The Disappearance of Traditional Animation

Image result for studio ghibli
Kiki’s Delivery Service

The looming threat of the shutdown of Studio Ghibli, one of the last studios that still heavily uses traditional animation techniques shows us how quickly we are moving away from traditional cel animation to a world of digital. Being a very small animation studio and having released our own animated show (The Infringers) we feel that we’ve got some skin in game. Like any change in an industry there are pros and cons. We thought it might be interesting to talk about this change and how we feel about it.

What does each medium offer?


Look and feel is a very important aspect of a visual medium. Are you able to immerse yourself in the story? Resonate with the characters? Believe that they exist in their world? While people might argue that traditional is better for this it just isn’t true. You can achieve the same look through digital means by using top-notch digital tools. The pros of using digital techniques  is its wide variety of styles and range, especially with the introduction of 3D elements. Despite this there is something uniquely organic about traditional animation.

To summarize, digital techniques offer a wide range of stylistic approaches whereas traditional offers a certain organic feel that is difficult to replicate and that resonates with audiences.

How is it produced?

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Cartoon Network Studios?

Production is something audiences don’t think about but it plays a huge part in how the animation turns out. To achieve a product of a certain length with traditional animation it takes hundreds if not thousands of very talented people working around the clock to draw out each frame by hand. This is the process of cel animation. Each background is hand-painted. Each movement of each character is a series of 12 – 24 drawings per second. If you have ever wondered why anime offers such limited movement, this is why!

Hand-painted Grumpy

Digital offers the flexibility to have the same process as traditional or it can use a completely different but much more efficient version of limited animation. With digital techniques one could draw different poses and expressions and piece all of these together in a digital skeleton. Then we can use layers that switch between the movements and expressions we want. This is a process called “rigging’ and may be the most arduous part of the production pipeline. However this allows a more streamlined workflow for the actual animation process. This is the process that we here at Rocket Adrift used for our show The Infringers.

Image result for Mojo character rigging
Lots of pieces involved in this rig!

Why go in a new direction?

Like any profit-based industry, animation is about making money. This is the main driving force behind these changes. It’s happening in music, video and so of course it would happen in animation.

Because the traditional approach is time consuming and expensive, it only makes sense for the move to digital. It is the cheaper, quicker alternative, even for Disney who has the means to do more traditional animation but won’t.

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Beautiful. but in a different way


In a way this is a sad change for animation appreciators because we all would like to live in a world where we does things just for the art of it. People still love doing animation for the art of it, but they need to make a living doing it.

Another key reason why things are changing is because young people like us are the future of the animation industry. New shows and small studios don’t have the luxury of huge teams of animators to pump out cels. While we can take this as a negative, we can also see it as a positive because never before have three people like us has been able to create an animated show ourselves and have a platform to share it with the world.

Yes, we are losing a tradition and seeing the death of an art form. But we are gaining new stories and small studios pushing the boundaries of what they can accomplish. We’ll always be able to cherish those traditional stories told through cel animation and maybe one day the young animators  who are just starting now will have the money to reinvigorate the art of cel animation.

Check out our podcast and cartoons.

If you want to help us on our new journey and want to learn more check out our Patreon page.

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Lead artist and animator at Rocket Adrift. Appreciator of films, music and Japanese cuisine.

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