3D Animation History: The Humble Beginnings and The Future

3d animation history
Do you know from where 3D animation originated? Read our blog to learn about the humble beginnings and history of 3D animation.

It was only a few years back when 2D animation was booming in the industry. Then arrive 3D animation and the way how movies are made changed forever.

Frozen, Minions, Encanto, and Despicable Me are among those 3D animation masterpieces that we completely fell in love with.

This new emerging technique has totally changed the whole animation industry. Previously, 3D animation was limited to movies and videos but now it’s expanding.

Today, in this piece we’ll be shedding light on the origin of 3D animation, how it evolved and what the future might hold for this unique, interactive, and vibrant form of digital art.

So, without any further ado, let’s begin.

What is 3D Animation? – The Definition

Regardless of the type of animation being discussed, animation is the process of generating a static image that appears to be moving. Adding a third dimension to the visual, 3D animation takes things one step further.

The characters and objects have depth and appear more lifelike inside their digital environment, as opposed to appearing “flat” in 2D animation.

How is animation implemented? Animators begin by generating static pictures that are divided into frames or a single image. When the frames are combined and played in succession, our eyes and brains are misled into believing that the image is moving.

To generate the appearance of movement, pictures must be presented at a rate of at least 12 frames per second. 15 frames per second is the industry standard for hand-drawn animators to create the cartoon aesthetic we all know and love.

For those who use 3D animation tools, however, 24 frames per second are typical. The appearance and feel of 3D animation are more lifelike.

3d animation history: the humble beginnings and the future

The majority of 3D animations are made utilizing a virtual skeleton called a rig, which provides the animator with a basic sketch of the figure or form they are making. Individual components of the skeleton can then be modified in each frame so that, when arranged in a sequence, they appear to move.

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The Birth of 3D Animation

Well, if you ask when 3D animation was invented and who was the creative head behind it, then I would say it’s quite challenging to answer this particular question.

Why so? Because it really depends on the specific type you’re talking about. Claymation, the art of making animated films using clay models, dates back to the early 20th century.

In essence, 3D animation is just a digital update on the traditional stop-motion techniques used in clay animation (think Wallace and Gromit or Coraline).


Computer animation, the development of computer-generated imagery (commonly known as CGI), and related technologies all had their beginnings in the 1960s, giving rise to the 3D animation styles we know today.

Most people agree that William Fetter, an employee at Boeing, was the first to use 3D computer graphics. His brief recordings of rigged pilots were intended to evaluate pilots’ reach for aircraft controls and may have been the earliest examples of 3D moving visuals.

The Evolution of 3D Animation – a brief history

When compared to 2D animation, which goes back to the 1800s, the introduction of 3D graphics correlates with the shift to entirely computerized graphics around the middle of the twentieth century.

The Humble Beginnings

Experts in the field of computing spent the late 1960s and 1970s perfecting 3D animation for use in later, more involved computer systems.

Realistic renderings of human hands and faces on wireframed computer rigs were pioneered by designers like Edwin Catmull (who later co-founded Pixar) and Frederic Parke. The first film to use these techniques was Futureworld, which came out in 1976.

Constant updates to the animation software during the ’80s meant that by the ’90s, 3D animation was the industry standard. Popular movies such as Terminator 2 (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993) made extensive use of the technology, and the first American animated series to be created fully in 3D was Veggie Tales (1993).


The true potential of 3D animation wasn’t put to the test until a feature-length film was produced in 1995. When Pixar’s Toy Story was released in 1995, it was generally hailed as the first full-length animated film to be made entirely with computer animation.

3D Animation in the Recent Times

Special effects in nearly every movie and TV show produced during the 1990s have been made possible by the constant development of computer-generated imagery and three-dimensional animation techniques.

Combining 3D animation with human actors is becoming increasingly common in movies like Avatar (2009) and Disney’s new “live-action” remakes of iconic 2D classics.

In today’s age of photorealism and 4D animation, it’s frequently difficult to tell the difference between a computer-generated image and the actual thing.

