Exploring the Fusion of Live Action and Animation: 2D/3D Hybrid Production

Author: Bob Mar 07, 2024 7 min read

Animation techniques have come a long way since their first introduction. We’re most aware of the evolution of traditional, hand-drawn 2D animation to CGI 3D animation techniques. And even though innovations tend to substitute outdated approaches in the wheel of time, 2D film production technology promises a long and productive future due to a hybrid animation approach. 

What is hybrid animation? It is a relatively new but fast-growing animation industry trend known for combining merging techniques or 2D and 3D animations. In hybrid production, animators make use of two extraordinary approaches:

  1. they apply the charm and expressiveness of traditional two-dimension techniques;
  2. they complement them with the realistic depth of a three-dimensional approach.

As a result, hybrid technology animation grants animators a vast pool of creative possibilities and fresh production ideas. Let’s dive deeper.

2D vs 3D Film: What Is the Actual Difference?

Before discussing the actual 2D/3D animation fusion, it’s a must to understand the fundamental difference between the two approaches.

hybrid animation

Simply put, 2D is all about image creation, making these images flat and 2-dimensional. Forget about any perspective or depth when it comes to 2D and concentrate on hand-drawn methodologies and the rare use of Toon Boom Harmony or Adobe Flash software. Even though it seems pretty basic, many TV shows, ads, movies, and games still create images in 2D.

3D is often referred to as the next step of animation evolution. It is the process of designing 3-dimensional environments and objects that, unlike 2D ones, have perspective and depth. A simple drawing technique isn’t applicable in this case since the creative process requires the use of Blender, Maya, or any other pro software suitable for creative virtual models that can be later manipulated in a 3D space. You’ll be surprised, but this approach, as well as 2D, is used in producing games and films, ads, and TV shows.

Animated cinematography loves both approaches. This is because 2D offers high speed and unmatched simplicity. When one has to work on abstract visuals and stylize them for a storytelling process, there’s hardly a better approach than 2D.

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3D visual effects (VFX) are accompanied by the complexity and depth of the visual part, giving enhanced realism and details to objects and environments. Unlike 2D, 3D is way more versatile and much more flexible and allows for boosting film aesthetics through lighting and better camera angle control. The only downside is the time a team must devote to producing 3D animation. And the budget grows accordingly. 

2D/3D Hybrid Animation: How Does It Work?

2d 3d hybrid animation

Hybrid film technology involves a blend of 2D and 3D, thus mixing both types in a single frame, providing a unique visual standpoint. For 2D animation, the principle remains: shots are generated in succession frame by frame, and the pictures are ordered according to a pre-set timeline to deliver motion.

For 3D animation, clay models and/or puppets and stop-motion are used, or an animator can refuse this approach and exploit special software, including Flash, 3Ds Max, Houdini, Blender, or Maya.

Designing a perspective that exploits both approaches is a challenge. But the result of a mixed media production is awe-inspiring. Combination techniques differ: some animators choose a 2D background and choose 3D animation for portraying a story’s main character or protagonist. Or vice versa. In a world of hybrid filmmaking, there are no standards, and creativity is the key.

Benefits of a Hybrid Film Production Technology

2D 3D hybrid animation offers a long list of benefits. The core ones are probably the following:

  • Creativity boost
  • Improved artistic expression
  • Better quality of a picture
  • Time and cost efficiency during filmmaking
  • Appeals to a wider and more diverse audience
  • Experiment across approaches/techniques/styles
  • Easiness in overcoming limits of either technology

Overall, 2D/3D cinematic integration allows animators and their works to keep in line with the audience’s ever-changing market trends and demands.

For visual effects: Hybrid 3D animation with 2D elements improves visual effects and aesthetics manifold by helping animators design and deliver staggering environments and backgrounds without needing to mess up with unique characters or stylized features typical of conservative animation. Thus, though enhanced, visual effects preserve a vivid balance between the 3-dimensional realism and 2-dimensional charm.

For improved creativity: Film industry innovations aren’t only about brand new tools or software; they’re also about creative freedom within the frames of traditional modeling. 2D techniques indeed have many boundaries, which is exactly why 3D came into play. But any of these boundaries are easily addressed by 3D. When both methods are merged into one approach, an animator breaks free from chains and can use their imagination to implement plain or cross-media storytelling without limits.

For a modern appeal of classic things: Modern appeal is a must for the young generation, while classiness needs to remain for older generations. 2d/3d hybrid animation is something that meets the needs and tastes of both. With it in movies, older generations feel the sense of nostalgia and the ability to, at least on a screen, get back to the classic things from their past that they love so much. Meanwhile, present-day youth engage with refreshing visual effects that capture hearts.

For time and budget limits: Pure 2D elements are fast to design and deliver. Thus, the budget expectations are pretty low. But they look simple. Pure 3D elements look complex, composite, and well-structured, but their production takes more time and, thus, more money. 

2d & 3D animation integration allows animators to achieve the needed complexity level and deliver striking outcomes without huge expenses. This is why a hybrid approach has become popular among independent animators and world-known studios.

Hybrid Animation Software Examples

To combine both techniques and deliver 2D/3D hybrid results, one has to exploit special techniques, like 3D rendering, 2D strokes on a 3-dimensional overlay, frame rate mixing, tool shading, object motion tracking, and more. For this, it’s a must to make use of a special software, namely:

  • Maya
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Toon Boom
  • Cinema 4D
  • EbSynth
  • SketchUp
  • VideoFXPro

History’s Best Hybrid Animation Examples

Hybrid Animation Examples



This was one of the first movies to successfully combine 2D hand-drawn techniques and 3D computer animation on the big screen. After this, more big-name studios started using this hybrid approach for their productions. 

Puss In Boots: The Last Wish

In this case, the blend of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional techniques was an attempt to make a comeback of the well-known Shrek franchise. According to reviews, this is the best franchise installment yet. The animation blend was stunning and received positive feedback both from the audience and critics.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

For an untrained eye, this sequel to Super: Super Hero is just another 3D animation movie, while in reality, it’s a hand-drawn 2D animation that was successfully brought into the world of 3D with special software.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines

This was the second Spider-Verse entry to exploit the hybrid approach (2D+3D) to showcase the entire film and how its main character sees the world. According to critics, the hybrid approach was firmly established in the industry after this.

League of Legends

This successful Netflix adaptation was created partially through 2D, which was applied to depict exceptional images, including when the main character has her main parts. 

Final Thoughts

Both the 2D and 3D approaches have long existed independently. However, with the introduction of 2D/3D hybrid animation, the world of animation has seen significant advancements. This new hybrid approach, complemented by the use of virtual reality and augmented reality tools, has taken the animation industry to new heights. We can’t wait to see just how much higher this technology can take us.


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