2D animation is a form of animation in which the scene and characters in the animation are created in a 2D space, rather than a fully realized 3D environment. These animations can use perspective and foreshortening, much like 2D still images, to create the illusion of depth, but do not use 3D computer graphics technology. This type of animation was largely established through traditional animation techniques, in which images were drawn onto a clear sheet that was photographed one frame at a time to create a final animation. 2D animation can be more easily created using computer technology, though many of the techniques used in drawing the animation are fairly similar.
Also called two-dimensional animation, 2D animation was the primary form of animation prior to the rise of three-dimensional, or 3D, animation. The dominant feature in this type of animation is that the images that are viewed and animated exist only in a 2D space. This can be achieved by filming hand-drawn images on paper, clear cels, or any other flat, two-dimensional surface. In contrast to this, 3D animation is created using 3D software that allows animators to create digital models of characters and environments that exist in a fully realized three-dimensional virtual space.
Though different methods can be used to create 2D animation, traditional animation methods were used for many decades throughout the 20th century. In traditional animation, also called cel animation, images are created on clear sheets of acetate called “cels,” often by drawing images directly upon them. Paint can be used to provide color for these inked images, which is why the term “ink and paint” has also been used to refer to these animation methods. Each cel is then photographed with a painted background behind it to create a single frame of the final animation, which typically plays at about 24 or 30 frames per second.
Modern technology has made 2D animation significantly easier to create, though the process is somewhat similar. Computer software can create a 2D image in a file that acts as a virtual “cel,” and the image is typically colored using such software as well. Digital backgrounds can then be created, usually in one of several different graphics programs, and the “cels” can then be layered over these backgrounds to create each individual frame. While this form of 2D animation is still quite time-consuming to create, it is often somewhat easier and more “forgiving” for animators than traditional methods.