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What is 3D Animation – A Guide to Start

3d animation guide
A complete and detailed guide to learning about 3D animation: it covers all the essential information one might need before starting a 3D animation project.

Animation is a dynamic industry. You’ve probably noticed that the animation style with which you grew up has evolved into something altogether different. To be sure, animation has evolved into what we see today since its inception.

Everyone would agree that the 3D animation business is booming and has impacted a wide variety of sectors and industries, having expanded from a niche genre enjoyed by a select few to a vast market today. 3D Animation is becoming an increasingly important element of everyone’s daily life.

Since the arrival of 3D animation, it has been mostly employed to generate films. However, things have changed through time, and it has developed into a robust tool that can be used for a variety of applications. 3D animation is used in a wide range of industries and for a wide range of reasons.

3D animation is a type of graphic design that makes use of motion to bring characters, objects, and props to life. Though 3D animation has traditionally been used to create video games, films, and television shows, its applications have expanded in lockstep with its popularity. Now, 3D animation is employed to develop engaging marketing content for businesses.

If you want to learn about 3D animation, this is the perfect guide for reading. This guide contains all the interesting information and answers to your questions related to animation.

So, without any further ado, let’s just jump right into it!

What is 3D Animation? (3D Animation Definition)

3D animation is a technique of designing objects, characters, or any entity graphically and then making them move in a three-dimensional digital environment.

Computer software and 3D modeling tools are used to bring a 3D animated object to life and design 3D models in a digital environment. While designing the 3D model of any object, the 3D animator aims to move the objects in such a way that it gives a more realistic look to the scene.

You can create video games, cartoons, anime series, or even animated movies with 3D animation, but if the movement of any object is irregular, glitchy, or different from the real world, then it will be the total failure to all of the hard work you have spent in modeling it.

In short, 3D animation is the process of modeling 3D objects and placing them in a digital 3D medium, and functioning them to create an illusion of motion like a real world.

A short-animated video by Two Ghosts Animator named Coin Operated is a flawless example of a creative and focused 3D animation. Let’s take a look.


Simply amazing! The animation gives the video a vivacious look. The detailing, silhouette, motion, and characters modeling literally bring the look of our world.

How is the 3D Animation done?

After getting a brief introduction to 3D animation, it’s time to learn how it actually gets done – the making of 3D animation.

Most of the pre-production processes are similar to the 2D animation like:

  • Creating a story.
  • Making a storyboard.
  • Sketch of the characters and objects.
  • The setting of the colors and background.
  • Drawing of particular scenes.
  • Building a base for 3D animation.

After the foundation and pre-production prep, the process lands on the following main 3D animation phases. This is where the real magic begins.

1. Modeling

Modeling is the first phase where the sketch of the characters and objects are turned into 3D models on the software. The creation of the character in digitalized three dimensions is known as 3D modeling.

The modeling is basically the geometrical shaped structure of the object made up of angles, points, lines, degrees, and curves.

Modeling tools are used to create the whole structure of the character, but scanning is also used to model the real-world object.

With tools, you can add your creativity to the character’s looks, but scanning captures the natural curve and structure of the objects.

The modeling can be done in many different ways, but it totally depends upon the choice and imagination of the 3D artist.

  • Primitive modeling
  • Curve modeling
  • Converting
  • Individual Polygons
  • Digital Sculpting

In modeling, the retopology and UV mapping is done. As the model does not have color but after creating the skeleton through the rigging, the next step is to add texture, color, and skin to the model.

modeling example

Image credit: Game-ace.com

2. Layout and Animation

Once the characters are built, the next step is animation, where the 3D models are placed in the respective scenes to animate their movements with 3D animation software.

First, the layout is made by creating the scene set and placing the characters into it. Then, the characters are animated through animation variables, and the motion is added to give a lively look to the object through keyframing or motion capture.

You can see and observe in the video below that the initial draft of a scene of Ratatouille movie is pretty rough and movement with transition looks sketchy and unnatural.


