Why Doesn't Anime Use Flash Animation?

by Justin Sevakis,

Montiel asks:

Why haven't [anime producers] tried to automate 2D animation further by using good ol flash instead of hand-drawing the inbetweens? I am aware in between animation is entry level grunt work, and sometimes even outsourced overseas to lower wage countries. But one single qualified guy giving instructions to a computer on how to get from key frame A to B ought to be cheaper, isnt it? Not to mention much more consistent in quality. So why hasn't it become a thing?

Flash is/was used by a handful of studios in Japan, but it's not by any means common. Most of the studios that use it, like DLE (Eagle Talon) and PLUS heads inc. (The World of GOLDEN EGGS) specialize in crudely produced "gag anime" (quick slapstick comedies) that don't have much of a fanbase outside of Japan. Even in the US, its use is decreasing, as low-end 3D CG gets better, and 2D shows stick to more traditional animation platforms like Toon Boom Harmony, TVPaint, Moho (formerly Anime Studio Pro) and the tried-and-true combination of Adobe Illustrator and After Effects (which is used a lot in anime). Increasingly, 2D animation is also moving to 3D tools like Blender, Maya and even the game engine Unity.

Flash is increasingly thought of as a dead or dying platform, not just for web development, but for animation as well. While it's cheap and has some unique tools, it was originally aimed at creating animated effects for the web, not the high end animation we're all used to. As a result, it's very limited. Its internal shape-based drawing tools are very basic and have only the simplest controls over things like shading and line weight. Its compositing is extremely rudimentary, and doesn't have command over things like lighting effects, grain and texture, or moving objects around 3D space. All of those things are essential in creating high end animation.

Most animators I know were constantly complaining about Flash, and the lack of support they perceived Adobe to be showing to its animator user base. Drawing tools would "auto-correct" lines and completely throw off the drawing. Projects had hard limits on the number of frames they supported. Audio would get thrown out of sync. It would crash constantly. Many animators got their start working in Flash, but once they moved on to other programs, they very seldom looked back. On rare occasion there's something Flash can do easily that would be more challenging in other apps, but in cases like that, it's used simply for that one effect, and nothing else.

Flash animation has a very specific look, and it's not one that feels like anime, at all. In fact, those computer-aided in-betweens often create a stiff, over-smooth look, not altogether dissimilar from that of early cel-shaded CG anime. It looks cheap and clunky to most people. Most of the successful animation produced in Flash was aimed at undiscerning kids, or intentionally used the clumsy look as part of the feel of the show, such as the under-appreciated Kappa Mikey.

It is possible to make more traditional hand-animated sequences in Flash, but it's a lot of work, and most were done many years ago, back when Flash was a far more relevant platform. I'm a big fan of the Korean web short series "There She Is!!" (you might've seen it years ago -- the kitty x bunny romance that starts off funny and gets surprisingly emotional in later installments), and have yet to see "anime style" movement look any better in Flash (but that's because the movement was all hand-drawn). There was also a strange 3-part series directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and written by Shunji Iwai called BATON, which was actually animated by Titmouse in Los Angeles, but that was entirely rotoscoped, and had its share of weird technical glitches.

But those super ambitious Flash projects are exceedingly rare. Flash animation's time has mostly gone, and the platform was never really taken seriously in Japan, where fine control over movement and individual artistic styles are the building blocks for the discipline of animation. Newer 3D CG tools are indeed doing what you propose, and using computers for in-betweens, but animators are still struggling to make the motion look natural (though they're getting better.)

Additionally, Retas Pro, the software suite used by 95% of the anime business, does have a vector drawing program built-in where in-betweens can be estimated, and then tweaked by an artist before moving on. This isn't a fully automatic process, but it's a good halfway point between full automation and a full human artistic touch. I don't know how often it's used, but it's available.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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