This week, I did my first bit of 2D, by hand, frame to frame, animation in more than twenty years. To be clear, this wasn’t on paper, it’s likely been even longer since I’ve done that, but it was the same sort of -flip back and forth making small changes by hand- style of animation that I haven’t done since school.
If you aren’t familiar with different styles of animation, traditional animation is a very different process than 3D animation, or even present day, computer assisted 2D animation. What I was doing was the computer assisted 2D style, but even that is very different from what I usually do.
Just to get ahead of it here, if you are reading this and you aren’t familiar with different styles of animation, no, 3D animation is not easier. Computer assisted 2D animation is not easier. They are different in the details and tools, but extremely similar in the fundamentals. There are certain ways that 3D animation is more conveniently fit into a tight schedule and pipeline that make it attractive for movie and TV production, but that has more to do with division of labour than actually doing any animation. For games, the reason to do 3D over 2D is more technical, and related to how the hardware works. There is no secret tool or style that makes animation ‘easy’. It’s slow and methodical work, no matter how you do it.
The style of animation that I am trained to do, and have done off an on for most of my life at this point, is 3D. That involves building digital puppets, ‘rigging’ them with digital bones and controls, and then recording the movement of those bones through space and time. It’s a style of animation where most of the work is loaded on the front end of the process. When all the set-up and animation is done, the end of the job might be as simple as pressing the ‘render’ button. It’s a style of working that is very technical and heavy on planning and you have to work very hard to make it feel intuitive or improvisational.
2D animation, on the other hand, is very quick to get started. Simply draw a line, flip to a new sheet of paper or create a new frame in your computer assisted animation program, and draw another line in a slightly different position. Flip back and forth between the two frames and you have created motion. Keep adding lines and frames and you can make a character move, dance, fight, laugh, breath, live. Starting is easy, but there is no ‘Render’ button. You never need to read documentation to figure out how to ‘rig’ a bit of traditional animation, but you will need to learn and internalize anatomy and kinematics.
I disagree with a lot of teaching that would have you learn traditional animation before 3D, as if one is an extension of the other. They are very different, but at their core they share the disciplines of observation, movement, timing, and acting. Learning one will inform the other.
Soccer is not built on the foundations of track and field. They are different sports with different skills required, but they do share enough basics that a person skilled at one may be able to learn the other.
So, in an afternoon this week, I managed to create a simple hand drawn, 2D animation. Admittedly, it isn’t very good animation, but it worked for my tests.
There will be a combination of 3D and 2D animation in my Godot project, but all of that is filtered through a very 2D presentation. I needed to know that I could combine the two while still having it look cohesive. So far, it’s working quite well. I sort of hope that I can fool at least a couple of people into believing that this project could have been made on an arcade machine in the early 90s. Technically, it works. I’ll have to work on making my animation slightly better than test quality to really sell it. I don’t mind being the weakest link in that chain.