A recent episode of Shirobako has brought up an interesting topic regarding the whole 2D Animation vs 3D Animation/Computer Generated Images debate and how should Anime be made. This issue was so controversial that it almost pushed Endou to quit (besides Tarou’s incompetence).
The 2D vs 3D/CGI debate has been a passionate one for the fact that most Anime have 2D animation. As technology improves, animation studios might be eager to adopt 3D/CGI as a way to make it flashier while cut production costs. By doing so, something gets lost in the process, which is why this debate is so passionate not only to fans, but people who work in the industry.
Back in the day, animated films were done completely from scratch. This means that artists have to draw each frame separately with pen on a piece of paper before it got colored with paint and transferred through a camera. While coloring is usually done on computers nowadays, I appreciate the work put into traditional 2D animation since animators have to put a lot of effort to make it look good. While digital tablets and large-screen tablet computers like the Surface Pro and Wacom Cintiq makes it possible for artists to improve the initial drawing from the piece of paper, the human touch was still there.
To me, I feel that there is a human touch aspect from watching animation that was done initially on a big piece of paper. Since I grew up when Disney was still making 2D animated films, I developed a strong preference for 2D animation, especially when I started watching Anime (Miyazaki’s films were my first entry to Japanese animation). While Miyazaki has outspoken views on technology, I appreciate the efforts he put into his films as he continued to make films the traditional way even though he eventually used CGI for 10% of the overall production in his later works. This is another reason I liked Japanese animation over western animation not because of the high production values for most shows, they are still doing 2D animation in a unique way.
However, things started to change as computers become power enough to be used for 3D Animation and CGI. Toy Story from Pixar was one of the films that changed Animation forever because it was done exclusively in 3D. While Japan is known for keeping their traditions and usually resistant to change when it comes to technology, this is especially true with most Animation studios in Japan as they continue to make 2D animated works with some assistance from technology to make it look better. Around 2006 when I started watching Pocket Monsters Diamond and Pearl, this is when I started to dislike this trend. The use of CG for some of the effects while look nice looked like a disaster. The clash of 2D and 3D not only made things stuck out in a bad way, it also sucked out the human touch, something that made Anime unique since the west basically gave up on 2D animation at that point.
The overall problem I see with the use of 3D and CGI is the execution. While Miyazaki became more accepting of CGI in recent years, he used to view it as fake, thin and shallow. In a sense, I do agree with him since most studios use it not only to cut the production time and costs, but they also use it to excite their audience while being curious over the new way of animating things. Pocket Monsters (Pokémon) is a good example of this as they started abusing CGI effects for the Pokémon’s attacks, which were previously done in 2D. They stuck out so much that I stopped watching it completely.
Moreover, I think that CGI/3D most often than not is done in a way where it clashes with the 2D animation. As a result, it makes the overall experience in the viewer’s eyes will feel “shallow” as Miyazaki puts it. This is one of the main gripes I have especially with Love Live School Idol Project with their performances. While I enjoyed the story and the characters, the performance scenes were the weakest aspect of the show. Not only it was disorienting to see the characters look like it’s a 3D video game, it also clashed with the mostly 2D animation before and after the performance. In contrast, I enjoyed the performances in The Idolmaster anime and even in Wake Up Girls (even if the animation quality is mediocre) not because they were done in 2D, I felt that the viewer could genuinely connect with the girls’ performance without feeling disoriented. If Sunrise decided to animate the performances in 2D instead, I think it would have left a better impression in the viewer’s eyes since it won’t look too intrusive.
At the same time, I don’t think CGI is the worst thing on the planet and that all Anime Studios should be shunned for using it. 2D animation and CGI/3D has its pros and cons and animators should use the best tool for the job. While Miyazaki eventually accepting the use of CGI, he stated that it allows animators to do things that they couldn’t do before along with opening new doors to animators, a point that was made by one of the animation directors in the recent episode of Shirobako. Although CGI/3D received a bad reputation from misuse, I feel that animators can use CGI to give a more realistic feeling while maintaining the 2D look. A good example of this is Prisma Illya 2wei with the battles involving Bazett since it made the battle feel more realistic and engaging. The key is subtlety and using the tool properly so that it won’t look too apparent in the viewers’ eyes.
While I highly doubt that Japanese Animation will give up 2D animation completely like the west, CGI and 3D is here to stay. I think CGI/3D will eventually be done in a way in which it doesn’t become too noticeable with the audience while improving the animation’s quality. Like with any tool, the person needs to understand it’s strengths and weaknesses and use it in the right situation instead of abusing it. The same holds true with everything in life.
What are your thoughts regarding the debate over the use of 2D vs 3D/CGI in Anime? Do you think that one is better than the other? Feel free to share some instances where you find the use of 3D/CGI distracting or well executed.