A lot can change during the lifetime of a show. Sometimes, the style of an animation studio takes a while to mature into a particular form. Technology advances, which requires training and mastery, and budgets decrease or increase at the drop of a hat. Too often, a studio contract exchanges hands and leads to an evolution of cartoon character designs. More than half the time, the shifts in animation style are for the better and excite fans with better production quality.
Sometimes, animation changes in your favorite cartoons happen so steadily, you forget how dramatically different they used to look in the pilot. Other times, shows seems to erratically swing between good and not-so-good quality, as production yo-yos between different studios. Compiled here are famous cartoons that have experienced significant shifts in their animation over the seasons. Check out the side-by-side comparisons of what the style looked like before and after the changes.
The early seasons of Family Guy that aired at the turn of the century were considerably rougher compared to the sleek, crisp look of the show now. In fact, backgrounds were so rushed that some of Quahog's buildings were only distinguishable by their signs, like the town's "Jail." The improvements came when the show jumped to HD format, necessitating clearer details. The show even meta-commented on the difference in one of Stewie and Brian's time travel adventures, "Back to the Pilot." Considering Fox canceled the show twice, they clearly needed a lot of convincing to give it a budget bump.
This groundbreaking and Emmy-showered series is still considered one of the greatest animated shows ever made. The high bar for its signature noir style was set from the very first episode, "On Leather Wings." Oddly, the show's quality varied slightly throughout its run.
This was a result of the animation work being shared amongst different international studios for budgetary reasons, making consistency hard to achieve in the "Timmverse." While never bad, the dip in quality is especially noticeable when you compare the animation of Clay Face in "Feat Of Clay, Part I," animated by the cheaper AKOM, with "Part II," animated by the more expensive TMS.
Most of the episodes in the 1980s Transformers, referred to by fans as Generation 1 (G1), were animated by AKOM and Toei Animation. However, one particular episode entitled "Call of the Primatives" experienced a sudden jump in quality that AKOM had no part in. It was because of Eiji Suganuma that the animation looked so great, as he directed a group of animators to use more detailed character designs to improve the fluidity and detail of the episode.
This difference in animation is seen again in The Transformers: The Movie. Compared to its series counterpart, the film has a higher frame rate, making the movements of the transforming robots a lot smoother than they usually looked in the show. Some of the principal characters in the movie, like "Hot Rod," were given different transformation sequences each time they transformed, too. Granted, the film was given a much greater budget to work with, so it makes sense that the animation quality would also be greater.
South Park represents a rare case of an animated show using sophisticated techniques to simulate something far less sophisticated. Famously, the test pilot ("The Spirit Of Christmas") was painstakingly hand-animated using paper cut-outs by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Keen to retain this crude but charming style while speeding up the production time, the duo switched to Industrial Light and Magic's computer animation system to replicate the paper cut-out designs digitally.
By the time South Park: The Movie was released in 1999, the backgrounds had become far richer and the animation smoother than ever. Parker and Stone have since compacted production of each episode to just six days, helping the storylines remain topical.