3D animation is becoming more ubiquitous. It takes us by surprise in yet another film scene that is impossible in real life, catches the imagination with the richness of forms and colors in advertising and immerses us into completely different worlds in computer games. Its amazing ability break down the boundaries between the real and the imaginary sometimes makes it impossible to determine what is in front of us – a natural shooting or a carefully designed and implemented computer simulation.

Animation offers a medium of storytelling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world

Walt Disney, animator, writer, voice actor and film producer

Unlike 2D animation, 3D animation invites the viewer into space with height, width and depth, providing maximum realism and stunning detail. But 3D animation is just a general name for a three-dimensional kingdom that encompasses a wide variety of animation types. Let’s try to look into their straight classification row and understand what they are and where they are used.

The Unbearable Variety of 3D Animation Art Styles

The very name of 3D animation implies that here we are talking about giving movement to a certain three-dimensional object. If a 2D drawing cannot be viewed from all angles and the animator needs to create a separate perspective for each of them, then the 3D figure perfectly rotates 360 degrees, approaches and moves away at the animator’s discretion. So, frame by frame cycle with strict compositional rules of 2D animation turns into complete freedom of viewing angles in the case of 3D.

This is the main thing we need to know first about the differences between 2D and 3D animation. Now let’s go directly to 3D animation types.

Digital 3D

Also known as computer-generated imagery, this is the creation of animations and special effects using computer software such as Maya, Cinema 4D and SketchUp. A feature of this type of animation is the scope of its application. Basically, this is cinematography: creating visual effects and scenery that cannot be achieved or received using traditional methods, or replacing the work of stuntmen with especially dangerous stunts. It is also used to create digital heroes for live-action movies and in-game videos for video games (Stormdivers by Housemarque with character animation by Kevuru Games).

This type of 3D animation is intended solely for visual experience: the audience does not interact with objects in the digital environment.

The essence of animation is to create a 3D character model, set certain positions aka keyframes and use a system of splines to determine the movement of the character within these positions. The software interpolates the necessary frames connecting the key ones, after which the animator refines the details.

Thus, 3D animation is a complex and time-consuming process that requires the involvement of several specialists at once:

  1. The concept artist
    Visualizes the main idea and makes detailed sketches of the character or object with all possible nuances.
  2. The 3D modeler
    Takes the baton and creates a 3D model based on the concept art.
  3. The 3D animator
    Creates a skeleton for the 3D model, rigs it with bones and controls and sets its movement.

It is important to understand that the animator is responsible for a huge piece of work: unlike hand-drawn frames of 2D animation, each part of a 3D character or object in 3D animation is constantly in sight and must be worked out regardless of whether it moves into the next second or not.

When rendering, each frame is processed by the computer separately, and therefore the process takes a lot of time. It depends on the length of the animation and the quality of the image.

Interactive 3D

Interactive 3D animation is created exclusively in digital form using special software. As the name suggests, there is an interaction between the viewer and objects in the digital environment in this type of animation. This is a classic option for creating computer video games: the player has the ability to move around in a three-dimensional environment using a mouse, keyboard or joystick.

The possibilities for implementing this kind of animation are great and limited only by the game engine used to create the game. But at Kevuru Games, we are able to skillfully weave any 3D animation ideas and limitations of game engines into a single organic canvas: this is quite possible if experience, skills and creative vision are on board.

Due to the possibility of interaction, special demands are put in for animation. It should be highly customizable as the player can approach the object from different angles and under different conditions. Animators need to carefully work out the dynamics of the animated 3D background and provide smooth shape transitions at the right time. The same goes for character animation: the main character must strictly follow all the control requests from the player.

Virtual Reality 3D

Partially similar to interactive animation, this type takes a step forward towards total immersiveness. The exploration of the three-dimensional world is carried out using special VR headsets such as Google Glass or Oculus. For example, Boneworks by Stress Level Zero is a virtual reality game using the Unity engine that supports all PC-compatible VR headsets.

Animation production for VR games is extremely difficult. Since the player is immersed in them completely literally, all the environments and elements must be perfectly worked out and look like real.

Augmented reality animation is also a front-runner in the gaming world. Games with it do not require special headsets and are often released for Android and iOS. All you need is an AR supported smartphone. A legendary example is PokΓ©mon GO, which opened augmented reality games to millions of players. The combination of influencing nostalgic feelings and using modern technology, previously known only to narrow range of people, gave the game several Guinness records and stunning profits.

Stop Motion

This is a kind of homage to 2D animation: a frame-by-frame technique in which objects are physically manipulated in small increments between individually photographed frames to depict the independent movement as a series of frames are played back in quick succession. Simply put, animation is created by taking frame-by-frame photographs of elements. The space for creativity is limitless here: you can use objects, toys, products, dolls and so on. Most often, this type of animation is used for commercials, presentation and music videos.

Stop motion animation is divided into different subtypes depending on the objects used:

  1. Claymation – clay or platinum objects
  2. Cutout – characters, objects and backgrounds are cut out of flat material: paper, cardboard or fabric
  3. Silhouette – flat characters, objects and backgrounds depicted in the form of black silhouettes
  4. Action figures/Lego – Lego characters or action figures
  5. Puppet – dolls and puppets
  6. Pixilation – live people and existing environments

Regardless of the object chosen, stop motion animation requires you to adhere to the main rule: take pictures only straight-ahead from the same angle. It is very difficult to correct an incorrectly captured frame, because for this, you need to recreate the entire composition at a particular moment. Therefore, this type of animation requires special attention and patience.

