There was a time when animation was limited to hand-drawn characters. But digital drawing wasn’t invented overnight. Animation skills slowly became more advanced and 3D animation was developed.
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3D animation is now popular in both films and video games. It has become a standard animation style at many major production studios. 3D animation creates the illusion that a drawing has come to life and exists in an actual space.
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What Is 3D Animation?
3D animation is the art of creating objects in a three-dimensional space. In this type of design, height, width, and depth are all utilized. You can visualize it as a clay model in motion.
In fact, 3D animation originated with the use of clay models in the 1900s and was originally called claymation. Since then, 3D animation has evolved and is now largely computer-generated. The computer graphics and visual effects involved are modified digitally.
The earliest feature-length 3D-animated film was Toy Story in 1995. Since then, big studios have used 3D animation in many of the films you see in theaters today. 3D gives a better illusion of movement because it looks like real objects on the screen instead of flat drawings.
What Is 3D Animation Used For?
3D animation has uses in many industries. Once you start using 3D animation for your own projects, there is simply no going back. It is a unique way to showcase your message and engage viewers.
- Animated films. A majority of animated films today use 3D animation or stop motion animation. These styles are meant to appeal to children, who make up a majority of the audience for animated films.
- TV shows. Some TV shows with large budgets opt for 3D animation to draw the audience in. However, some shows still opt for 2D animation for stylistic or budgetary reasons.
- Gaming. 3D animation is prominent in video gaming. These features create more realistic gameplay. In simulation games, the top video game companies use 3D animation to give players the feeling they are actually in a scene inside the game.
- Education and teaching materials. Teachers and instructors can make use of 3D animated films and characters to keep their students’ attention, as young kids are particularly attracted to this style of graphic.
- Marketing promotions. Some businesses use 3D animations instead of real people to advertise their products and services. Certain products benefit more from this style of design.
Best Software Programs for 3D Animation
There are several types of 3D software that you can turn to if you want to learn about character animation. Each program has different levels of difficulty, so you should choose one that matches your skill level.
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However, you can try out any program to see if you are comfortable with it.
Maya is known as the most popular 3D animation program for professionals. It is an AutoDesk program and costs $205 per month. Maya not just be used for 3D animation, but also lighting, texturing, and rendering.
Blender is a free, open-source program that is good for beginners. Even though it’s free, it comes with a lot of animation features, such as body simulation, texturing, and 3D modeling. You can also capture facial expressions using this software.
Cinema 4D is a professional 3D modeling tool that costs about $73 per month. It can be used to create motion graphics and illustrations. Due to its popularity, there are many video tutorials and forums available online to guide you.
Clara.io is a free 3D animation software that has all the tools you’ll need to start creating 3D models. It also has a cloud storage feature that allows you to work on projects with others. You can also embed or attach your animations on your personal website.
Fusion 360 offers either a paid or a free subscription. If you are a student just starting in 3D animation and modeling, you can download and a free version. Through this program, you will learn different modeling techniques and freeform sculpting.
Learning 3D Animation
3D animators are in high demand all over the world. It is a skill that you will need if you want to break into the animation industry. There are a variety of animation classes available online and in-person to cater to your learning needs.
If you are taking a degree program to learn animation and production, then you are most likely going to encounter 3D animation as one of your subjects. For those who want to get started independently, you can review a variety of online resources to study.
How Long Does it Take to Learn 3D Animation?
There are a lot of elements you must learn to succeed at 3D animation. You need to understand movements, actions, and expressions. If your goal is to create 3D characters, then you must know how to essentially recreate people in digital form.
3D animation forums say it takes at least eight months to learn how to animate if you spend three to four hours per day. It takes serious dedication to learn 3D animation. Nonetheless, the time investment will pay off later on when you become a full-fledged animator.
According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, multimedia artists and animators earn an average of $75,270 per year. The industry has grown rapidly, so you can expect more jobs to crop up every year.
How to Learn 3D Animation: Step-by-Step
There are many platforms you can use to learn 3D animation. Despite the pandemic, you can take 3D animation classes online if face-to-face options are unavailable.
