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Example of 2.5D animation from a video IdeaRocket created for LendLedger

What is 2.5D Animation? The Marketer’s Guide to Pseudo 3D

Somewhere between 2D and 3D animation, you’ll find an animation style known as 2.5D. Although less widely known, this way of making videos is gaining popularity among marketers and game designers. It’s a versatile choice for all kinds of brands and marketing campaigns.

This is everything you need to know about 2.5D animated videos to decide if this style fits your next project.

The Origins of 2.5D Animation

Adobe’s compositing software, After Effects, always had the ability to move layers in X and Y space – that is, side-to-side and up-and-down. You could also make objects bigger or smaller with scale. Then, starting around the turn of the millennium, Adobe introduced a Z axis. That means you could move objects closer to and farther away from the camera.

You can see this technology used to great effect in the classic documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture. In the link below you can see how basic 2.5D technology added visual interest to still images. 

The Z axis made it far simpler to recreate movement in space. You could have flat art of a car rushing at the camera and the system would calculate the scaling automatically based on its position in z-space – it would scale up the car slowly when it was still far away, and more quickly as it came closer to the camera. Early racing games used this technology. 

You could also combine flat shapes into compound shapes, to create rooms or cubes. You could even turn these compound objects in 3D space.

Was this new multiplaning system 3D? Not quite, because the layers were still flat – they had no volume or shape. (Hence the other name for 2.5D animation: pseudo 3D.) 

If you’re having difficulty picturing what this style looks like, think back to some early video games. 2D animation looks flat, like the original Super Mario game. 2.5D video production gives the illusion of depth, more like the classic Paperboy videogame

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, game systems didn’t have the processing power to handle full 3D. Game designers compromised with 2.5D. But 2.5D has progressed a lot since the 8-bit video game days. Today, both game designers and marketers use this style of video with positive results.

What can animators do with pseudo-3D?

The video embedded below uses 2.5D to add visual interest to flat images. You can see this technology on display in the layout of buildings at the beginning and in the motion of elements between those buildings. 

Over the last couple of decades, many bells and whistles have been added to 3D space. 2D compositing programs let you create many 3D-ish things in them: lights, shadows, focal lengths, and special effects. You can even import 3D models with actual volume!

Keep in mind, a 2D compositing software is never going to provide the robust feature set of a 3D program. But over time, the final effect has become more and more like actual 3D.

Benefits of 2.5D vs 3D

What are the advantages of 2.5D over 3D, then? Well, 2.5D doesn’t let you do anything that you couldn’t do in 3D. However, many marketers and artists choose it because it offers:

  1. Lower costs and shorter production times. The production pipeline for 2.5D is far simpler than 3D, which keeps costs low.
  2. Easy access to talented professionals. The talent base that can manage After Effects is broader than the one that can manage 3D software.
  3. Impressive effects. Flat art in 3D space can look really cool. If you don’t need a 3D program to deliver your video, why not just build it in a compositing software?

In many ways, 2.5D is the best of both worlds. Production is faster and more affordable because you don’t have to model 3D elements. Yet, the result is also visually interesting thanks to the mix of styles. 

Many brands choose animation over live action videos because they want to achieve a particular effect. They decide between 2D and 3D based on their desired aesthetic and budget. 2.5D animation is one more tool in the creative toolbox. It’s a way to help your explainer video stand out and promote your product or service.

Next time you’re in the market for an animated video, consider 2.5D. It might be the style you’ve been looking for. We’d be happy to help you decide which animation style is right for your next video. Reach out to our animation experts here at IdeaRocket. 

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