Growing up, most Saturday mornings were dedicated to sitting in front of the television and tuning in to some cartoons. Favorites such as Spider-Man to Scooby-Doo had new episodes, and we couldn’t wait until we got to see the new Pokemon Ash was gearing up to train. Unfortunately, all of those characters had to grow up, too.
From traditional 2D animation to computer-animated technology, some of these cartoon character designs evolved dramatically. You won’t even recognize Spongebob with his makeover. Keep reading to learn more about the evolution of some of television’s most popular cartoon characters.
South Park made its cartoon debut in 1997 and has since released 307 episodes. The pilot episode was made using construction paper and stop-go cutout animation. We can only imagine how long it took animators to put together a single episode using that technique!
In later years, the show’s animation was moved to the computer. In doing so, the cutouts were scanned and redrawn using the program CorelDRAW and imported to PowerAnimator. Animation director Eric Stough says they chose this program because it helped the show maintain its “homemade look.”
First airing on The Tracy Ullman Show in 1987, The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom in terms of seasons and episodes. The animated series started off using traditional cel animation, meaning the characters and settings were drawn by hand. This technique was used until season 14 when the animators switched to digital ink and paint.
Although, they did use the new technique for season 12 episode “Tennis the Menace,” it was not regularly used until two years later. Then, in 2009, the series began producing in high-definition for season 20, of which included a new opening sequence.
Spider-Man was a 1994 animated series based on the Marvel superhero of the same name. The animated series ran for four years and was the most popular children’s show in America after its premiere. While the show ended in 1998, the animation style for Spidey and New York evolved from its traditional 2D animation.
In 2018, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse swung into theaters with an entirely new look. The animators decided to make it feel as though viewers walked into a comic. They used comic techniques such as line work and dots to make the film feel like a living painting, a style a producer Phil Lord called revolutionary
Teen Titans was a popular series on Cartoon Network, from 2003-2006. The series followed a crew of heroes, Robin, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy. During the three years of new episodes, the series was praised for its anime-style and character development. After several years, fans were excited to hear that a spin-off series using the same characters and voice actors was going to be released under the title, Teen Titans GO!.
The new series boasted a newer animation style that garnered mixed reviews. Honestly, they should have stuck with the older techniques because the new series looks like a bunch of Funko Pop Dolls.
In 1928, Mickey Mouse was a concept drawing designed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Shortly after, the mouse became the mascot for Disney and is considered to be the most recognizable character in the world. Much has changed since the famous mouse’s animation debut!
Mickey Mouse is an animated TV series that was released on Disney Channel in 2013. The show utilizes Mickey’s quirkiness ad humbleness but modernizes the situations he finds himself in. They also updated his presence by using CGI to make him appear 3D.
Bugs Bunny is the official mascot of Warner Bros. and has gone through some creative changes since his inception in the late 1930s. As most old animations, Bugs cartoons consisted of traditional cel animation, making the rabbit appear in a 2D universe. Fast forward to the 2000s and we see an entirely new cartoon.
The Looney Tunes Show premiered in 2011 and with it a re-design for one Bugs Bunny. Artist Jessica Borutski designed Bugs to have larger feet and mauve fur, although his fur was changed back to grey in the second season. You might also see that they decided to keep him in 2D.
Strawberry Shortcake made its TV debut in 1980, introducing the world to the title character, her friends, and the world of Strawberryland. The series was designed by animators from Murakami-Wolf-Swenson and Toei Doga, who used a traditional style for the early episodes.
The 2009 Strawberry reboot brought an entirely new animation-style, something that looks closer to a Nintendo game than a TV show. Instead of the traditional techniques used in the 1980 series, animators began dabbling in CGI, completely redesigning the title character to appear more modern.
The Batman animated series debuted in 1973. Animators were sourced from several overseas companies, such as TMS Entertainment, who designed the opening sequence that was later also used for the revamped series. While there is much love for the original design of the caped crusader, we can’t fault the studio for wanting to bring Batman into the modern era.
The animation redesign gave Batman a darker look, something that matches his personality in the newer series. One thing most fans of the series can agree on is that his bat suit makes a whole lot more sense now that the blue fabric is out of the picture.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their television debut in 1987 as a miniseries. It wasn’t until a year later that the turtle superheroes with the surfer lingo landed their own Saturday-morning cartoon series. There have been a few adaptations of these animations, but the most recent is by Nickelodeon.
While the turtles used to be animated using traditional techniques, in 2012, it was announced that the brothers were going to undergo a revamp using CGI animation. The series lasted until 2017. Then, in 2018, Nickelodeon decided to bring back the 2D style in a new series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Popeye started out as a character in the 1929 comic strip Thimble Theatre. The title was changed to Popeye in later years. As the spinach-eating sailor became more popular, theatrical versions, mainly animated cartoons were produced. All of the comic favorites were represented, including Popeye’s love interest, Olive Oyl.
