Nostalgia Unleashed: The Art of Creating 2D Animation - a BRIEF Overview

Nostalgia Unleashed: The Art of Creating 2D Animation - a BRIEF Overview

Nostalgia Unleashed: The Art of Creating 2D Animation - a BRIEF Overview

Before the era of cutting-edge computer-generated graphics, 2D animation reigned supreme, captivating audiences with its charm, creativity, and timeless appeal. The process of bringing 2D animated films and cartoons to life was an intricate and incredibly labor-intensive art form that involved the dedication and craftsmanship of artists, storytellers, skilled animators and more. In this blog post, we'll journey back in time to explore the fascinating world of how 2D animation used to be created, and peek behind the curtain at the production methods behind beloved classics like Snow White, Watership Down, SpongeBob (season one), Underdog and other classic cartoons that continue to hold a special place in our hearts.

Storyboarding/Character Design: The first step in creating 2D animation was often storyboarding, where the entire plot of the animated film or cartoon was meticulously planned and visualized. Storyboard artists would sketch out scenes or moments, each on a single sheet of paper and tack them up on a wall or a board to see the flow of the entire movie or show and acting as a blueprint for the final animation process. These pieces could then be moved or replaced or just cut to alter the story of the piece. This critical stage is what would lay the foundation for the narrative and ensured that the animation flowed seamlessly. In addition, SO much other artwork was created at this stage - characters would go through different designs and revisions, finally winding up with a standardized model sheet that would be handed around to the animators to keep the characters looking the same from moment to moment and artist to artist. Side note: many 2000-2015 Cartoon Network shows had storyboard artists as the primary drivers in charge of the show, even after 2D was fading away, for example Adventure Time and Steven Universe.

Production Drawings, the Heart of 2D Animation: The heart and soul of 2D animation resided in the production drawings crafted by skilled animators - based on the story created by the flow of the storyboards and the final character designs. This is TRULY where the art of animation resides! Using just pencil and paper, these artists created a sequence of frames, each slightly different from the previous one - perhaps a character walking or talking or jumping or singing! This frame-by-frame technique, known as traditional animation, brought characters to life with fluid movement and expressive gestures. Think of this like a flip-book. Each drawing had the ole' stick figure moving one bit more in each drawing. Then, when you photograph each one under a camera and let them run quickly in sequence, it becomes smooth action! Master directors like Chuck Jones learned how many drawings you needed to have in that moment when Wile E. Coyote runs out of cliff and stands in the air before falling to make you laugh!

Ink and Paint, Adding Color to the Magic: Once the production drawings were complete (tens of THOUSANDS or even HUNDREDS of thousands), the drawings would move to the ink and paint department to make the cels. This is where the production would add depth and dimension to the hand-drawn characters. This involved placing transparent celluloid sheets, commonly known as "cels," on top of the drawing made in the previous step (one cel for each drawing). Early on (1960's and earlier) another department (Ink and Paint) would hand-trace the lines of the drawing onto the front of the cel. Later, this would be switched out for Xeroxing. Then the cel would be flipped over and the final colors painted in - just like coloring in a coloring book! Movies like Snow White were known to use HUNDREDS of paint colors across the film and characters!

ANIMATING IT - FINALLY: the last step in the process was similar to what we had you imagine earlier with the drawings. With one difference. Once you had the images on clear sheets you could lay them on backgrounds. Backgrounds were hand-painted background scenes - think of the forest in Snow White or a Space Mall in The Jetsons. These backgrounds would be laid down on a special table, and then each cel was laid on top of them and the camera would take a single-frame picture. Then, the next cel from the scene would be placed on the same background and again - SNAP the picture. This technique allowed for characters to interact with the background seamlessly, creating a cohesive and visually engaging experience.

Bringing Sound and Music to Life (yeah - I guess the last section was not really FINALLY): Completing the 2D animation was not solely about the visuals; sound and music played an integral role in the final product - especially with animated films or shows that contained music! Foley artists created sound effects, voice actors lent their talents to breathe life into characters, and musical compositions set the tone for the emotional journey of the audience. The synchronization of sound and animation was a delicate task that required precise coordination. Carl Stalling became famous for giving incredible life to the action of the Looney Tunes characters with his scores done by full orchestras - a technique used once again later on in the Animaniacs! And Batman the Animated Series.

This was by NO means a comprehensive explanation of the process of creating 2D animated features, shorts and TV shows, but it gives you a glimpse into the “old” process that created so many classics! YES, the art of creating 2D animation was a labor of love, requiring the collective efforts of an astonishing amount of talented artists and animators (check out the IMDB page for any of your favorite classics). The meticulous process of hand-drawn animations, cel animation, ink and paint, and sound integration all contributed to the magic that brought beloved characters to life on the screen. While advancements in technology have transformed the animation industry to all computer creation, the nostalgia and timeless appeal of classic 2D animations continue to hold a special place in our hearts, reminding us of the dedication and artistry that went into creating these treasured works of art.

Charles Scott Gallery

Back to blog