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Why Anime Will Probably Never Go Full 3D

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American animators have been pushing the 3D envelope for years now. Disney, Pixar, and so many of their competitors continue to leverage technology as they create ever more realistic 3D animations. There hasn’t been such a strong push four 3D in the anime industry. Will there ever be?

Anime creators are now just beginning to toy with 3D photorealism. We are starting to see smatterings here and there in Japan. Some of that content is making its way to the West. However, it is highly unlikely that anime will ever go full 3D in the same vein as American animators.

3D Changes Animation

Before the advent of photorealistic 3D, one could easily tell the difference between animation and live action with the naked eyed. It was never that hard. And for someone who has an eye for such things, distinguishing between the two is still fairly easy today. But to the casual observer, it is getting tougher to tell the difference between 3D animation and live action.

The fact is that 3D changes animation drastically. That is the whole point. 3D gives flat images depth and dimension. It brings flat images to life. When you combine 3D with photorealism, you gradually erase the lines between true animation and live action. Therein lies the rub for anime.

Anime’s Distinct Look

Anime has a distinct look easily distinguishable from Western animation. That’s by design. In the West, animated characters tend to be less realistic; their proportions don’t tend to be accurate. Creators have very few qualms about giving animals human characteristics. They will even give life to inanimate objects.

From the start, anime creators have resisted going in the same direction. They have made a concerted effort to make sure their illustrations stay true to reality. That has translated into human characters with normal proportions moving around in familiar environments.

Above all of that, anime has thrived in the 2D world. Anime illustrations are flat in every sense of the term, and proudly so. Once you add 3D to those images, you change what they look like. Unfortunately, modern consumers are not interested in going half-way. They want their animation to remain 2D and flat or go 3D and photorealistic.

3D Anime in Japan

If 3D anime does take off, it is most likely the audience will be in Japan. That is because Japanese viewers have a different idea of what constitutes anime. According to the artists behind the Umai anime apparel brand, anime to a Japanese viewer is any sort of animated illustration. The style of illustration is immaterial.

That being the case, even photorealistic 3D animation produced in Japan would be considered anime by their standards. So the question is whether the Japanese audience wants 3D products. That is what the industry is testing right now. If it works in Japan, you can bet studios will put the time and effort into producing 3D anime. If it doesn’t work, they won’t.

3D Anime in America

Back home, it is hard to imagine a robust demand for 3D anime. Americans have plenty of 3D choices produced by domestic studios. There isn’t a need for more. As such, it doesn’t seem reasonable that American anime fans would be too wild about 3D anime.

All of this is obviously speculation. No one really knows what the appeal of 3D anime will be until studios start producing it in earnest. Right now, they are dabbling on the edges. The first studio to invest in a feature length 3D anime product will be the first one to discover if audiences are recept

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