The Battle of Realism vs. Artistry: How Stylized Animation is Revolutionizing the Industry

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The animation landscape has undergone remarkable transformations since its hand-drawn beginnings. With the introduction of new techniques and styles over the years, the boundaries of what can be achieved in this medium have been continuously expanded. The tried-and-true Pixar look once dominated the scene, but studios like Sony Pictures Animation have emerged as pioneers in driving recent evolutions. By consistently experimenting with innovative approaches, game-changer studios create visually stunning, emotionally impactful films that redefine the industry. Each new release from these studios generates palpable anticipation and excitement as audiences eagerly await the latest advancements and innovations in animation.


One of the most significant changes in recent years which can be considered the emergence of a new era of animation, is characterized by a departure from the hyper-realistic render style trend and a move towards a more stylized, fantasy-driven aesthetic. This new era has been kicked off by a series of groundbreaking projects, such as League of Legends music videos, the Arcane series, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. These films are part of a new trend that’s steering animation away from replicating the real world and into somewhere new.

Well, let’s imagine a world where traditional 2D assets blend seamlessly with cutting-edge 3D elements to create a truly unique and visually stunning aesthetic… 

According to the experts at Dream Farm Studios, this 2D-meets-3D approach is the most significant feature of the new era of animation that has taken the industry by storm. This combination of techniques allows animators to create a world that is both magical and intricately detailed, with a visual style that is sure to captivate audiences and leave them in awe. It truly is a best-of-both-worlds look that has paved the way for a new era of animation. 


Unlike the Pixar photo-surrealistic style, which emphasizes perfect details and lifelike visuals, this style of animation emphasizes a unique and artistic interpretation of the world. The fresh, innovative animation style, embracing its inherent flaws and imperfections, imbues a deeply human touch to the art form. Rough edges and brusque brush strokes can be found in close-up shots, reflecting a more humanistic approach, proving far more powerful in conveying feelings than the cold precision of computer-generated, ultra-realistic animations. It somehow reminds us that, by embracing our own imperfections, we can create heartfelt, meaningful experiences that resonate deeply with others.

The animation rendering style became more prominent with the advent of League of Legends music videos in 2018, as they skillfully leveraged this innovative technique. These music videos, created to promote the popular online game, are known for their high-energy action, stunning visuals, and anime-inspired style. 

HERO” music video from League of Legends for instance, displays a more painterly aesthetic, with a rich color palette and fluid animation that captivate the viewer and demonstrates the creative possibilities of stylized animation, elevating the art form while inviting audiences to explore the fascinating, fantastical worlds of League of Legends.


The success of League of Legends videos paved the way for more ambitious projects, such as the Netflix series Arcane. This series was announced at the League of Legends’ 10th-anniversary celebration in 2019 based on the popular computer game story. 

The animation style of Arcane is truly breathtaking. Maunoury, Fortiche studio’s head of animation, uncovered the intricate process behind this captivating animation style. The unique look was achieved through the utilization of 3D models and rigs, while meticulously crafting the backgrounds using digital hand-painting techniques. To ensure a harmonious visual balance, character textures were refined to seamlessly blend with the environment. Furthermore, 2D animation was employed to enrich the visuals by incorporating effects and textures, such as smoke, water, fire, and dust. 

This masterful fusion of techniques culminates in the striking, illustration-like aesthetic of Arcane which has been hailed as a landmark achievement in animation and has been praised for its innovative use of technology and its groundbreaking visual style.


Another project that has helped to define this new era of animation is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This 2018 film was a critical and commercial success and has been credited with revolutionizing the superhero genre. One of the most striking features of the film is its animation style, which combines 2D and 3D elements to create a dynamic and visually stunning world. 

The film’s directors, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, have said that they were inspired by comic book art and wanted to create a film that felt like a living comic book. “Into the Spider-Verse” chose to use non-photorealistic rendering. To pull this off, producers essentially had to break their physically-based renderer. Instead of inputting data from lights, camera, and materials and receiving a realistic-looking render, they combined all that data with custom data passes that tweaked things like the focus plane or the way the light worked in an image. This combo allowed the renderer to produce stylized results. For example, in “Into the Spider-verse”, out of focus elements aren’t blurry. Instead, the colors split as if the screen printing on an actual comic book was done poorly.


Following the trend, “The Mitchells vs the Machines” released in 2021, and “Puss in Boots” in 2022 have both embraced this unique approach to non-photorealistic rendering featuring a more painterly direction, with out-of-focus objects being depicted as simplified shapes.


Overall, this style of animation focuses less on showcasing as many details as possible and more on creating a whole new fantasy-stylized vibe. The combination of 2D and 3D allows for a wider range of creativity and expression, as animators can use traditional hand-drawn techniques alongside cutting-edge digital effects which give them many potential applications beyond traditional film and television. One such application is creating game trailers.

According to Guss, the Art Director at Dream Farm Studios, the 2D usage and assets can convey a sense of fantasy and adventure while the style and characters are still showcasing 3D details. This makes it an ideal choice for game trailers, as it can help to immerse viewers in the game’s world and provide them with a glimpse into the game universe. By using this animation style, game developers can create trailers that are both visually impressive and exciting, drawing in potential players and building buzz around the game.

The Appologium is a great example of a successful game trailer cinematic project that utilized this unique look of animation. The cinematic trailer is showcasing Cross The Ages, a card game set in a dynamic universe where they claim fantasy and science fiction merge and clash.

The CTA game trailer cinematic project was a visually stunning and exciting trailer that effectively captured the essence of the card game’s story universe. Blending 2D and 3D, the trailer makes you feel as if you’re watching a three-dimensional painting while introducing the game’s characters, environment, assets, and magic.



Production companies that have mastered both 2D and 3D animation have an advantage in creating such projects. Dream Farm Studios is one such company that has successfully merged the two styles in this project. Taking non-photorealistic rendering in a different, more painterly direction the Dream Farm Studios artists tried, created a world that was both stylized and fantastical, drawing in viewers and sparking their imaginations while bringing the card game characters to life in the most fantastical way possible.



This new era of animation has sparked a debate between the battle of being “more realistic” and being “more artistic“. This new stylized aesthetic somehow sacrifices hyper-realism and details in favor of a more abstract and fantastical look. However, this departure from realism allows animators to explore new creative avenues and create worlds that are not limited by the constraints of the real world. Regardless of which side of the debate one falls on, there is no denying that this new era of animation has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in the medium and has opened up new avenues for creativity and expression.

Only time will tell what new innovations and advancements will emerge in the future of animation.


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Nancy Heydari
Communication Specialist at Dream Farm Studios
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