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In this article I will explain in simple terms what goes on behind the 3D animation you watch on film and what makes it different from conventional two-dimensional animation.

What is an extra 3rd dimension?

Take a sheet of paper and sketch a simple figure on it (cat, dog or whatever pops into your head). Say it’s a cat and is facing you from that piece of paper. So you have a front view of the cat in front of you. For example, if you felt like looking at the cat from the side, would it help to turn the paper around or turn it over? Not. Why? This is only because the sketch you drew has a missing 3rd dimension.

Every real world object you see around is 3rd dimensional and that is the reason why you can pick it up and rotate it to watch it from a different angle. The sketch you have drawn has a length and a width, because the paper you are drawing on also has a length and a width. But it has no thickness (3rd dimension) and hence your sketch also lacks that extra dimension. Suppose that instead of sketching your imagination on a piece of paper, you decide to sculpt it in a handful of clay. Since the medium you are using (clay) has volume, you will need to determine the shape of the cat from all angles during your sculpting. Hence you unconsciously added a 3rd dimension to it and that is the reason you have the freedom to rotate it any way you want.

How conventional 2D animation works: Before computers started playing their indispensable role in the animation industry, everything was done manually by animators, who were basically artists. They will create a series of slides that have an image on it, where each slide image is a continuation of the previous one in sequence. For example if the animators wanted to simulate a falling ball, they would create a slide sequence where the first slide would depict the ball at the top. The next slide will show a ball, maybe 1 cm lower than that on the first slide. On the next one, again lower and so on, until the last slide shows the ball hitting the ground. When the entire sequence of slides is displayed in front of the viewer at a fast pace, it creates the feeling of the ball falling down.

The whole process is tedious and time consuming. When the computer started playing the frame re-creation work has been minimized since, copying and pasting duplicate elements between successive frames is very easy with the help of a computer. Artist must make only the necessary changes that must exist between successive frames. As technology progressed software evolved that once again minimized the 2d animator’s work, to such an extent that things started automatically. Using motion tweening and other techniques, the animator can set the initial position or shape of the object and then the final position and shape and the computer will generate intermediate frames automatically. Artists even have the freedom to make corrections for it.

What’s missing in 2D animation?

2D animation is always devoid of essence, because all real world landscapes and objects are 3D and when they turn into 2D they lose their reality. Then the stage cartoon started to simulate the 3D effect using gradients, and various highlights, but required extra large effort on the part of the artist.

How 3D Graphics work: The stages in 3D animation are more than in 2D animation. The first part of 3D animation starts with character sketches and 3D modeling. In a later stage the characters are rigged for animation. At the next stage they are animated. This is actually an overly condensed form of what’s happening in the background. Let’s look at each one in a little detail.

• Character sketch: This is the stage where an artist sketches how the character should look from different angles. Usually the sketch will be done on paper or canvas. As a lot of variations in the poses are made that will help the 3D Modeler to sculpt a 3D Model from it.