While 2D was the purer and the original form of animation, advancements technology gave rise to the slicker and more well-rounded 3D style. The former is charming yet a little less engrossing, the latter is more engaging but can get a bit much. Both are great forms of animation and with their widespread prevalence in media today, be it ads, films, music videos or television series, animators have started thinking out of the box.
This creative approach to animatronics has given birth to hybrid animation is a blend of the sensibilities of both two-dimensional and three-dimension styles.
How Does Hybrid Animation Work?
Hybrid animation is the blending of 2D and 3D animation thus, mixing two and three dimensions in the same frame to offer a unique visual perspective. 2D animation is traditionally known as hand-drawn or analogue animation, even though you can easily render in 2D on computers, and many creators do this today. The principle is still the same though. Each shot is created frame by frame in sequential order and then these images are placed in a timeline to create motion as it were.
3D animation can be created using stop-motion and clay models or puppets, or can be entirely computer-generated using software such as Maya, 3DS Max, Blender, Houdini and Flash.
As we mentioned earlier, the perspectives offered by the two disciplines have their own distinct visualizations, so creating an animation that utilizes both is quite challenging. But when executed well, the results can be absolutely breathtaking. There are different approaches one can take while blending these too, like having the background in 2D besides giving a 3D treatment to the protagonist or primary character or vice versa.
The Impact of Hybrid Animation – Two Great (and well-known) Examples
Here are two extremely famous examples of hybrid animation, that showcase how both these approaches can be taken.
The Iron Giant – Created in 1999, this Warner Bros. Sci-Fi animation has become a bit of a cult classic today. Based on a 60s novel by the same name, the film has some huge names for voice characters including Vin Diesel for the Giant, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr and more. It is a charming tale of the friendship between a boy and a giant metal robot of sorts. Another great example of visual storytelling can be seen where the Iron Giant takes the exact opposite approach to Spirit (see below). Here, the backgrounds are rendered in 2D while the main characters are all three-dimensional.
A quote from the film’s director (making his debut) and legend in animation circles today – Brad Bird – explains why this approach was taken and more of that in this archived Warner Bros ‘making of’ page for the movies. He says, “It is difficult for a human to draw a big, solid metallic object. Animators excel at drawing movement and living, fluid objects. The giant originates from a different world, so we chose to create the giant using computer animation, CGI, which would give him the mass and solidity and also give the impression that it’s from a different place. The separation between the 2D-animation and the CGI is something that helped establish the fish-out-of-water facet of the story.”
While The Iron Giant swept home, nine awards at that year’s Annies (the top animation awards), the film itself didn’t get a great reception at the box office, largely due to WB’s lack of promotion. Though today, it is revered as one of the great examples in animated feature film history and is rightly lauded for its unique approach.
Check out the trailer of its re-mastered version:
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron – This 2002 DreamWorks animation was set in the American Wild West in the 19th century and follows the adventures of the titular character, Spirit, a Mustang colt whose inner monologue is voiced by Matt Damon. It tells a story of immense leadership, courage, and friendship, as its themes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best animation and is an absolute visual treat. Spirit uses lush, colourful 3D backgrounds, but the primary characters are all hand-drawn in traditional 2D style.
A document written by Doug Cooper, the Digital Supervisor at DreamWorks Feature Animation explains the approach, saying, “The primary character in “Spirit” is a traditionally drawn 2D animated horse, which inhabits the richly detailed tapestry of the American Wild West at the turn of the century. The heavy use of 3D sets and camera moves brought an extra challenge to the traditional animators in needing to precisely match the sometimes subtle and slow perspective changes that occurred throughout a shot.” Fascinating, isn’t it?
Here’s the trailer of the film so you can see what the final result was:
These are just two seminal examples of an underrated-yet-prolific form of animation. While the challenges posed by this type of hybrid animation mean, it isn’t the most widely-used approach, the creators who dare to be brave may end up with a visual masterpiece akin to these two fine examples on their hands if they do venture in this direction.
At Toolbox Studio, we are great proponents of novel approaches and techniques involved in filmmaking, especially when it comes to animation for films, television, advertisements and web productions. Take a look at our selection of some of the best animation projects we have worked on.