12 Popular Techniques In 3D Animation
Although plenty of people would associate animation with cartoons and films, it has become a medium of communication that benefits plenty of other fields like medicine, architecture, military, and business.
Animation has gone a long way from its inception. Technology has evolved from hand-drawn 2D animation to CGI-developed 3D animation. Regardless of the technique, however, animation principles stay the same for artists to create a convincing, immersive world for the audience.
3D Animation Techniques
3D animation, while tracing its roots in the 1960’s, started to gain more mainstream traction after the release of Pixar’s Toy Story in 1995.
From then on, various techniques emerged that constantly push the boundaries of motion-based design:
1. Digital 3D
Digital 3D is the latest technique in the roster of 3D animation. It uses software programs (e.g. Houdini, LightWave, Maya, etc) to create computer-generated imagery (CGI) and provide an even more realistic film than the old 3D movies.
Old 3D uses colour-filtering lenses, with red on one eye and blue or green on the other. However, these lenses tend to give viewers headaches, eye strain, or nausea due to the inaccuracy in colour that your eyes perceive.
Digital 3D, on the other hand, uses polarized lenses. Each lens is polarized differently, allowing only the correct light wave to pass through. Instead of seeing green or red when watching, movies made using this technique would look normal but blurred without glasses.
2. Stereoscopic 3D
Stereoscopic 3D videos enhance a viewer’s illusion of depth of perception. It came from the practice of stereoscopic photography, where two offset images were shown separately to the left and the right eye.
With videos, an image or a scene is recorded from two perspectives using separate cameras, simulating the distance between the viewer’s eyes.
With the audience wearing filtered lenses, the brain fuses the two views together, giving the viewer an illusion of depth on the screen and out of the screen. It makes the viewer feel like the objects on the video are jumping out of the screen.
A good example of this is James Cameron’s film Avatar that came out in 2009.
3. CGI Cutout Animation
Cutout animation is the use of flat characters, props, and backgrounds typically from paper or cardboard. Some even use stiff fabric or cut out photos.
Derived from the traditional stop-motion technique, cutout animation involves moving characters and props one small step at a time, and then taking a photo of each step until the scene is complete.
With CGI thrown into the mix, scanned images or graphics can now give the perception of cutout animation.
A popular example is animated TV show South Park. Its pilot episode is made of paper cutouts, then eventually transitioned into computer software. Another example is the children’s TV show Blue’s Clues.
4. Motion Capture
Motion capture or mo-cap technique records the movement of people or objects. Facial expressions and body movements are used to digitally animate the characters on video.
You can see this technique employed with The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogy’s character Gollum, wherein the filmmakers captured Andrew Serkis’ movements and performance. The same technique is applied to Benedict Cumberbatch’s character Smaug.
Considered as a special effect, morphing changes an image into another in a seamless fashion. Plenty of movies employ this technique to signify a change in the character’s age or to morph a character from one form to another, typically in fantasy and sci-fi movies.
6. Non-photorealistic rendering
Non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) gives artists another avenue to create stories separate from mainstream animated films that try to be as real as possible. Photorealistic rendering creates videos that look realistic; NPR creates videos that simulate a three-dimensional world in ways that do not resemble realism.
NPR gives the impression that the video is made from painting, sketching, or pencil drawing the characters and backgrounds. Although it is reminiscent of traditional animation, NPR is actually CGI-generated.
Cel-shaded animation is a type of NPR that makes 3D objects appear flat by using less shading colour. It looks like a “flat” 3D style that resembles those of anime. An example of cel-shaded animation would be The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.
7. Computer-generated Stop Motion
Mixing the old and the new, computer-generated stop motion still uses traditional photography but with the help of CGI and visual effects (VFX) technology. It continues to use physical objects as characters, then employs VFX to create set extensions, complex animations, and edit existing objects.
Laika Studio’s Boxtrolls is a perfect example, which interestingly uses 3D printing to build its physical models.
Similar to the traditional stop-motion technique, Claymation sets itself apart by using moulded objects out of clay instead of plastic or other materials. Animators also apply a frame-by-frame process of taking photos of the clay object’s every slight motion.
The paint-on-glass technique takes advantage of the slow-drying component of oil paint to tell a story. Animators then manipulate oil paints on sheets of glass. With the help of linseed oil and mineral turpentine, the artist can clean parts of the glass when the scene needs changing.
Backgrounds can be smudged to show a change in scenery. Other materials can be used like sand, brick dust, or watercolour to add more effect to the video.
Russian animator Aleksandr Petrov is one of the artists who use this technique on films, all of which earned their respective awards.
It’s not just characters who can come to life in 3D animation. In typography, letters are given life and movement as well. Special effects give different font styles and sizes to deliver a message or a story, be it in a film or short video.
UK-based counselling service for children ChildLine released an ad that follows the kinetic typography technique.
Invented by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker, pinscreen animation uses a screen filled with movable pins to create the illusion of movement. Light is provided from one side, allowing the pins to cast shadows. A tool is then used to press the pins together (instead of one by one which risks breaking the pin).
The process involves thousands or millions of pins placed on an evenly-spaced grid. These pins can be pushed or pulled in any length that the filmmaker would like, thereby manipulating the surface to resemble the background and movement of characters.
Unfortunately, the technique is very difficult to achieve due to the time it would take to create one movie and the challenge in using the device. In fact, over the course of 50 years, Alexeieff and Parker only created six films with short running times. However, the poetic nature of their work gained them numerous awards.
Another variation of the stop-motion technique, pixilation also uses frame-by-frame technique to capture the motion of the characters of objects. However, instead of paper, clay, or plastic, pixilation uses live actors.
Live actors would typically pose and move minimally, frame by frame, while their photos are taken. Many videos employ this technique to mix live actors with an animated background.
The evolution of technology gave birth to various forms of 3D animation. Whichever technique you would use for your video, make sure that it would effectively deliver your brand’s message.
You can view our 3D animation showreel here and the get in touch to let us know what your organisation needs, and we will discuss with you how you can best deliver your presentation.