3D animation means that the image can be shown from every thinkable direction, as they are created to adhere to natural laws of physics. Because of this, images seem incredibly life-like.
There are various types of 3D animation. The most well-known ones are motion capture animation, stop motion, clamation and computer generated imagery (CGI) All of these mediums make use of hand-made as well as computer generated puppets, objects, backgrounds and special effects.
Stop motion animation consists of making characters and backgrounds by hand using materials such as clay, plastic and rubber. These materials are moulded around a metal skeleton which is made first. For finer details, materials such as wood, cotton wool, and toothpaste can be used. The objects are then photographed once they have been arranged in a specific scene. The position of the objects are altered after every snap shot, then the frames are used to create a 3D animation. Claymation is pretty much the same as stop motion animation, except that the primary medium is quick-drying clay. Once dry, the figures are painted as required.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the use of computers has revolutionised animation, particularly 3D animation. Long hours spent drawing, sculpting and colouring are now ploughed into using animation software, which is faster, and in the long run more cost-effective. Thanks to computers, animators now have the power to create scenes that would never have been possible with clay or any other medium.
When building 3D characters, the animator starts by creating virtual skeletons to represent the characters anatomy. 3D figures are then modelled over the skeleton to give it body. Colour is added and the rigging begins. Rigging, in terms of animation means to attach a skeleton to the model that has been created. The skeleton is animated (made able to move at joints etc.) and since it is rigged with the model the model moves too. The bone system is not rendered, only the surface is, meaning that the skeleton is not at all visible in the final rendering. Great care needs to be taken to get the movements smooth and life-like,
Phew… That sounds like a lot of effort. That is where motion capture animation comes in and makes animating even simpler! By making use of a live actor outfitted with sensory devices, the movement and positioning of the actors joints can be plotted. The actor then mimics the movements instead of an already designed character that needs to be animated. The sensory devices record the movements made and transmits the video-recording to a computer. The computer takes these inputs and uses them to enable the character to move. The resulting movements are as close to real life as they can be.
James Cameron’s “Avatar” is a beautiful example of how motion capture animation was put to use. Scenes involving this method were recorded in real-time using a screen that converted the actor setup with the motion costume (with all the sensory devices) into what they would look like in the actual film, making it easier for Cameron to direct. By using this technique, the director was able to view all scenes from multiple angles, making it possible for him to make visually appropriate choices, resulting in an amazingly realistic film.
Keep your eyes on this space! Will be bringing you feedback on an interview with a real animator soon! ^_^