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As 3D Animation Rules the Box Office, 2D Toons Stay on Top in Television

Computer-generated 3D animation rules the box office, but good ol’ fashioned 2D animation’s warmth, simplicity and suitability to comedic storytelling has kept it the king of the hill on television.

“Comedically, it’s kind of the medium of choice on TV and streaming,” says Andrew Goldberg, co-creator of Netflix’s coming-of-age comedy hit “Big Mouth.” Goldberg and fellow creators Nick Kroll, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett conceived the show as a 2D animated comedy in the style of “The Simpsons” or “Family Guy” because of its comic potential.

“There’s something about a flight of fancy that’s really suited to 2D animation — kind of drawings come to life,” says Flackett. “I think it’s a big part of why the show works.”

The animation process also allows for a high level of control and ability to continually refine the shows.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy,” says Goldberg. “[But] you keep getting opportunities at various points to improve your drawings, to improve your jokes, to improve your emotional moments, and that’s worth the time.”

There was no CG animation more than 30 years ago when Matt Groening created “The Simpsons,” and while the show has stuck with 2D, technology has changed how the show is made, says showrunner and executive producer Al Jean.

Major changes include the switch to widescreen and HD about 10 years ago, which requires more information to fill the screen. “We do a lot more writing per frame than we ever did on the show because there’s so much more information you can convey digitally with the wider screen,” Jean says.

He cites as an example an episode from this past season in which Homer visits Comic Book Guy in his shop’s cluttered backroom. “You can’t just shorthand it or have just a few things; you have to completely cover the whole walk through the room,” Jean says.

Producers of Disney’s “Big Hero 6: The Series” adapted the source feature’s CGI animation to 2D in search of a fresh look. “When you’re going with CG animation, you want to be able to reuse everything over and over to get the worth of building it,” says Nick Filippi, co-creator and executive producer. “We could still reuse things, but we could also create new places for the characters to explore.”

The San Fransokyo setting is essentially a character in the show, and 2D offered the best way to bring it to life, Filippi says. “We felt going 2D, where we could create the density with our background paintings and just create that very lived-in world, was a way that we would be able to sell it better than going with CG.”

The main difference between 2D and CG production is the type of resources you need and how they are allocated, Filippi says. “If you plan correctly, they’re about the same schedule or length of time, though you kind push the schedule around to accommodate the things that are going to take the most time,” he says.

Using 2D gives warmth to the characters, with the production adding a pencil texture to the line art on “Big Hero 6,” evoking the style of the Xerox-era Disney animated features such as “101 Dalmatians” and “The Jungle Book,” says Filippi.

That ability to convey emotion with a few lines is a great advantage, Jean says. “If I was doing a new show, I would lean towards 2D just for that reason,” he says.

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