The Prospects for the Development of 3D Animation

Predicting the future of technology is challenging, as we don’t know what the future hold for us. It’s challenging to imagine that 3D animation could be much better than it already is.

However, the popularity of VR and AR technologies demonstrates how rapidly the field is developing.

Based on its meteoric rise in popularity over the past several years, 3D animation is only set to grow more pervasive in the next years, both in the corporate world and in everyday communication.

Today, commercials for products are as likely to use animation as new animated series on television.

Machine learning, in which data is sent to a computer, analyzes, and produces an appropriate result on its own, can also speed up animators’ processes. Plus, now that they have more time in their days, we might expect to see more animated shows and movies in the future.

Moreover, in today’s world marketers have also started using 3D animation to promote their business. Many video productions took notice of this shift and have started offering 3D animation services.

It won’t be wrong to predict that in the upcoming years 3D animation will take over the animation world and people might I repeat might disregard 2D animation.

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3D Animation Examples You Will Fall in Love With

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Source: Indiewire

The first-ever 3D animated movie was released back in 1995. Can you guess, which movie I am talking about? It’s the all-time favorite, Toy Story.

Let’s start with this animation example.

1.      Toy Story

 When Toy Story was made, Pixar was still a young company led by Steve Jobs and a group of graphic artists who had never made a full-length feature film in 3D before. They were successful, and the movie earned nearly $360 million at the box office.

In the story’s universe, toys come to life when their owners turn their backs. At first, Woody, a classic cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear, a futuristic spaceman, a battle for their owner’s love and attention.

But when they are cut off from him, they must put aside their disagreements and band together to survive.

When the first 3D animated film was being made, there was no shortage of willing participants. However, as compared to studios today, the animation team’s 27 people were quite modest. The rendering process was also slow.

Less than 30 seconds of the footage was rendered every day. They nonetheless accomplished a great deal and were recognized for their efforts.

Considering its “cultural, historical, or artistic significance,” the United States National Film Registry decided to preserve the film for posterity.

2.      Finding Nemo

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Remember this dialogue?

The 2003 film Finding Nemo was directed by Andrew Stanton.

Here’s what happened:

Marlin, an overprotective father clownfish whose son Nemo gets kidnapped. Dory, a regal blue tang with short-term memory loss, accompanies him on his journey. They combine the entire ocean for Marlin’s lost son.

It is one of the most emotionally-charged 3D animated films. Obviously, it received its fair share of honors and prizes. Best Animated Feature was awarded to Finding Nemo, which was nominated for three Academy Awards.

It is also the best-selling DVD of all time, which is a sentimental achievement.

3.      Ratatouille

Chef-rat-themed 3D animated films are not produced every day. However, Ratatouille demonstrates that the notion is not as absurd as it seems!

Brad Bird released the picture in 2007 and directed it. Remy, a rat with exceedingly unique desires, is the protagonist. He desires to become the greatest chef in France. And with the assistance of Linguini, a young garbage lad, he may realize his ambition.

In addition to the fantastic idea, the animators went above and above with this production. Linguini dives into the Seine in one scene and emerges very wet. In order to animate it more accurately, a Pixar employee donned a chef’s outfit and jumped into a swimming pool.

Additionally, it is one of the most well-known Disney 3D films. It won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for four more awards.

4.      Tangled

The year 2010 saw the release of Tangled. This Disney classic was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard.

One of the costliest 3D animated features ever filmed, with a budget of $260 million.

Rapunzel’s narrative serves as inspiration for this tale. She’s a long-lost princess whose cruel foster mother locked her up in a tower because of her enchanted blond locks.

The charming thief Flynn, however, manages to get inside the tower and aid in her escape, and this alters everything.

Tangled’s standout quality is its expert combination of computer animation with traditional animation techniques. This gives the video the rich, luscious appearance of an oil painting on canvas.

Moreover, it was nominated for Best Original Song at the Golden Globes, the Annies, and the Oscars. It was also nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, two Annie Awards, and an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

5.      Frozen

Just another one of Disney’s blockbuster hits. The musical Frozen is based on the fairy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee directed the film, which premiered in 2013.

