Blending 2D & 3D Animation Can Make Imagination Feel Believable

Imagine a line drawn by a computer versus a line drawn by hand. One is almost too perfect to find believable. The other has life and character and is perfect in all its messy wonder. Imagination is like that hand-drawn line–it’s imperfections make it believable.  

StarBeast had the honor of creating an award winning short film that brought Imaginary Friend Society to life for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. The challenge was to make these imaginary friends feel believable so that they could entertain and comfort children–who are experts in imagination.  We wanted the film to feel like an extension of a child’s imagination. So we took two approaches:

  • We talked to an authority, our Imagination Consultant – 7 year old, Kiana
  • We blended the technical strengths of 3D animation with the hand-drawn emotion of 2D animation

We asked Kiana what some imaginary friends might look like. Here was her contribution:

And here’s how we incorporated her imaginary friends:

Messy-ing Up Perfection

Imagination is perfect in it’s imperfections. So, we loved the idea of blending the technical capabilities of 3D animation with the hand-drawn believability of 2D art. StarBeast founders, Nick Losq and Christopher Clyne come from illustration backgrounds. They are also highly trained in 3D animation.  Over the years, StarBeast has been perfecting an animation style and pipeline of 3D animation rendered with a 2D, classic, cell animation feel. 

Creative Director, Nick Losq said, “3D is great because it gives depth and volume to an image making it feel like it lives in the physical bounds of our world. But, computer-generated 3D is innately perfect, too perfect. The challenge lies in messing it up to give it personality. In my opinion much of the beauty of art comes from what’s imperfect. ” 

The choice then was to utilize 2D art to breathe life and character into the film. Nick went on to say: “3D animation is a strength for our studio. It gives us tools that allow us to test things quickly. It also allows us to maximize our artistic assets. But, the concept for the Imaginary Friend Society came from kids’ actual imaginary friends. These kids aren’t mocking up their ideas in sophisticated software like Maya or Photoshop. They are drawing them on paper. We wanted to take their imagination and extend that world. So 2D made sense because it has a hand-drawn, honest feeling.”

Here’s an example of how we took 3D elements and enhanced them with 2D:

Ultimately, the goal of this labor of love was to entertain and empower children and their families when they are faced with a cancer diagnosis.

Chief Technical Officer, Christopher Clyne said, “I’m really amazed at the work that the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation is doing. I didn’t really realize the scope of a Cancer diagnosis for a child. Then, when I saw the topics of all the other films: how to face being alone, how to prepare for long hospital stays, how to face your fears. It’s just heartbreaking stuff. So every time I was working on this project, every shot, I was considering how best do we get this information across? How do we make this helpful but not scary? Knowledge is power. And it demystifies the dark corners.”

Help make Cancer Care Less Scary for Kids

Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to families facing a child’s brain tumor diagnosis, engaged ad agency RPA to create a fictional group of characters called the “Imaginary Friend Society” to help teach kids about cancer treatment in a way that’s easy to understand. RPA partnered with Los Angeles-based studio StarBeast and other top studios around the globe to create a series of 20 delightfully animated films that explain various questions and experiences children confront after a cancer diagnosis.

The animated film created by StarBeast features the imaginary friend Uni explaining the scary topic “Chemotherapy”.  Uni helps children envision chemotherapy as a superhero that takes out the “bad guys,” i.e. the Cancer cells.

Making Of

Here’s a glimpse into the making of this special short film:

Imaginary Friend Society – Making Of from StarBeast on Vimeo.


StarBeast received a Platinum Pixie Award in Animation for Imaginary Friends Society, “Chemotherapy”.


  • Client – Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
  • Agency – RPA
  • Design & Animation – StarBeast
  • Director / Concept Artist / Color – Nick Losq
  • VFX Supervisor / Animation Director – Christopher Clyne
  • Lead Animator – Bren Wilson
  • Rigging – Kiel Figgins
  • 2D Animator – Jeff Lee
  • Sound Design – David Liversidge
  • Composer – Mike Newport
  • Voice Acting – Katherine Morgan
  • Junior Concept Artist / Imagination Consultant – Kiana Losq