Differences Between 2D and 3D Game Art Production

There are some major differences for 2D and 3D game art. Some people consider 2D games simpler to produce, and think 3D creates extra complexity. While that might be true to some extend, it’s good to remember that having 3rd dimension only adds one element to the game. In art production 3D can actually be a good thing as it separates different areas.

Also, bear in mind that 3D can still be used like 2D. You can use 3D models to render 2D images. You can also use certain camera views to make 3D game look pretty much the same as a 2D game.

Here are some differences between 2D and 3D games (when 3D is not used to render 2D images etc.). Please bear in mind that these are simplifications and in terms of production.

  • 2D games use simply images (or animated images). So if you want to get some guy smiling, you have to draw each facial expression to see that smile. In terms of production it can be time consuming to make changes if you need to re-draw lots of images.
  • 3D models are created by programs where you have a mesh and can use bones. This makes it quite easy to create different facial expressions when everything is set up: you simply create bit different positions for bones and you are done.
  • 3D comes with camera angles. In 2D you are stuck with the images you see, but in 3D you can rotate and pan the camera freely. That’s a pretty big difference. You can also use different angles to create rear views or even 3D maps (simply move the camera very high and you can see a nice map of the level).
  • 2D artists draw pixels (and concepts) while for 3D you need to prepare concept, create mesh, texture, rig and animate the character. Basically: you might need one artist to create a 2D character, but you might need 3 artists to create a moving 3D character.

Creating art for 2D games might sound less complex. It’s possibly true that 2D art requires less artists than 3D, but creating 3D art assets might actually require less time in a long run. If you have a very detailed 2D character, and you need to change the animation there’s no other option than to re-draw the animation. If on the other hand you need to do changes for 3D character animation – you don’t have to touch the mesh or the texture or the bones – only to the animation.

I’m fan of 3D art and somehow I like how you can separate different areas in the art production. That helps in the production, and if you still want to use 2D – you can always change the camera view.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. This article sure got plenty of interesting ideas. For me 2D and 3D are represent something like “match-3” (2D) game compared to “first-person-shooter” (3D). I didn’t even give much though that you can mix them up a lot.

    Anyway… I still think pretty much the same as JB here. 2D might require more time (especially if needed to change lots of things)

  2. In my experience, it takes the same amount of artists to create, but more time to produce 2D. We create the characters and animation in 3D before rendering them to 2D sprites that always require some sort of touch up.

  3. I like this article for the most part. One thing I have discovered when working with the two: It’s a lot easier (in my opinion) to make 2D games look good. Especially when you want to support older computers and video cards.

    My favorite method is to make 3D animations and sprites and use the rendered results. That way the game runs very fast on older cards due to the low poly-count but it still looks good. For instance this is what I do in my OSS snowballz game: http://joey101.net/snowballz/

    With doing 2D I think it is also much better to use OpenGL (or DX) rather than SDL. How to define 3D and 2D is rather fuzzy IMO.

  4. I’m working on 2d game with bone animation. I implemented camera, that not only change it’s position, but even rotation (z axis) and scale. Of course it’s not like fully 3d camera, but it’s the best I could do.

  5. Seconding Joshua with an aesthetic point, 2d art is more iconic so its more about character design and symbolism, while 3d is more hyperrealistic and about trying to represent something as REAL – which is a whole other cage match.

  6. You make some good points from a production pov, but I would like to point out that 2D as a technology has basically plateued – 32 bit colour, alpha blending, current 3d acceleration and high resolution are all you need technologically speaking to produce a great looking 2D game. Which means that in the 2D realm everyone is on the same playing field. The little guys can compete with the big guys. But the 3D plateu is still quite some time away.

  7. That is wrong in my opinion:

    “This makes it quite easy to create different facial expressions when everything is set up”

    Perhaps it IS easy to alter the bones etc, but it’s NOT easy to get GOOD facial expressions. In my opinion, even the praised movies like “Shrek” and so on totally lack in good animation and facial expressions. So far I haven’t seen a 3D-animated movie that gets close to 2D-drawn movies, especially in that domain.

    Of course, this shouldn’t mean that creating good stuff in 2D is a lot easier – it’s hard enough, too. But in your blog post, that paragraph definitely sounds as if “drawing animations in 2D is hell, while 3D bone-bending is a piece of cake” ;)

  8. We make great use of 3D prerendered graphics. You can achieve awesome results using 3D, though 2D has it’s advances, and it’s not just change of camera view. 2D has it’s own style (if done properly). And that style is something that can differentiate your game from many others that use prerendered 3D.

  9. Wouldn’t that be the differences between vectors and pixels?

    If you used voxels in 3D, the process would be similar to 2D pixels and vectors in 2D would be like normal 3D.

    (I haven’t seen anything that would let you map textures, ect, onto 2D vectors but it’d be possible)

Comments are closed.