The plot follows Elsa and Anna, two sisters who have grown apart, as they attempt to repair their friendship and save their country from an unending winter curse. A snowman, a pair of reindeer, and an iceman join Anna on her adventure.

It’s a landmark in the history of Disney 3D films. And music is a huge part of that! Let it go is advice we’ve all heard many times. The songs are the work of husband-and-wife team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who have achieved international success with their compositions.

The film’s focus on sibling love and family has been appreciated by critics. It won two Oscars and was nominated for dozens more (the whole list has its own Wikipedia page!).

6.      Zootopia

Disney’s Zootopia is a standout among innovative 3D animated features. Released in 2016, its directors were Rich Moore and Byron Howard.

So, the gist of the story is that in Zootopia, both predators and prey live side by side.

But the peacefulness is disrupted when 14 animals mysteriously disappear and the predators suddenly turn violent. A police rabbit and a con artist fox are determined to unravel the case.

If you can get past the excellent tale, you’ll be impressed by the meticulous attention to detail. Take, for instance, the remarkably lifelike fur.

The eight months of research on animal gaits paid off for the animators. Under a microscope, they even analyzed their hair.

That work was not for nothing. Highly regarded as a top 3D animated picture. It has won several awards, including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, and an Annie Award.

7.      Encanto

Last year, Disney Animation Studios released another magical masterpiece, Encanto. It is a computer-animated musical comedy fantasy film directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard.

This film bagged the honor of being the 60th film produced by Walt Disney.

The story?

The Madrigals are an incredible family in Encanto. They live in a mystical mansion in a bustling town in a wonderful, enchanted area deep in the Colombian highlands called Encanto.

Every kid in the family, with the exception of Mirabel, has been bestowed with a special ability by the Encanto, whether it be superhuman strength or the ability to heal.

But when Mirabel learns that the Encanto’s magic is in jeopardy, she realizes that she may be her extraordinary family’s last hope.

Back in 2016, they began working on the film. After the release of Zootopia, this was the next project that Howard and Bush wanted to direct.

The team conducted an in-depth study on the complexities of a family relationship as the movie is all about a family working together to save their gifts.

Encanto grossed a total of 256.5 million globally. Like other Disney creations, it has won several awards, including Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature Film, BAFTA Award for a similar category, and many others.

3D Animation History & Future – FAQs

Yes, we know there are still many questions in your mind related to 3D animation and its history. Keeping that in view, we have answered some of the most common questions below:

Who invented 3D animation?

A competent Boeing employee, William Fetter has bagged the credit of being the inventor of computer-generated 3D graphics.

When 3D animation was invented?

In 1976, the first 3D computer-generated imagery was produced for one of the popular films, Futureworld.

Which are the popular 3D animation studios across the globe?

Some of the most popular 3D animation studios are Walt Disney, Pixar, Illumination Entertainment, Dream Works, and Warner Bros, to name a few.

Which was the first 3D animated movie?

The Power of Love was the first 3D movie ever screened for a commercial audience back in 1920 in the city of Los Angeles.

Is 3D animation an expensive animation style?

When compared to other animation styles, 3D animation is a bit costlier. A 3D animation video can generally cost up to $10,000 to $30,000 per minute. These are not definite rates because it depends upon other factors including the number of 3D characters and duration.

How can I become a 3D animation artist?

Although mastering this style of animation takes years, the best way to learn is to begin working on your own projects. You can start off by watching tutorials on YouTube or taking up some courses.

3D Animation Timeline – what can we expect?

As computer-generated imagery (CGI) continues to advance, 3D animation is increasingly being utilized in gaming and virtual reality, in addition to traditional media.

The possibilities and quality of 3D animation will only continue to improve, and we anticipate adding many more fascinating projects to our 3D animation portfolio in the near future.

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Eich Eyf

An animation enthusiast who enjoys explaining complex animation techniques, mediums, and videos. Her love for animated films drives her. In her spare time, she enjoys watching animated films from Pixar, Disney, and Illumination productions.

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