What is 3D Animation

What is 3D Animation? A Comprehensive Guide for You in 2023

Table of Contents

3D animation isn’t just for the entertainment industry. It’s also crucial in education, medicine, architecture, and advertising, particularly for younger generations. Imagine your artistic visions becoming real on the screen. 3D animators bring lifelike objects, characters, and settings closer to reality.

Today, we’ll explore 3D animation, its production, tips, recommended software, and online creation for beginners.

What is 3D Animation?

3D animation is a technique that uses computer graphics to bring characters, objects, and other props closer to life. Through 3D animation, the characters and objects appear to move through three-dimensional space.

In 3D animation, the animator can produce stunning and fluid animations that are closer to life, more in-depth, and seem to practically leap off the screens. Since a 3D animation can be rotated and moved in a three-dimensional space, the movement seems naturally occurring.

3D animations or 3D animated videos are utilized more within TV shows, films, and games. But, that’s not all. A huge chunk of 3D animations is widely celebrated and incorporated in the creation of video games, architecture, engineering, and commercial advertising. A 3D animated clip has the potential to trick the eye with efficient design and extraordinary 3D animation software.

History of 3D Animation

The history of 3D animation dates back to the early 1900s which involved making clay models of real-life objects later used in stop-motion films. Claymation soon gained recognition-one of the first films was The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream in 1908.

William Fetter is said to be the first person who developed a real 3D image of the human form. The earliest pioneers of animation also include John Whitney. Initially, the uses were more focused on scientific and research purposes. But, courtesy of Dr Thomas Calvert, the creative aspect paved its way to animation as well.

Jurassic Park in 1993 had the audience in awe of the realistic dinosaurs. The 3D animation techniques today are way ahead which is why Jurassic Park (1993) might seem average-but back then, it had the audience hooked to the life-like 3D animation.

It was only by the late 1980s that photorealistic 3D began appearing in film movies. In 1995, Pixar released Toy Story. Toy Story was a defining movie; gaining huge recognition and appreciation, the first completely computer-generated movie made rounds across the globe.

Today, 3D animation is a preferred choice (or an obvious choice). Businesses use it to build better brand images. Above all, 3D animation has overcome limitations-it has made everything achievable; a possibility.

Difference between 2D and 3D animation

The difference between 2D and 3D animation is their depth. Where 2D objects are drawn on a two-dimensional (x-axis and y-axis) flat space, 3D brings in another dimension. Unlike 2D, 3D animation ensures depth through the z-axis.

3D or three-dimensional animation has more depth and is closer to reality. They are much more engaging and intriguing for the users. 2D animation is the oldest form of animation which still enjoys the cartoonish factor in the animation. They are simple and easier to produce if compared to 3D.

3D animation, however, allows an experience close to reality. The 3D designs are complex, computer-generated, and much more realistic.

Why is 3D Animation Used (Purpose of it)?

Similar to traditional animation, 3D animation is a tactic to trick the human eye. It is an illusion created by a series of fast-paced, consecutive images. 3D animation has become popular over time because the audience loves seeing life-like films, or videos.

Coupled with ease and a faster pace to use, 3D animation results in images that are extremely life-like. The product is engaging and more visually appealing so its use has become more frequent. From education to the military, 3D animation has proven itself as a smooth, engaging, and eye-catching solution. Its use is observed in advertising, video games, films, TV shows, architecture, business, medicine, technology prototyping, and many other fields.

Injecting life, depth, and detail to mere objects, the possibilities with 3D animation are limitless. Its use has shown an insane surge as it guarantees improved user experience, high-definition content, and real-time animations. It has become one of the most popular and celebrated techniques of filmmaking.

The immense possibilities of 3D animation have created its various uses in the global and local market. Today, businesses choose 3D animation to build an impressive brand image. Hence, 3D animation continues to be on a rise.

Techniques and Methods Used In 3D Animation

From the first computer-animated television series “ReBoot” till today, we can clearly observe a dozen changes that have emerged in 3D animation. Today, we have numerous techniques for 3D animation. A few of them are discussed below.

1. Stop-Motion Technique

The earliest 3D animation technique is the stop-motion technique. Individual frames are prepared by the animator which is then combined and played at a fast speed to create a video. Approximately 10 to 12 frames are played per second to come up with a video.

The Stop-motion technique is a strenuous and time-consuming technique but, it creates intriguing and fun to watch videos. Some of the types of stop-motion are claymation, computer-generated stop-motion, and pixilation.

As the name suggests, claymation uses clay (or plasticine objects) as models. Computer-generated stop-motion uses computer-generated images and pixilation utilizes people instead of any other prop. The Stop-motion technique relies heavily on the frame-by-frame technique to demonstrate the technicalities or processes of a product or service.

2. Stereoscopic 3D Videos

A stereoscopic 3D video has two views: right and left. The animator adds a third dimension to ensure realistic graphics. What’s more fascinating is the fact that each eye has a different view. The animator uses stereoscopy or binocular vision to achieve such an illusion.

Stereoscopic 3D videos raise the bar higher by providing in-depth illusion. Viewers use additional support like special glasses to further experience different views. Since the rendering is done in two halves, an illusion of depth is added to the image.

