What is 3D animation and its scope?

Are you creative and love movies, then 3D animation is for you
By Aaron Dmello

12-07-2021

3D animations have become an intrinsic part of the entertainment industry in all its varieties. It is a multi-billion global industry and is evolving at a fast pace. 3D animation is very different from 2D animation and promises an exciting career scope for there is more demand than supply of 3D animation experts.

3D animation, as the name suggests, is in three-dimensions and a variety of specialists are required to produce the final 3d animation. 3D animation is also the starting point only after which, most of the VFX effects are possible.

3D animation takes the pleasure of viewing a cartoon to whole different level. I’m sure you have a litany of favorite 3d animated movies and frankly I myself am eagerly waiting for the next part of Kung Fu Panda, Hotel Transylvania, Ice Age or may even another Shrek.

There exists a great demand for k3D animated movies and the market for the product as well as its produces is constantly growing. Masterpieces from production companies like Sony, DreamWorks, Walt Disney, Pixar and other major players have left moviegoers asking for more. This demand is not only limited to 3d animated movies but also extends over to movies which make heavy use of VFX.  Meanwhile, let us not forget the gaming industry which also is dependent on 3D animation. Thus a lot of 3D animation related work is being outsourced to the Indian animation industry which is seeing tremendous growth globally. Hence, if you have a creative streak in you and love watching movies then a career in the 3D animation industry is well advised.

What is 3D animation?

3D animation is a mighty ocean and doing animation is only but a small part of it. The art of using motion to create and move or put life into characters, vehicles, props and other objects is 3D animation. This form of animation is widely used in movies, TV shows, games and more. However, this is not a one man show and has a variety of areas in which one can specialize.

A 3D animation will require a variety of expertise to reach the final reel. The project will require a 3D modeler, 3D rigging artist, texturing artist, layout artist, 3D animator, rendering artist and also may be a compositor. Although this can be achieved by one person, the time required will be colossal and hence, the expertise is divided to its own specialists.

In 3D animation, a character or an environment, or a prop is first drawn on a paper in three dimensions. In other words, before creating a character on software, the concept art or reference image is first drawn in proportion from the front, side and top angles.

For example, let us create a human. The concept art is first drawn from at least two angles, the front and the side. It is then scanned to the workstation and primitive polygons like a box or a sphere is used to make a rough structure of the drawing. It is then followed by sculpting which will smoothen the angled polygon structure and you will see more structure coming into the character. Muscles and basic facial structure and appendages are added in this section.

After creating the almost done yet slightly angular model, it undergoes retopology where in, the already existing mesh of the character is reworked to carve in finer details. Once the required vertices are added mostly in the areas of the character that require finer movement in the animation, we proceed to the next section, accessorizing.

In the accessorizing part of the character creation, it is dressed with clothes and any or all other accessories like sunglasses, shoes, or something else. This is followed by texturing. Applying texture to the character is basically applying paint on it. Well, you start with paint buy then it all adds up to many layers which could include skin roughness or texture, blemishes, hair and other details.

Once the character has reached the external details required, it needs a skeleton and that comes in rigging. In this part of the character designing, the so far finished model is mated with a skeleton which will help in providing the motion to the limbs and the body. Rigging is like adding strings to a puppet using which it can be animated.

Rigging simplifies the animation of the model however, rigging can be as complex as the finer movements a model might need. Making a simple body move may require only one skeleton but if one was animating a hand along with the fingers while the body moves, then the number of skeleton require will increase and so on and so forth.

Now, created character model along with the texture and skeleton is finally reaches the stage of animation. The work of the 3D animator is to give motion to the model based on the story requirement which could anything from talking to running, fighting, jumping and the lot.

Meanwhile, work also needs to be done concerning the camera angle on the model and its lighting. Sometimes, the camera may remain stationary or might only pan, tilt or zoom. However, in some cases, the camera will also need to react to the motion in front of it which could be like following an object or creating camera shake while something passes quickly very close to the camera.

In the lighting section, there may be need for multiple lights or a single light falling on the model. It could be sunlight or moonlight. It all depends on the story but is an essential part of the final look of the entire scene.


Once the model is created it needs to be in an environment which could anything from a village, to a room or a jungle and everything in between. The background will require its own modelling, texturing, rigging, animation and lighting.

With the creation of a character and its surroundings there may be still a need for special effects and this is where the bling comes. The VFX part will include effects like fire, water, particle effects and a whole lot of simulations. This may be achieved on the in-built effects of the 3D software or through another software from which the final clip is composited.

Thus creating a small 3D animation clip will require a variety of expertise to reach a fruitful end. Hence, there are a variety of areas of specialization and you can select the one you are most interested in.  3D animation is not a one man job but rather a group effort by a variety of experts.

Motion Capture

As mentioned before a 3D model is rigged and then animated but there is another method to get the animation and it is through motion capture or MoCap. This method is used to get a more realistic and natural animation of a pre-designed 3D model.

Motion capture will involve an actor is skin-tight motion capture suit and a camera connected in front of the actors face to record facial movement. The motion done by the actor is then recorded through different software and then fed to the 3D model’s rig. This will make the model act similar to the way the actor moves.

This may look like a time saver on animation but it is not so. Motion capture comes with its own bag of drawbacks. Ultimately, animators will be required to make the animation more fluid or even create the 3D model in the first place.

I’ve mentioned motion capture technology here because it is a relatively new technology and is gaining much usage in movies like Lord of the Rings or avatar. However, 3D animation has been existing much before this tech and is still required to smoothen out certain issues created by motion capture which lacks visually expressive principals of animation. Hence, 3D animators are still very much in demand even though there is a growing attraction for Motion Capture technology.

