The Art of Animation. Example 1: 3D animation | WebReference

The Art of Animation. Example 1: 3D animation

  Example 1: 3D animation

As an example instructive in many ways, consider one animation genre which can be rightfully called "a collection of extremes." This type of animated imagery is one of the most sophisticated from purely technical viewpoint - yet, thanks to the wealth of entry-level software tools, it's very accessible and popular. Also, of all animation varieties, it is perhaps the most impressive at a first glance; paradoxically, it is nevertheless rather reservedly used by professional designers, and outright disliked by many of them. I'm referring to 3D animation algorithmically generated by a specialized program from a description of the objects' shape, coordinates, lighting conditions, etc.

Both by its ubiquity and by its design merits, 3D graphics is well deserving an article of its own, and I hope to devote a separate treatise to it in the future (it is interesting, by the way, that 3D animation is the only graphic genre that has an expert column of its own on this site). Now, I only want to share some general observations on the topic of 3D animation, trying to assess its creative contribution to modern design while applying the analysis principles we've outlined above.

The impact of computer-generated 3D graphic, be it static or animated, stems from its extreme congeniality with our subliminal patterns of visual perception. What our brain is required to do when manipulating the perceived image of a real-world object is very similar to what it does when viewing a computer-generated 3D scene. In both cases, we focus our attention on the distribution of shadows, highlights, reflections, perspective distortions, etc. in order to figure out the spatial form of the object and its position in three-dimensional space. By imitating these visual features, 3D graphics switches our brain into one of its most habitual "modes of operation" and pleasantly stimulates it by feeding plentiful and easily "decoded" imagery.

Animation greatly intensifies this impression, adding the time factor (in fact, time can be considered a fourth dimension added to the three-dimensional space) and thus challenging our brain to a stimulating competition "against the clock" - that is, against the moving object. Motion in the case of Web-specific 3D is usually very simple - most frequently it's rotation, sometimes with some displacements, and only rarely it involves any transformations or "morphing."


Figure 4

  Fig. 4:  3D animation is considered by many to be the most exciting thing in computer design  

  The effect of a 3D motion on our perception is twosome. On one hand, any movement makes it much easier to figure out the spatial form of an object by showing it from different viewpoints. On the other hand, it spurs our vision and introduces the factor of limited time. As any moving object can present a potential danger, our evolution-trained brain is in a hurry to recognize its "intentions" and project them into the immediate future. This time-critical but information-rich mode of visual perception is therefore quite thrilling, although its appeal has little to do with purely aesthetical criteria.

Thus, it is not surprising that 3D graphics consistently ranks among what is most adored about the computer technologies, especially by the young enthusiastic audience (whose tastes are much influenced by the abundance of 3D computer games). For more experienced users and designers, however, the average Web-grade 3D imagery may seem a bit on the cheap side.

Despite the technological dazzle, most 3D animations are rather primitive from creative viewpoint: they simply show us some solid bodies in motion - but isn't it what we see every minute in the material world around us? Of course it is entertaining to see a computer image behaving like the "real thing." But, I dare say that most 3D graphics is surprisingly deficient in "subliminal messages," even when the author is capable enough to supply them. Being absolutely stripped of blurs, artwork textures, or any sort of visual distortions that could add a human touch to an image, 3D graphics are often too crisp, plastic looking, and dehumanized.


Created: Apr. 14, 1999
Revised: Apr. 14, 1999