3. CGI Cutout Animated Videos

CGI cutout animated videos are an old but simple technique to explain complex concepts. Using cutouts from paper, cards, stiff fabric, or photographs. CGI cutout animated videos demonstrate information in the simplest manner.

In this type of animation, objects and characters are cut out of paper and connected together to form the whole. This animation technique uses pre-cut shapes from paper, cards, stiff fabric, or photographs and moves them at a speed to give off the illusion of movement. These precut shapes are then connected by a pivot point to create an independent piece of the body.

The characters are connected by pins which are placed at the same points as human joints. The purpose of placing these pins is to allow the movement of the characters.

These days, the switch from paper-cut materials to scanned images can be observed. Specialized computer software is used to come up with high-quality animated videos. South Park is an excellent example of CGI cutout animated cartoon series.

4. Digital 3D

Digital 3D animation has allotted another dimension to a flat two-dimensional image. Incorporating polarization, digital 3D has redefined animation techniques. Polarized images and polarized 3D glasses are used by the viewers to experience a different reality.

3D movies are created using the digital 3D technique. The infamous 3D glasses are required to fully experience 3D movies. You might have come across digital 3D images on the internet; these images can be seen differently by different viewers. They are an illusion to trick viewers. Different artistic effects are added to depict illusion in these 3D images.

Autostereograms have repeating patterns on a flat two-dimensional image. When a person focuses on a specific point and lets the eyes relax, a 3D image can be noticed. Autostereograms allow viewers to experience 3D images with the naked eye.

Process of 3D Animation: How they are created

The images are computer generated in 3D animation which is why the process is tedious and long. Creating a 3D animation has three phases: modeling, layout & animation, and rendering.

1# 3D Modeling

The first phase in 3D animation requires an animator to create 3D objects within a virtual space. The engineer or artist uses a specialized 3D software or 3D modeling tool to create models on a computer.

Using a 3D modeling tool is similar to sculpting from clay-and shaping objects the way you want them. Backed with light, texturing, reflections, and shadows, 3D models are created through a chosen software. Polygons and quads are manipulated and perfected to achieve a model-which is later sent to animation and rendering stages.

2# Layout and Animation

This phase refers to placing and animating the objects and characters within a scene. After the modeling phase where characters are rigged and a skeleton is prepared, this stage involves keyframing (animating the beginning and final form of an object), and placing the objects in a particular set. In the layout phase, objects are positioned within a particular designated set.

While at the stage of animation, the already prepared 3D models are now allowed movement. The essence of this stage is getting the animation to move. Another method to achieve motion is spline-based. Objects are placed on splines and modified as per the curve. Aside from these methods, another widely used method is motion capture in which a live person’s motion is captured and directly applied to the character rig.

3# Rendering

Rendering completes the entire procedure of 3D animation. It is one of the most significant steps of 3D animation. All the files of colour, lighting, character movement, texturing, etc. are combined to give off the final product.

Each frame is catered individually in terms of light, materials, and other effects. Pixels for each frame are individually taken care of, thus the process is time-consuming yet extremely significant.

Rendering plays a vital role in the results that are achieved. This stage heavily relies on the CPU and is a memory-intensive process. It takes up hours to render. The rendering depends on the complexity of shapes, colours, and special effects added to the frame. A typical example suggests that a 3-minute animation might take up to 6 hours to render.

Apart from these three phases, the lengthy process of 3D animation also involves various sub-steps: conceptualizing and storyboarding, 3D modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, lighting, rendering, adding special effects, music, and then the outcome. It is done using a special 3D modeling software, though there is specific 3D rendering software available as well.

3D Animation Examples

Nowadays, 3D animation is the preferred choice. There are numerous renowned cartoons, business videos, and even high-budget animated movies including the ones listed below.

  • The Lion King (2019)
  • Toy Story
  • Gromit in Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
  • Shrek
  • Finding Nemo

Advantages of 3D Animation

3D animation has become quite the advertising and marketing leader in the past decade. Considering its worthwhile impact and benefits, 3D animation has become especially popular. Here are some of the many advantages of 3D animation.

More Realistic

This technique allows the films, characters, or videos to be more realistic. The animations seem to easily leap off the user’s screens hence allowing them to have more engaging and life-like experiences.

As the animations are closer to reality, the audience gets intrigued and instantly wants to know more about the product or service. This is exactly why the 3D animation technique is especially employed in advertisements and promotions.

Once the brand is successful in grasping its audience, then it’s time to introduce the product/service and leave a meaningful impact through realistic animations.

Unmatchable Visual Appeal

Unlike 2D animation, 3D animation allows space and depth by adding another dimension. It makes cartoons, objects and animations come alive and take viewers along on the journey.

The unparalleled visual appeal has a huge say in attracting customers in the digital realm. It not only improves the brand image but results in purchases coming in. The exceptionally prepared graphics are enough to turn viewers’ heads and this is where a brand wins.

Further, the unmatchable visual appeal can do wonders for explaining a product. With 3D, you already have your audience’s attention-all you need is an animator’s imagination. The rest is handled by visually appealing graphics. The animators can easily animate and simplify a complex product/service while retaining audience attention.

