose a style that communicates your story the best. Our creative directors can help guide you based on your needs, your product, and your deadlines. In order to speed up the process, here’s what we recommend you bring:

Come with an idea of what is necessary for your product regardless of any style. Bring references for characters (age, ethnicity, gender, wardrobe) as well as references for environments.

Bring rough pencil sketches. The process is quicker and smoother if you can provide rough sketches at the initial briefing.

No matter what style you think you want, make sure you’re asking the right questions up front to determine what style your project actually needs. By taking the time to really consider the benefits and considerations of 2D vs. 3D animation, you can make sure you’re choosing the most efficient, most cost-effective animation style for your spot.

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