What is 3D Animation? Tips, Tools, and More

What is 3D Animation? Tips, Tools, and More

13min read  

19 Jan 2021

From our favorite Disney movies to our favorite video games, we’ve made 3D animation an inseparable part of our lives. Technology improves, and our graphics get livelier, sharper, cooler. Remember when the famous animated movie “The Polar Express” came out back in 2004, and a significant number of people found it unsettling and even creepy due to the animation’s striking realism?

Well, the days when hyper-realistic animations would freak people out are long over. Nowadays, we’re so used to seeing high-quality 3D animations that we tend to take them for granted and disregard the long, elaborate process it takes to produce them.

The entertainment industry is not the only consumer of 3D animation. The latter is widely used in education, medicine, architecture, and of course, advertising. From all the various animation styles, 3D is by far the most demanded one, especially among younger generations.

It’s easy to see why people love 3D animations: They’re super exciting, inviting, and a great communicator. It’s no surprise so many businesses rely on them for brand storytelling, building a friendly image, and attracting more customers.

Today, we’re going to uncover 3D animation, how it’s created, some tips and tricks, what 3D animation software to use, and how to make your animation online even if you’re not a pro animator. Ready? Let’s get started!


  • What is 3D Animation?
  • The Process of 3D Animation
  • 3D Animation Tips and Tricks
  • How to Choose 3D Animation Software
  • Create Your 3D Animation Online


What is 3D Animation?

3D animation is the process of placing characters and objects in a 3D space and manipulating them to create the illusion of motion. The objects are made based on 3D models assimilated in a digital environment using 3D modeling tools. Alternatively, real-life objects can be scanned into a computer and become blueprints for animated 3D objects. 

The goal of 3D animators is to move objects and characters in a given scene as realistically as possible. You can create the perfect cartoon character, but if its movements are awkward, uneven, or robotic, all your hard work will go down the drain. Hence, animators spend quite some time studying the basic principles of movement to make their animations believable.

Did you notice how fluid and lifelike the 3D characters’ each movement looks in the example above? Even though the story takes place in an animated world, the latter is still consistent with the physics of our world — well, for the most part.


The Process of 3D Animation

Now, onto the more practical part — how is 3D animation accomplished? The pre-production is not too far from that of 2D animation. It starts with developing a storyline and a storyboard, sketching the 3D characters, setting up the background layouts, and laying the foundation for the production process. The full animation process is quite complex and nuanced, but here are the main phases.


  1. Modeling

Before we can have a functioning scene with characters and interactions, we first need to build our 3D objects. As mentioned before, objects are based on 3D computer models. A basic model is a 3D mesh consisting of points, lines, and curves arranged in such a way as to map out the object. A computer sees models as pure geometric shapes. It’s not until colors and textures are added that the map of the object comes alive.

Baby Groot 3D model

Source: Free3D

But before the character can move, it needs a controllable skeleton, much like humans and animals. Rigging is the process of producing that skeleton. Once the skeleton is formed, the 3D model (also called skin) is attached to the rig to get the character ready for being animated.


  1. Layout and Animation

Once the 3D characters are all set, it’s time to put them in their respective scenes and animate their movements with 3D animation software. As you’ll see in the video below, the first stages of the animation process are very rough; movements and transitions are sharp and unnatural.

Such a rough first draft is achieved because animators first create the starting and ending poses of any motion. These poses are known as keyframes. The lighting, camerawork (picking the angles and depth of a shot), effects, and other details are added much later to produce the final, smooth animation that we see on our screens.


  1. Rendering

The last part of the animation production process is rendering. This is when the animation is finalized and exported. This step requires great attention to detail to ensure the final render is well polished. 

Here the main production process ends, followed by post-production where special effects, music, voice-over, and sound effects are added and synchronized with the whole animation.

3D animated production pipeline

Source: Research Gate


3D Animation Tips and Tricks

While it is true that 3D animation can be a laborious process, there are a bunch of tips and tricks to make the workflow a lot smoother. Of course, your work process will naturally become quicker and more productive the more experience you get, but here are some 3D animation tips to help you make the most of your efforts.


Progress With Technology

Technology grows; there are constant updates, new software, improved features, and it can be hard to keep up at times. But if you’re determined to stay on top of things and be up to speed with your field, you need to grow with technology.

3D animation software has advanced a lot, and the right tools can save you time to work on more projects. Be sure to pick 3D animation software that corresponds with your level of mastery. You never want to go for fancy, complex systems you won’t be able to use proficiently.