In the draft, only starting and ending poses are produced, which are called keyframes. Later, the lightning gets set, camera angle gets fixed, effects are added, details are polished, and the scenes are set to give the final smooth animation for broadcasting.

3. Rendering

The final stage in 3D animation is rendering. It is done when the animation has been finalized and polished for export.

At this step, the animator attentively observes and checks the details to ensure that the final product has been polished perfectly.

After rendering, the project has been sent for post-production processes where the special effect, voice-over, and sound effects are synchronized with the animation scene.

A Sneak-Peak into The Life of a 3D Animator

The daily tasks of an animator vary according to the sort of 3D animation project on which they work. As with every other phase in the pipeline, research is critical after you receive your 3D animation project.

For instance, Disney artists working on Zootopia spent time in animal nature reserves observing the animals’ behavior and movements in person.

After conducting a thorough study, the artist determines which techniques to employ and begins blocking out the primary poses of the object being worked on.

Techniques include keyframe placement and selecting between IK and FK, which are two distinct approaches to animating the bones.


The primary postures will be the initial pose, the finishing pose, and a few intermediate stances. Once these postures are established, the 3D artist receives input from a supervisor and continues to refine the model’s motions.

The job of an animator varies according to the size of the firm they are working in. Smaller businesses may be more likely to engage artists who can also do 3D rigging. By having one employee do both jobs, the business saves time and money.

A larger corporation may recruit specialist 3D artists who focus on a single job in order to tackle more high-profile projects as effectively as feasible.

How to become a successful 3D Animator?

Perfection is achieved via practice. When you initially begin, it may take some time to achieve the smooth and exact animations you like. Repetition will ultimately make the tiresome portions of your animations swift and natural, allowing you to focus on the more nuanced details of your animation project.

If you really want to make your stance in the world of 3D animation as a 3D artist, all you need is to polish your skills.

Download several free-rigged models and practice animating characters or any moving object. This will also serve as a reference for how to work with hard and soft objects.

As we have discussed earlier, in this industry, research is the ultimate key to success. Brace yourself and spend time gaining knowledge about:

  • Mechanical operations
  • Mechanical design
  • Physics and weight
  • Character’s facial movements
  • The motions of animals, bipedal and quadruped creatures, and humans

Next, 3D artists are required to grasp how motion capture works as technology advances. After importing the motion capture data, animators frequently need to edit the keyframes to polish the character’s face and body motions.

War of the Planet of the Apes is a recent example of an effective application of motion capture techniques. The apes were portrayed by performers wearing motion-capture outfits that were shot by a set of cameras. The data was then transmitted to animators, who added personality to the 3D sculpted apes who would take the place of the performers. This is a procedure that is becoming more prevalent in both the film and video gaming industries.

Tips for conquering the animation industry

Spend as much time as possible on your finest works. Choose a couple and polish them as much as possible for your 3D animation portfolio or demo reel. Demonstrate diversity in the sorts of animations you create, as well as your ability to effectively imitate weight and physics using face animation.

Take advantage of the networking possibilities available to expand your network. This is one of the most effective methods of obtaining employment. You may discover several industry gatherings and events online, many of which feature guest speakers such as skilled artists and software developers. The education obtained from listening to these sorts of guest speakers discuss their personal experiences is unmatched.

How much is the salary of a 3D Animator?

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a 3D animator is around $59,920 per year. As per other resources, 3D artists make around $33,000 to $95,000 per year; of course, this depends upon the location, experience, and industry.

Technical and senior animators can earn more than the figures we have mentioned with immense knowledge and years of experience.

As the demand for digital characters and objects is increasing, there’s plenty of room for animators to grow and excel.

If you’re planning to set your foot in this industry, this is the right time!

The Difference Between 2D and 3D Animation

Let’s recall the old times where Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck were the cartoons kids used to watch.  These are the masterpieces of 2D animation.