Motion Communication

3D animation provides a greater room to communicate with the audience through portraying movement. The detailed movements can be used for comic relief, or to catch viewers’ attention.

Fluid, interactive and smooth animations create interaction opportunities with the viewers. Details, swift movements, and crisp imagination are easily reflected through 3D animation and the audience enjoys it.

Moreover, motion communication is an achievable reality only through the 3D animation technique. Hence, companies employ 3D animation to engage their audience and stay in the limelight.

Builds Brand Reputation

3D animations are impactful. With close to real scenarios, 3D animations result in better retention. Audiences are more likely to remember brands with intriguing animations.

3D animation holds the power to build and shape perspectives. From being ‘it was a fun video to ‘who posted this video?’ – a product/service successfully wins the audience interest.

3D animation is a preferred tool to get creative and create a lasting impression in the digital world. Apart from allotting creative space, they keep the brand’s guidelines in the loop. So, when the 3D animation receives audience attention, the brand builds its reputation and comes under the spotlight.

Disadvantages of 3D Animation

Like everything else, 3D animation does have its fair share of cons. Some of the cons are listed below.


It’s obvious that a well-liked and in-demand technique is likely to come at a larger price. Therefore, the cost is an existing issue with 3D animation.

3D animation requires expensive technology, a large labour force, and extensive working hours. 3D animation technique costs much more than 2D. Further, it is a complicated and extremely technical animation that requires experienced 3D animators to come up with smooth, high-quality animations. Hence, the costs are undoubtedly higher.


An alarming situation with 3D animation is that not all animators are pro at all the procedural stages for 3D. With 3D, different animators are assigned different tasks. For instance, one animator might be responsible for texturing while the other might be in charge of the character animation or rigging.

Since there are different stages to the entire procedure of 3D, it is undoubtedly a labour-intensive technique. It is highly unlikely to have an animator that can do it all. 3D requires a greater labour force.

Limited Imagination

Though 3D animation demonstrates higher flexibility; they do not require large film crews, varying locations or shoot schedules. All that’s needed is an animator’s imagination.

However, different animators are bound to imagine differently. An animator’s imagination has its limits. Since the images are computer-generated for 3D animation, an animator’s input matters a lot. The message to be conveyed depends greatly on his/her imagination. If used wisely and creatively, it can be an asset but it can also pose challenges if the animator is not creative.

Lack of Simplicity

The entire procedure of 3D animation is extremely technical and complex. It lacks simplicity and requires experienced professionals at work to produce high-quality animated videos. With larger labour at work, 3D animation involves multiple complex techniques.

Unlike 2D animation, 3D animation ensures greater detail and accuracy which means a lack of simplicity. 3D animation has normalized perfect manipulation and creation of characters that the traditional animation techniques seem ordinary.

List of 3D Animation Software’s [Free & Premium 2023]

List of Free 3D Software’s

  • Blender [Free]
  • Wings 3D [Free]
  • K3-D [Free]
  • Source Filmmaker [Free]

List of Paid 3D Software’s

  • Autodesk Maya [Paid]
  • SketchUp [Paid]
  • Lightwave [Paid]
  • Autodesk Mudbox [Paid]

How to become a 3D Animator?

Nowadays, 3D animation can be observed throughout our digital mediums. From movies to even video games and TV shows, we observe 3D animations. It is certainly a growing industry hence adopting it as a career is a great choice. If you are interested in becoming a 3D animator then you can decide to join this medium and speed it up. But how?

Acquire skills and relevant academic support.

To become a 3D animator, you first need the required skills: creativity, patience, dedication, teamwork, and more. Second, you need a bachelor’s degree to back your career up. Mostly, animators have a bachelor’s degree in design or computer engineering along with certifications in software tools.

Be a part of discussion forums.

Next, you can decide to take refuge in social media. There are numerous groups on Facebook and forums like Adobe and Blender. These are the platforms where you can come across people who are up to discuss your concerns. You will find answers to many of your questions or you can choose to strike up a conversation yourself. Such informative platforms allow you to find and explore industry professionals as well.

Aid your learning process through YouTube and an impressive portfolio.

This goes without saying; YouTube is your best friend. Watching tutorials can help you out in knowing tips, tricks and aid your entire learning process. To land a great first job, it is advisable to maintain a strong portfolio. A well-maintained, impressive portfolio goes a long way. Make sure that the portfolio reflects your creativity and technical skills.

Find jobs on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is another platform that you shouldn’t miss out on. With legitimate job opportunities, you can kickstart your 3D animation career from here. Keep an eye on places you would like to work at, and do not shy away from applying.

But above all, you need dedication and willingness to prosper as a 3D animator.

Best 3D Animation Books

Though there are numerous 3D animation books available, we have shortlisted a few best down below.

Final Thoughts

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 an 3d animation 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.

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Adam is a copywriter and content specialist with years of experience in the digital industry. She has a knack for blending creativity with strategic insight that leads different businesses, particularly animation and tech, to success. Her persuasive and impactful content not just inform.