Once you have your 3D animation software, you really need to make it yours. Familiarize yourself with the program, learn the shortcuts, tailor the tool to you so it best supports your workflow.

Maya Autodesk 3D animation tool

Source: Autodesk


Observe Real Life

As a 3D animator, you’ll probably notice that the more time passes, the more of an observer you become. After all, your goal is to make your 3D characters and objects as realistic as possible. And the best way to imitate real life is to know how it functions.

Observe and study the physics of every-day life. This doesn’t mean, though, you should pursue a physics diploma. Just doing some research and understanding the effects of gravity will do the job. Basic knowledge of gravity will help you give reasonable weight to your objects and make their movements more convincing.

It’s always useful to have a real-life reference before you start working on your animations. Want to animate a jump? Get up from your desk and perform the action yourself! How do you gain momentum before taking the jump? How do you land? Where do you keep your arms? Have your 3D characters mimic your movements.


Know the Subtleties of Human Emotion

If your animation includes 3D characters and complicated interactions between them, you’ll need to spend a good chunk of your time working on facial animation. Knowing how to portray complex emotions is key to transforming a good animation into a great one.

It’s difficult to connect to an animated character unless it expresses humanlike feelings. To master animating faces, learn how to maneuver facial expressions, what emotion each of them is tied to, and so on. Your observation skills will again come in handy here. Watch how people communicate, how they react to their environment, and how they convey certain emotions.

You can grab a mirror and study your own expressions if you’d like. Whatever approach you choose, remember that face animation gives your character a personality, making it much more relatable.

3D facial animation

Source: Pinterest


Basics First, Details Later

It’s easy to get lost in the animation process and start picking at details, losing track of the bigger picture. It can save you a lot of time and frustration if you smartly arrange your priorities — basics first, details later.

Focus on your key poses first, as those are imperative to move the storyline forward. You can always come back and fill the details in later, but first, make sure you have your keyframes nailed down. Not only will this allow you to keep track of timing but will also help you focus on your character’s main motives instead of getting distracted by trivial details.


Demo Reel Goes a Long Way

Our next tip is not for the animation process itself, but 3D animators will certainly benefit from it. Whether you’re applying for a job, project, or contest, the way you present yourself speaks volumes about your professionalism.

An animator’s demo reel is the best medium to introduce yourself and your work. In short, a demo reel is a compilation of clips of your best works to present your skills to clients or employers. Your demo reel doesn’t need to be very long, but it does need to be polished. Aside from sending it to potential employers, you can also share it on social media to increase your personal brand’s visibility.


How to Choose 3D Animation Software

The variety of 3D animation software can seem overwhelming, but your current skill set will help to narrow down your choices. If you’re just getting started, look for beginner-friendly programs and upgrade your software once you’re truly ready. Most tools offer free trials, so take full advantage of those before choosing 3D animation software to commit to.

Specifying your animation needs is another critical step to picking the right software. What features are you looking for? Do you need epic visual effects, real-time rendering, a tool specialized in human models, or one for product design?

To ease your search for a suitable program, we have gathered a list of the best 3D animation software tools. Check them out below:


Create Your 3D Animation Online

If you don’t want to dive into learning to work with 3D animation software, there’s a simpler way to create 3D animations. Our online video maker provides tools to help you make cartoons, educational videos, explainers, product promos, or anything else you wish to create.

Our animation maker is user-friendly and easy to work with, even if you have no experience with animation. The best option for creating 3D animations is our popular 3D Explainer Video Toolkit. It offers ready-to-go 3D characters and animated backgrounds that you can customize with your content.

Create Now

All that’s left to do is pick the scenes that suit your video script, arrange them in your preferred order, and add your images, videos, and text.

Renderforest 3D Explainer Toolkit scenes

The color palette, transitions between scenes, as well as music can also be altered to meet your animation needs. You can add voice-over to your project if it needs narration. Feel free to upload the ready-made audio file or record your voice-over on the spot with our specialized tool.

Once your beautiful animation is done, preview the project to make sure you’re fully satisfied with the outcome. If you find your video needs a little more polishing, go back and re-edit it as many times as you need to.


To Recap

3D animation has taken over more aspects of our lives than we often imagine. It’s a key player in filmmaking, game development, social media, medicine, engineering, architecture, and the list goes on. As 3D animation software steadily progresses, the gap between 3D animation and real life seems to grow smaller. 

Unlike 2D animation, 3D takes place in a three-dimensional environment — hence the name. This article focused on the main process of 3D production, 3D animation tips, the best animation tools to use, and their online alternative to get your animated videos in minutes.

We hope this post was useful to you in some way. Keep creating awesome animations!


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