Difference between 2D and 3D animation

2D animation and 3D animation are two different forms of art. Fundamentally, 2D animation is based on drawing frames by hand. Meanwhile, 3D animation is almost entirely done within a computer.

In 2D animation, the character will remain in two different poses between two key frames and the frames in-between are individually drawn. Also if the character closes its eyes there will be no need to draw an eye ball.

However, in 3D animation all the parts of the character will exist all the time. The 3D model will be created with eyeballs and when the character closes its eyes, the eyeballs will still remain in th scene, albeit, behind the eyelids.

Essentially, in 2D animation you draw only those things which need to be seen and if a character needs to keep its hand behind its back, there will be no need or sense in drawing the whole hand which by default it covered by the body.

3D animation has a slight advantage over 2D animation since the character is in a 3D space and the camera angle can be changed in any angle in real-time, However, in 2D animation the camera angle is set from the first key frame and hence any need to change camera angle will need the entire sequence to be redrawn.

Similarly, 3D animation is simplified as the software can interpolate and create animation between two key frames which are about ten frames apart. However, in 2D animation the animator will have to spend loads of time drawing every single frame with accuracy.

Another difference between 2D and 3D animation is the frame rate. Generally, 3D animation is done @ 24 frames per second (fps). However, 2D animation is possible at half the rate, which is 12 fps commonly known as “working io2s”. In this form, only 12 frames are drawn instead of 24 frames per second and yet, it retains the flow and does not appear irregular.

Skills required to be a 3D animator

The land of 3D animation is an oasis of creativity. This is where characters are created, given life and stories told which creating memories for a lifetime. Animation is a dream world worth a lifetime but to enter this universe one needs to have a certain set of skills which include,

  • Creativity
  • Be a Team worker
  • Attention to Detail
  • Be able to absorb information quickly
  • Good memory
  • Be organized and
  • Push boundaries to overcome challenges

Learning 3D Animation

3D animation can be learnt by anybody who know how to use a computer. However, starting early is well advised. If you have an aptitude in sketching, drawing and deep interest in computers, then 3D animation industry offers you an exciting career.

3D animation training is provided by a variety of institution in different forms. The eligibility criteria may vary from institution to institution by generally needs a 10+2 from a recognised board with at least 45% marks. The 3D animation training is available in various forms including

  • BA in animation
  • BFA in animation
  • Diploma in 3D animation
  • Advance Diploma in 3D animation
  • Certificate in 3D animation

Best 3D Animation Software: Paid and Free

Software

Platform

Version

3ds Max

Windows

Paid

Motionbuilder

Windows

Paid

Blender

Windows and MacOS

Free

Cinema 4D

Windows and MacOS

Paid

Clara.io

Browser

Free

Daz3D

Windows and MacOS

Free

Houdini

Windows and MacOS

Paid

Maya

Windows and MacOS

Paid

Wings 3D

Windows and MacOS

Free

Mixamo

Windows and MacOS

Paid

 

Jobs in 3D animation industry

There are over 15k animation professionals employed in over 300 animation studios in India. The gaming industry is the prime employer in this field followed by movie industries like Hollywood and Bollywood. The animation industry is constantly evolving and growing and there is a big demand for talented and trained animators.

Meanwhile, it is worth noting that although the industry is called 3D animation industry it is not necessary that you will end up being a 3D animator. The 3D animation industry is made of a variety of jobs and hence you can get specialized in any one area of it. You will make the decision on what area you would like to specialize in after joining the course. There are many different roles in the 3Danimatio industry which include

  • Concept Artist
  • Storyboard Artist
  • Modeller
  • Texturing Artist
  • Matte Painter
  • Rigging Artist
  • Matchmover/Camera Tracker
  • Camera/Layout Artist
  • Animator
  • Lighting

Excluding the above-mentioned designations in the 3D animation industry, there are still a variety of jobs that are necessary for an animation studio to function flawlessly. Besides, there are many other industries that are dependent or make use of 3D animators in various capacities.

An individual trained in the art of 3D animation can get employment in a variety of different but related industries like

  • Entertainment industry like films, series and cartoons
  • Gaming & Virtual Reality
  • Interior Design & Architecture
  • Marketing & Advertising
  • Science & Technology
  • Military & Defence
  • Medicine
  • Education
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail

3D animator salary

Employees in the 3D animation industry get competitive remuneration which improves based on experience and/or designation. A junior animator who has completed in-house training with a leading animation production studio can earn between Rs.12000 to Rs.18000. In time, the employee can gain experience, undergo promotion, and earn wages between Rs. 25,000 to Rs.40,000. Meanwhile, highly skilled animators with a portfolio of reputable work in animation can earn Rs. 50,000-60,000 per month.

Freelance 3D animator

Employment opportunities in the animation industry are abundant and arise from the same industry or associated industries. Amongst this ocean of opportunities lies a niche market for freelance animators. In the backdrop of cost-cutting or cost-effective production design, many studios outsource their work to freelancers in India.

A 3D freelance animator can get employed from any corner of the work and earn handsomely. An average annual income earned by a freelance 3D animator can range from Rs 1.2 lakh/yr to Rs. 3.1 lk/yr depending on experience and can also increase based on the country you get hired from. It is worth noting that numerous freelance 3d animator job opportunities may be found on business and employment-oriented online services like LinkedIn, freelancer, Fiverr, and others.

Conclusion

The 3D animation industry is massive, providing a challenging and exciting career. The industry is for those with a flair for imagination, creativity and an eye for details. If you want to be a part of the universe that creates new and attractive worlds of beauty then working in the 3D animation industry is meant for you.