With the change in time, the animation has been shifted from 2D animation to 3D animation, where you find Hotel Transylvania, Vivo, How to Train Your Dragon, Moana, Inside Out, and more.

The evolution of digital animation from 2D to 3D has wholly changed how scenes and characters are portrayed on the screen.

There is the most significant difference between 2D, and 3D animation is the video production process. The video production process in 3D animation includes pre-production, post-production, and polishing, which are a little bit more complex than 2D animation.

You can learn more about the difference between 2D and 3D animation in detail.

Software for 3D Animation

3D animation is one of the most demanding and popular digital art. It does require not only animation knowledge but also mastery of 3D animation software.

Animation is an amazing skill to have in the world where the demand for 3D animators and artists is rising as fast as the animation content is getting popular.

If you have mastered the best 3D animation software, it means you are in great demand in the rapidly growing 3D animation business.

There are various open-source and paid software for 3D animation that freelancers and even mega animation studios use to create movies, design characters, make videos, and build games.

Some software are extremely complicated and needs professional assistance, but some are so easy to learn. You can utilize the free trial period of the software and practice through it before getting a subscription.

The animator should keep a few essential factors in mind while selecting 3D animation software for a project.

  • The features availability.
  • Usability of the features.
  • Visibility of the features.
  • The subscription price must be affordable.
  • Application that makes it easy and differs from the rest.
  • You should know what you are looking for: professional software for business use or beginner software for learning and experimenting.

Following is the best collection of the 3D animation software for the tier your project falls in.

  1. Open-source (Free) 3D Animation Software
  • K-3D
  • Blender
  • Daz 3D
  • Wings 3D
  • Clara
  1. Commercial (Paid) 3D Animation Software
  • Maya
  • Houdini
  • Cinema 4D
  • Motionbuilder
  • Modo

And if you want to seek more about them in detail, check out the 10 best 3D animation software (paid & free).

3D Animation Application for iOS & Android

With the change of time evolution of devices, the basic working of desktop computers is shifted in smartphones and tablets.

Without reaching to your desktop, you can do everything on your smartphone, even animation.

Yes!

Now you can do animation in 3D just using your phone or tablet. You can create a 3D animated video, logo, movie, or character on your phone anytime and anywhere. The application not just saves your time but also makes the 3D animation station portable.

Here is the list of 3D animation apps that you can use on your iOS & Android devices and get high-quality results just like done on the desktop.

  1. Best 3D Animation Apps for iOS
  • Bot3D Editor
  • Toontastic 3D
  • AnimeMaker – 3D Cartoons Apps
  1. Best 3D Animation Apps for Android
  • Maya for 3D Animation
  • Animate It!
  • Animate Me
  • Anim8

To get more information about these applications, check out the top 3D animation apps for android and iOS.

Tips and Tricks for 3D Animation Projects

3D animation is a challenging and delicate process, but it becomes easier and smoother with some tips and tricks.

Tips help you prevent beginner’s errors and improve your work and skills as an animator. If you adopt the following tips and tricks, your productivity will increase, and your skill set will be more enhanced.

1. Evolve with Technology

Day-by-day, the evolution in the technology and digital world has changed the conventional ways of work and introduced new methods for adaptation.

With time new computers with updating software, improved features, and tools are helping in getting the project done in no time. 3D animation software has also evolved and made the life of the animator lot easier.

You can choose the right animation software and perfect tool and can create astonishing projects. Before selecting the animation software, make sure that the software level matches your level of mastery in animation because you don’t want to invest your money and time on fancy and complex software whose features are beyond your limits. So, evaluate your skills before selecting 3D animation software.

Pick the best 3D animation software that you think fits your skill sets and project. Practice it and get familiar with the features. This will help you to do a desirable 3D animated project in less amount of time.

3d animation projectSource: filecr.com

2. Observe the surrounding

To get inspiration for a 3D animation project, you can look around in the real world that helps you create the objects and characters categorically.

