It’s official. The rule of 2D animation is over – and 3D output is the new king of cartoon roadrunners and comedy slapstick. So, what’s the future for animation in the UK and Europe?

First, the good news. The UK and Europe is the fastest-growing region for animation production, according to the latest available research. Both the Asia/Pacific market – traditionally strong due to its manga heritage and grunt work for Western animation houses – and the US have floundered of late, leaving the plucky Brits and our cousins on the Continent to pick up the slack. If the trend continues, Europe will soon overtake Asia in terms of animation might, and become the second-biggest player in the world of Loony Toons and Disney.

Yet facts, figures, cartoon anvils, and Homer Simpson aside, one key finding by the Roncarelli Report is sure to send shivers down the spines of traditional 2D cel animators: there really aren’t that many of you left. In fact, 2D cel animation is not only dying in the mainstream cinema – as Disney has testified by dropping all future 2D production – but it’s dropping off at all levels.

According to the research, over 94 per cent of animation is now created by 3D software tools – leaving a lowly minority of just six per cent of animation carried out in 2D space. It’s a shockingly small amount – comprising, at a guess, of episodes of The Simpsons, a few retro cartoons of Betty Boop, and a haggard ‘toon version of a waitressing Penelope Pitstop.

The industry may be heatedly debating whether or not 2D is dead, but this is the first time that hard evidence has been produced by a forensics team at the scene of the crime. 2D is DOA.

Yet, much in the way we hope bug-eyed life will be found living it up under the rocks on Mars, traditional cel-animation is clinging on to its existence. Take Flash movies, for example. There is a booming culture of creating animated shorts – and even a yearly Flash Film Festival, operating much like the Sundance Festival does for films. Flash is mostly a cel affair, although the addition of video has diluted this somewhat, but
it may prove the last stand for 2D animation as we know it.

Good new for Mac users. The report says that while Mac adoption has slowed in animation studios, the Aquafied ones account for nearly 20 per cent of workstations used to create commercial animation. OK, so Steve Jobs might be the owner of Pixar and CEO of Apple, so we can strike five per cent off the tally right there, but it’s an impressive statistic none-the-less.

So what’s driving the 3D revolution? The slashing of prices by the big 3D vendors – Alias, NewTek, Softimage, and the like – is paying dividends, with companies investing in polygons over digital pencils. It means, also, that studios can expect to get a better return on investment as the market is predicted to grow by 7.5 per cent over the next two years.

The debate over the demise of traditional 2D has raged for years – but the march of 3D now seems unstoppable. Movie audiences love Shrek 2 and company, while corporate 3D work, such as building walkthroughs and 3D manuals are witnessing a growth spurt, according to the report.

All that’s left, it seems, is for Penelope Pitstop to get a silcon make-over in the shape of a polygon facelift, and you can wave goodbye to 2D. Shame, really.