Cel Shading

Also known as toon shading, cel-shaded animation is the stylization of 3D to make it look like a hand-drawn flat art. Therefore, if you come across the question of how to make 3D animation look 2D, feel free to answer that it can be done with cel shading. This effect is achieved by special rendering settings. Cel shading is very often used in video games (Afro Samurai by Bandai Namco or Astral Chain by PlatinumGames), cartoons and commercial videos.

The main features of this technology are:

  1. Non-photorealistic textures in a soft color palette
  2. Hard shadow boundaries
  3. Ink outline effect in the best traditions of the hand-drawn style

The point is to make the volume look flat in real time. Shadows should be smooth and uniform. These rules are more difficult to implement in practice than when creating realistic objects, and often they are applicable only for stationary or non-animated bodies. For example, this is implemented in many 2D animated series like The Simpsons or Futurama.

Motion Capture

A must-have for developers of films, AAA titles, and mobile projects, this technology allows making the movements of characters truly realistic and to stage almost any scene.

The main application of mocap is recording the movement of an actor for character animation. Animals, horses and dogs are often recorded. Sometimes mocap data is used as a reference for further manual character animation. The main advantage of a mocap is that the animator immediately gets the correct weight and timing of the character. Realistic movements are most often not as smooth and accurate as in a cartoon, and just this vitality is quite difficult to animate just with hands.

The first to make all game animation entirely based on motion capture technology was Quantic Dream, which released Fahrenheit in 2005. Along with this, a whole series of cinematic games was born, culminating in Death Stranding.

Modern engines like Unreal Engine 4 make it easier and faster to work on a mockup, because they help with pre-rendering and allow you to see the whole scene at once. Mocking is much easier today than it was ten years ago: actors can see their 3D avatars and surroundings right on the set.

With the development of technology and graphics in games and movies, the combination of Performance Capture is increasingly used instead of Motion Capture. Thus, the merits of the actors are emphasized: both those who are responsible for the movements of the characters, and celebrities who donate faces and voices to computer models. Collaborating with dozens or even hundreds of actors has long been an integral part of the production, and for Keanu Reeves or Mads Mikkelsen, being involved in the development of a game today is as exciting as filming a blockbuster.

Motion Graphics

This is a large section, including both 2D and 3D directions and having a huge field of application: commercials, television programs, product and explainer videos, presentations, sporting events, live streams and much more, where the dynamic movement of text, logos and images can be useful.

As a rule, characters are not involved here due to the complexity of implementing their movement when you need to create fast and high-quality motion graphics. But the number of logo animation options, visual effects and the ability to add 3D animation allow creating a huge variety of high-quality corporate videos, animated videos for product presentation, creative CVs and much more.

Motion graphics design technology is the use of keyframing and tweening to ensure smooth transitions. Modern technologies allow you to quickly create motion graphics, even for online videos and streams.

Motion Wizard Toolkit or Simply 3D Animation Software

Let’s take a short break before the last gasp and cast a glance at the main animation tools that allow working no less than miracles.

Type of 3D animation Animation software Price
Digital 3D
Interactive 3D
Virtual Reality 3D
Cel shading
Autodesk Maya


Cinema 4D
$1620/1 year
$4375/3 year


$719,88/1 year
Stop motion Dragonframe

Stop Motion Studio
$295 + USB controller
$305 + Bluetooth controller

$4,99 for iOS/Android
$9,99 for Mac/Windows
Motion capture Autodesk Maya

Autodesk MotionBuilder
$1620/1 year
$4375/3 year

$1855/1 year
$5010/3 year
Motion graphics Adobe After Effects

Cinema 4D
$239,88/1 year

$719,88/1 year

3D Animation Techniques Worth Paying Attention To

If we are already so well versed in the varieties of 3D animation, then why not expand the result and add the top 3 animation techniques used by animators throughout the world to our knowledge box.

Skeletal Animation

Also referred to as rigging, this technique involves animating a 3D figure with relatively few controls that resemble the skeleton or structure of a puppet in appearance and operation. Each bone is attached to the previous one, taking into account the anatomical rules, so that when a single bone moves, all the vertices attached to it also move. This greatly simplifies the work of the animator since one need to set the position and rotations of the bones and not all existing vertices of the model. The vertices movements are ultimately calculated based on the movement of the bones. The skeleton itself is called a rig, and the surface representation of the model is called a mesh or skin.

Inverse Kinematics

This is an animation method, the essence of which is to find a set of joint configurations that would provide the softest, fastest and most accurate movement to the given points. It is most often used to work out the movements of the arms and legs of characters and is applied to models of any characters or objects that are created using skeletal animation. Movement is achieved by setting the position of the last bone in the bone chain, and other bones are automatically positioned in the right place. For example, if the grip of the object with the fingers is animated, then the wrist will naturally move in the desired direction as well.

This is how it differs from forward kinematics: in its case, in order to move the character’s hand to the object and take it, one first need to give it a general position by moving the shoulder, then set the position for the forearm and, last of all, turn the hand in the right direction and ensure that the object is captured with fingers.

Fluid Simulation

The name defines the purpose of this technique – animating fluids such as water, lava or smoke. The essence lies in the imitation of the movement of fluids as close to reality as possible, due to which one can create impressive pictures of thunderstorms and storms. This same technique is used if it is needed to illustrate the behavior of fire or large-scale atmospheric effects. Therefore, it is popular not only for games, but also for films and even commercials.

The Bottom Line

Well, that’s all, now you know about the most famous types of 3D animation and their use cases. 3D animation continues to penetrate the most diverse areas of our life and expand the boundaries of reality. If you are considering options for creating your animation, then you can try your hand in the programs we have indicated, or … Or just drop us a few words about your wishes – we are extremely passionate about working with animation and will be happy to help you.

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