The best way to give your object a realistic look is to get inspiration from the real world. You can add features, textures, functions, and movements to your character by simply observing the surrounding.

Learn about the nature of the inspiring object and the effect of surrounding it. This will help you design the character with the correct quality and features that give their movement a more convincing look.

i.e, if you want your character to jump, what will you do? Watch people jump? yes, or maybe. Do it yourself? Absolutely yes.

Get up from your working station, stand and start jumping. Learn how you balanced the fall and kept it steady.

Personal observation will help you add density to the object’s motion, which will bring out a realistic look.


Have you seen how the animator has performed the characters to add perfect emotions and expression to it? – that is how you indulge with your animated characters to give them more of a realistic look.

3. Add Human Emotion to the 3D Animated Character

Whatever you are creating, whether it is a 3D animated movie or a video, you need expressions for your character.

Now you start working on facial animation, where you portray emotions and transform animation into an incredible 3D animated piece of art.

When you are making an animated movie, expression and emotions are vital for your characters. The scenes must include the emotion of happiness, joy, sadness, cry, and confusion, and your character must have those expressions to uplift the scene.

humain emotion in 3d characterSource: Pinterest

Put yourself in the scene of the animation and start imagining the emotions, then stand in front of the mirror and start observing your expressions in different emotions. Start animating your expression and add it to your character.

You can observe people talking and reacting to specific scenarios, capture their expressions and aggregate them into your character.

4. Pose First, Details Later

Prioritize your animation process to keep track and stay on track. Perform the high priority task first, then move toward low prioritized.

While 3D animation focuses on poses first because they move the story in the video, make sure you have done keyframing accurately.

After initial and basics, move on to detailing like adding of effects, enhancements, and emotions.

5. Demo Reel

The final tip is beneficial for the 3D animators, create your work demo reels that will help you to introduce your work. When you apply for the job, you can show your reel to your interviewer and let your work speak for itself.


The demo reel is the compilation of your work to show your skill to the client in a few minutes. You can post your demo reel on the social media platform to raise brand visibility and professional awareness.

Hire 3D Animation Production Company

you can create your 3D animation project with the help of tools and software, but to give a professional-quality look, you can hire an animation company.

Companies hire 3D animation studios for their video project, brand promotion, log awareness, and marketing.

Finding the right 3D animation production studio is a challenging task for your company but keep a few critical points in your mind while hunting a studio:

  • The studio must be experienced and skilled in 3D animation.
  • Check their portfolio.
  • Look for their partners and clients.
  • Get a quote about their animation service.
  • Match your requirement with the studio style of working.
  • Select the company that matches your budget.

Following are the top 3D animation production companies around the globe that might be the right choice for your project.

  1. BuzzFlick
  2. Rip Media Group
  3. Veracity Colab
  4. The DVI Group
  5. Indigo Productions

If you want more knowledge about them and other top 3D animation companies, you can check the top 10 3D animation production companies.

The Writer’s Choice

For the best 3D animation video and logo production at an affordable price, you can consider BuzzFlick – an award-winning animation production studio in New York, Dover, and Houston. The company has a skilled team of animators with expertise in explainer video services, whiteboard animation, 2D & 3D animation services, video editing, educational video services, and logo animation.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you have found the guide helpful and have covered all the answers to your question. Now you have complete knowledge about starting a DIY 3D animation project, hiring a company to do it for you, 3D animation software and applications you can use to create a 3D animated project, and tips & tricks to excel in animation.

Related Articles:

Introduction To 3D Rigging: How To Do It In 4 Easy Steps

How To Create An Attractive 3D Character Animation Video?

Sophiea Ank

Sophiea Ank is an animator, but her passion for reading and writing made her Content Head at BuzzFlick. She loves to educate people through her blogs about technologies, animation, videography, and games. In her free time, she watches "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and reads to Paulo Coelho.

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