As the years went on, the animation of the cartoon character quickly shifted towards CGI. But that isn’t all that is different about the sailor man. In the most recent web series featuring Popeye, his infamous pipe has been replaced by a whistle! Our guess is because Popeye’s Island Adventure is catered towards a younger crowd.
Pokémon is a Japanese media franchise created in 1995. Along with games and trading cards, these “pocket monsters” also made their way to the television and movie screen. In the beginning, Ash and his friends, human and Pokémon alike, were animated in the traditional way. But once Netflix released Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, everyone got a makeover.
In the newly released film, the producers decided to switch things up and utilize a 3D computer-animated style. It is the first movie to go this route, aside from the live-action/CGI Detective Pikachu in 2019.
In animated television, Yogi Bear was the first breakout character. He made his television debut in 1958 on The Huckleberry Hound Show but starred in his own series a few years later. The interesting thing about Yogi’s original animation is that artists only had to redraw his head for frames where he spoke. This is because the collar he wears allows for animators to keep his body static.
In 2010, Yogi and friends were in a film titled Yogi Bear. It was the first time the funny animal was shown in a live-action/computer-animated setting. We don’t know about you, but there is something classic about the older animation.
The Smurf characters were created as a Belgian comic. It wasn’t until 1965 that the blue creatures made their television debut in Belgium (the US was years later). The thing is, they weren’t blue, at least, not that the viewers could see. The series was in black and white and used traditional animation. Then, in 2011, Sony announced its plans on creating a trilogy based around the characters.
No longer were the Smurfs depicted as 2D animated beings; they were now being brought to life using computer animation software. As the traditional animation made all of the Smurfs look very similar, the CGI allowed for some individuality to shine through!
My Little Pony
The 1986 animated television series My Little Pony was based on the toys created by Hasbro. Unfortunately for fans of the show, it didn’t last long and was canceled the next year. The most recent TV series launched in 2010, and it is called the fourth generation of the franchise by toy collectors.
Animator Lauren Faust was brought in to revamp the ponies and their mystical land of Ponyville. The most significant change in animation is hard to miss. In the 80s, the ponies’ eyes were all the same dark orbs; now they look more like colorful Bratz doll eyes with envy-inducing lashes.
Alvin & The Chipmunks
The three chipmunk brothers started as a singing group on the 1961 series The Alvin Show. As you can see from the picture, the animation style made by Herbert Klynn’s Format Films looked like nothing more than drawings with some crafty eye and mouth movement thrown in.
In 2007, 20th Century Fox released the first film to feature the chipmunks using computer animation techniques. Well, after the 2003 film Alvin and the Mini-Munks. Even though the CGI makes for odd robotic-looking creatures, we’re happy that they decided to stay true to their sweatshirt colors.
Scooby-Doo & Mystery Inc.
Scooby-Doo was a series created in 1969 that followed a gang of friends and their talking Great Dane as they solved mysteries around the world in their trusty mystery machine van. The Saturday-morning cartoon had numerous spin-off series as well as live-action and CGI films that were huge hits. Now, a new 3D computer-animated film is in the works for 2020.
The film is called Scoob! and will follow the Mystery Inc. crew from childhood into adulthood. The good news is, there is a puppy Scooby, and it is the most adorable version of the lovable character to date.
Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang were originally a comic strip created in the 50s. The strip was very simplistic design-wise, using very plain settings and focusing more on the characters. Their TV debut happened in the 60s. Now, the Peanuts were in color, but still a bit elementary in terms of animation.
The first time Charlie Brown and his friends became 3D was in 2015 during The Peanuts Movie. It was in hopes of attracting Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang to a younger, more computer-oriented generation.
According to executive producer Paul Tibbitt, “the first season of Spongebob Squarepants was done the old-fashioned way on cels, and every cel had to be part-painted, left to dry, paint some other colors.” They have since let go of the old 2D method and moved to a digital process that saves a lot of time during the animation process.
Now, Spongebob and his friends and still the same quirky sea creatures, but they look totally different. The new prequel series being launched is using CG animation to make the characters more life-like.
The Pink Panther character is usually associated with the comedy-mystery films revolving around Inspector Jacques Clouseau. Pink is depicted as a mischievous animal who likes to mess around with his foes. The character and animated shorts were so popular that in 1964, The Pink Phink won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
It was then announced in 2014 that MGM was interested in making a live-action CGI film based around Pink. Not surprisingly, the idea was negatively received, and there hasn’t been any news regarding more movies.
Winnie The Pooh
Winnie the Pooh is a classic Disney character that went from a children’s storybook to an animated series. The cartoon made its debut on The Disney Channel in 1988 and moved to ABC about nine months later. Its popularity grew, and the animated series was on the air for almost two decades.
In the film Christopher Robin, animators decided to take the characters back to their roots of being stuffed animals, giving them a more realistic look with CGI. Honestly, Pooh and his friends look nothing like their old-school animation style!