Regardless of your means of study, you can follow these steps to learn more about 3D animation.
- Familiarize yourself with the technical skills. Technical skills entail learning the basics of animation and how to operate your chosen software. Memorizing the functions of each tool will help make the learning process smoother.
- Set goals. Identifying your end goal while learning about animation will help you plan better. For example, if your goal is to become a professional animator, then the decision to purchase an official software program will be easy.
- Look for resources. These resources might include video tutorials, instructional materials, and books. You should save your favorites so you can refer to them while you’re practicing in order to improve your skills.
- Start your own project. Hands-on learning is important in acquiring technical and practical skills for 3D animation. Starting your own works of animation will help you hone your abilities.
- Watch more movies and TV series. You should study how people act and move so you can apply these characteristics to the animations you are working on. Specifically, copying facial expressions and movements accurately are key to successful animation.
The Best 3D Animation Courses
There are a lot of online animation courses you can choose from. You may want to take these classes at your own pace so that you can still complete your other engagements. Below are some 3D animation courses that you might want to consider.
Price: $1,185 monthly subscription (for 3 months)
Film and game animators have joined together to teach this course for beginners, which uses Maya software. Since this class covers all the basics, you can enroll with no prior experience.
The course lasts for three months, with a required time commitment of 20 hours per week. On-hand support is provided so you can get feedback on your project from your class mentor. This course is taught by industry experts, so you are sure to get value for your money.
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This offering by Udemy starts with the basics of 3D animation, then moves on to advanced techniques. Using the free 3D animation software Blender, you will create your first cartoon character, following the class’s step-by-step guide.
Aside from learning how to create an animated character, you will also study how to bring the 3D cartoon to life. This includes techniques for assigning movements and expressions that best imitate real people.
Price: $49 monthly subscription
This 3D animation course on Coursera teaches Unity, which is a well-known platform for creating 2D and 3D animations, particularly for use in video games. If you are interested in earning a certification from Unity as an official animator, then this course is a good choice.
Enrollees will work on two main projects to become more adept at Unity. Aside from these projects, you will also learn how to add lighting to your animations and build scenes.
For this particular Udemy course, you will use Adobe After Effects to create your 3D animations. It covers all of the methods, tools, and properties that you will need to learn to animate with this platform. Some other elements you will learn include how to master lights and shadows.
This class promises to be a unique experience. It will feature discussions on all aspects of the programs so that students get a thorough understanding. The course is open to beginners and professionals in a variety of fields, including video editors and motion graphics enthusiasts.
Certificate: Available if you pay $59
Explore Animation covers all types of animations, like 2D, 3D, and CGI. The course will run for four weeks and will be taught by award-winning animators. By the end, you will have learned a lot of new techniques to use in your career.
You need to have some background in animation to keep up with this course, although you don’t necessarily have to be an expert. The 3D animation section of the course consists of three lectures.
Best 3D Animation Books and Resources
Books are a good resource when you are trying to learn animation, as they usually offer the most comprehensive explanations and details. If you are more inclined to learn through written instructions, then check out these books below.
3D Animation Essentials, Andy Beane
This is a comprehensive book on the fundamentals and principles of 3D animation. Many aspiring artists choose this book to help them learn about 3D animation for video games and films. It covers details of animating from pre-production to post-production.
3D Art Essential, Ami Chopine
This book is all about the whys and hows of 3D animation. It will teach you why certain styles or techniques work for a particular project, while others do not. It also covers the basics of how to create scenery correctly.
Should You Study 3D Animation?
3D animation is the standard of the animation industry. A lot of films, TV shows, and games rely on 3D animation to ensure that their product appeals to a wide audience. The art of animation has evolved over the years, resulting in even more techniques to choose from as you design your cartoon.
There are comprehensive courses on 3D animation available in many forms that cover everything from the basics to advanced techniques. Studying 3D animation, whether you’re a student or a professional, will help you forge ahead in your career in the animation industry.
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