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How To Find a Good 3D Animation Studio in 2022

3D animation exists everywhere in our world today, especially in video game development. But what is it, and how can you tell if a 3d animation studio is really good?

What You Should Know About 3d Animation Studios

Computer animation dates back to the 1940s and 50s, when people first experimented with digital graphics. Later in 1976, the Futureworld movie used the first 3D computer-generated imagery (CGI). Today, 3D animations exist in almost every industry, from feature films and advertising to video games. As a result of its popularity and widespread application in the gaming and VR/AR industry, the demand for competent 3D animation studios such as Argentics has increased significantly. So in this article, we discuss how animation in games actually works and what to look for when hiring a 3D animation studio.

How 3D animation for games work

Animating 3D game characters is one of the most challenging tasks in modern game development. Unlike in 2D, where sprites (2-dimensional bitmaps) are played sequentially, in 3D animations, an armature influences the vertices of a 3D model. Let's walk you through the steps of the 3D animation process.

Modeling

Animators use a modeling tool to create 3D objects that represent the animation's foundation. Then they make a 3D mesh by shaping and refining a simple object called a primitive to the desired figure. Finally, they apply color and texture to the 3D model. The next step is rigging, which involves creating a skeleton for the 3D character's motion.

Rigging

The animator creates an armature at this stage: a three-dimensional skeleton that controls the 3D model via a parent-child link. In this case, the armature is the parent, and the 3D model is the child.
Through joint animation, the motion of bones in the skeleton affects nearby vertices. For example, rotating the forearm bone transforms the space coordinate of all forearm vertices in the 3D mesh. And the level of this transformation is determined by the Vertex weight, i.e., the degree of influence a bone has on a vertex.

Typical 3D animations are made up of several keyframes that store every bone's rotation and movement. When these keyframes play, the bones' influence on nearby vertices deforms the 3D model creating the illusion of animation.

Rayyan Khan

Exporting to a game engine

A digital asset exporter (DAE) exports the data stored in keyframes and vertex weights to the game engine. And whenever the game engine runs an animation, it sends keyframe data to the GPU.

When the GPU accepts the keyframe data, the bone's vertex weight and space deform the 3D model recreating the animation. But rendering only the DAE's keyframes may result in choppy animations. The game engine then smooths out the animation by interpolating the data in each keyframe. In other words, it interpolates the coordinate space of the bones between each keyframe. The game engine generates extra keyframes even if a game artist only created four of them. As a result, instead of sending four keyframes to the GPU, the game engine now sends sixteen.

How game genre influences 3D animation


In some video game genres, like Shooter (FPS and TPS), animation helps the player understand the game's mechanics. In other genres like RTS, 3D animations merely complement the game's overall expression.

The best games are hyper-interactive, giving the player full control over the character and camera. This approach requires the animation to look very good from all angles.

In some games, especially third-person shooters (TPS), the player can rotate the camera to see the walk or run cycle from various angles. These new perspectives reveal details such as knee pops that would otherwise be missed in a standard camera view. Most game animators often consider this to ensure that their animation can withstand whatever the player throws at it.

On the other hand, animators don't have to worry about how 3d characters in simpler genres appear from the side or behind because the player only sees what’s on their screen. When animating a character, animators must ensure that the character follows smooth arcing motions from any camera angle.

Motion capture in 3D animation

While game animation emphasizes body mechanics, games are becoming more story-driven as hardware improves. For example, the Uncharted series or The Last of Us are great examples of story-driven games.
Video games have a much more realistic animation style than movies like Ice age or Frozen. Of course, Wildstar has more stylized animations, but for the most part, games try to be grounded in realism to keep the player engaged in the gameplay.
Motion capture is becoming a more popular method to make games as realistic as possible, especially for more subtle acting cut scenes.

Tools for creating 3D animations

3D animation software is in high demand today, and they are trendy and helpful to both animators and designers. Some animation software is available for free on the market, while others are paid programs. Popular animation software includes Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3Ds Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, ZBrush, and LightWave 3D.

How 3D animation is applied in every industry

Gaming, TV shows, and movies were the first to use 3D animation. Now it’s applied in many fields, from advertising to architectural modeling and medical research. Here's a rundown of today's most common 3D animation applications.

Films and television

3D animation is often used for character animation in television and film to appear more lifelike. This approach improves the emotional bond viewers form with the characters.

G‍aming

3D animations give video games a more natural feel, enhancing the action for gamers. For example, the 3D effect adds loads of excitement to the game when fighting an enemy or racing through an obstacle course. Virtual reality and augmented reality can incorporate 3D animation to give gamers a sense of immersion.

Marketing

3D animation helps companies show off their product features as they would appear in real life. Consumers get a better idea of the product's appearance. We also use 3D animation to make more engaging content. In a world where people's attention spans are shortening, a compelling video ad using 3D can hold their attention. ‍

Design and architecture

3D animation also helps architects create realistic renderings of houses and buildings for the contract approval stage. Architects can even step inside and walk through their designs using VR and AR tools. This technique is also useful for interior design, as it allows designers to visualize how a room will look. Implementing 3D animations with 3D printing provides low-cost product prototypes. Creating a low-cost prototype can save businesses money on raw materials, time, and labor.

3D printing and Prototyping

Sculpteo has a handy roundup of impressive 3D printed prototypes from bridges to eyewear, furniture, and robotic arms. Racecar companies even use prototypes to find ways to speed up the wheel-change process. ‍

Hiring a 3D Animation Partner: A Step-by-Step Guide

Hiring a 3D animation company can be challenging, especially if you have no prior experience. To choose a 3D animation company that best meets your needs, you should consider several factors.

Ask for their professional portfolio

A portfolio reveals the 3D animation company's dedication to quality. Examine the animator's portfolio for various animation styles to gauge their quality and versatility.

Find out how many projects the company has completed so far

Analyzing how many projects an animation company has completed in the past will give you an idea of how competent or experienced it is. If you have to pick one out of several options, go with the studio that has completed more projects in the shortest period.


Pay attention to the animation style

Are the illustrations eye-catching, current, and unique? Check if the company's website, logo, and color schemes have some sense of coherency. Ask for a Showreel. Showreels prove a design studio's ability to provide 3D animation services. When reviewing a company's showreel, look for the following features:
  • Animation quality
  • Complicated scenes
  • Scene composition
  • Animation style
  • Camera movement
  • Discreet shot transitions
  • Originality

Consider existing client feedback

When outsourcing to 3D animation services, client feedback can benefit your final decision. You can also look at a company's website for ratings, testimonials, and reviews to see if it's worth partnering with them.


Decide on a budget and compare options

Many studios advertise low-cost 3D animation services, but it's important to determine if they're really cheap and why. Avoid animation studios that offer cheaper rates at the expense of quality. Doing a little more research is always preferable to regretting your decision later.

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