How are 3D Computer Graphics Used in Animation for Films?

When you went for the new Jungle Book, did you see how real talking animals looked? Except for the kid in the movie, every character and scenery were 3D computer graphics.

3D has indeed taken the animation to a whole new level. You really can’t say today what is made on a computer and what’s real. Of course, where fictitious characters are involved, you can say that it’s animated. However, you have so many action scenes which are actually computerized.

Take for instance Bumblebee. The car shown in the film might be real. However, its transformation into a robot is animation. The robot itself is a 3D graphic made on a computer.

A computer graphic can be any image. It could be a logo, a layout or a character. Now, what is the difference between a graphic and a 3D graphic?

What are 3D Computer Graphics?

The moment you say 3D, it refers to an object that has 3 dimensions: length, width, and depth. The difference between a normal graphic and a 3D graphic lies in the depth. There is no depth in a 2D graphic.

In the entertainment industry, two types of graphics are made for making a film: background set-up and character.

3D Architecture and Set

The background set-up consists of the area in which all characters move around. 3D animation software is developed enough to even import real characters in it.

The set includes everything: buildings, trees, fields and the sky too. They usually stay in one place but some movement might be involved. For example, the tree remains still but the leaves on its branches can move.

If you’ve seen the Chronicles of Narnia, you’ll know what I’m saying. The actors in it were brought to a lot of sets that were actually virtual.

Mostly, an architectural animation is about moving the camera from one part of the structure to another, along with light effects.

What is a 3D Character?

When you talk of a 3D character, it is the main object focused upon for animation. In short, it is made to move from one part of the virtual set to another. In fact, technology also enables the director to place a virtual character on a real set.

Mickey Mouse is originally a 2D character: made tactfully without real depth. However, with the advancement in technology, the same character has been made in 3D too.

Other types of 3D characters you’ve come across are King Kong, the dragons in the Game of Thrones and the Transformers.

Steps Involved in 3D Animation

To make a video from scratch, this is the series of steps an artist follows:

Creating Graphics According to the Script

Of course, without a story, it is impossible to create the character. The scriptwriter provides a story to the 3D artist. According to the story, it is the artist who decides the look of the character as well as the set.

If the story is a complete cartoon show or films like Tom and Jerry or Kungfu Panda, the graphics have to be made that way. It gives the artist complete freedom to create a fantasy land like in the cartoon Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. The set in the cartoon is not something you can see anywhere in the real world.

On the other hand, there are some films and series that need animals, humanoid robots or aliens along with real humans. Here, the set-up and characters need a more realistic look. The werewolves in the Twilight Saga, the tiger in the Life of Pi or certain sets of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory are some examples.

Adding Light to the Set-Up

When a film is shot in a real set, you need to set up additional lights close to the camera. The area of focus requires light falling from a certain direction.

In the virtual set too, you can set a virtual light which enhances the realistic feel of the film. If you closely watch Finding Nemo or Finding Dory, you’ll be able to see the light falling in the water.

Placement of the Camera

Just as real films need real cameras, virtual films have virtual cameras. Any 3D animation software has the facility of adding a virtual camera that can rotate in every frame according to your requirements.

A lo of camera play is used in action films like the Incredibles or Wreck-it-Ralph. The movement of characters here is pretty fast and so does the travel from one set to another take place very quickly.

The Animation

Animation truly means movement. Once the set is ready, the movement of lights, the camera, and the character begin. For every keyframe, the artist has to adjust the lights and camera first.

After that, the artist adjusts the position and posture of every 3D model. So, if you want to make a character run, that might need about 1000 frames.


This is the most important part of the animation. When you are adjusting movements, you can play a little in the software to see where you’re going.

However, until and unless you don’t render, the film will not come out. Merely playing in the software will show you the speed and way of movement. However, the complete effect of your light only comes when you set the complete scene to render.

The Final Touch

Render takes a lot of time. Once it is over, you add the voice to the scene. When you record the speech of the characters, it has to be done according to the speed you have achieved in the rendered video.

Once you add the background scores and speech, you can export the file to prepare for the film.

Other Uses of 3D Graphics

The third dimension has made it simpler for viewers to understand many things. There are many industries that use 3D computer graphics and animation apart from the entertainment sector. Some of these include:

  • Education
  • Marketing & Advertising
  • Medicine
  • Interior Design & Architecture
  • Military
  • Games

Compared to 2D animation, 3D has a lot more scope and realism. What kind of 3D animation have you enjoyed watching more: cartoon or realistic?

Read more: How Can You Choose Between the Two?

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