3 Lessons From My First 3D Animation Using Element 3D

3D animation is actually crazy.

Not only in terms of complexity, but also possibilities. Learning to create and work with 3D environments can truly transform any video or scene into a visual experience for your audience and I gave this a shot recently for a music video I directed titled, "Phoenix," by Lansing, Michigan's own, Scola.

My vision was to create a 3D version of the artist and place him into a sci-fi-like "dream world" within the music video using Element 3D. The problem was that I had zero 3D object, animation, or scene experience when it came to creating this. What ensued was a week's worth of learning about Blender, Mixamo, 3D objects/cameras, rigging, hi/lo polys, and so much more.

In this post, I'm going to quickly recap just a few of the important takeaways that I took from my first time creating an animated 3D scene.

1. You'll need a powerful editing computer

While my PC was custom built to handle intense editing and high-resolution playback, I still found myself struggling to render my 3D scene in it's highest possibly quality without major issues. For starters, some of the animation become very laggy or choppy after export - making the video itself unwatchable. This was due to the extreme pull on my computer's GPU (graphics processing unit) while attempting to render the high-resolution shadows, image textures, camera movements, and character. Eventually, this limitation led to many hours of troubleshooting in order to find the best way to render my animation for use in the music video.

2. It will take time to get used to working in 3D

If you're used to editing regular video footage, then you're in for a fun, but challenging surprise with 3D editing. 3D environments offer a much different variety of editing possibilities and choices that will, at first, appear to be completely foreign concepts such as:

  • Polys

  • Textures

  • Bevels

  • Diffusion

  • Sprites

  • Rigging

  • Z-axis

  • Ray-tracing

  • etc...

but they're really just terms that are unfamiliar to those who haven't spent much time inside 3D software. While I won't pretend that I'm a master of 3D animation in any way, I will say that these things are all possible to learn and use to your advantage to create amazing 3D art. As with anything, it will simply require a bit of time, dedication, research, and practice but soon enough, the workflow of software like Element 3D or Cinema 4D will become more comfortable and gradually make more sense.

A look at the workflow of Element 3D for After Effects.

3. 3D models are expensive

While the world of 3D animation is undoubtedly exciting, it can also be quite expensive. For those of us who are amateurs at creating our own 3D objects and characters and software like Blender, there are other online marketplaces where you can purchase and use beautifully designed and rigged/animated models - but often with a catch.

The models that you will likely find for free will be lo-poly (low quality/resolution) 3D objects that ultimately won't look too great. These will often resemble basic 2D characters in their design or just simply lack any meaningful detail that most viewers might expect from an animation by today's standard.

On the other hand, hi-poly 3D objects are also available for purchase and use within your 3D art, but usually at a ridiculous price. For example the following image is an example of cool 3D object of a lost civilization that could be yours for the price of $499 USD:

Lost civilization 3D object for sale via Turbosquid

So, as you can imagine, this hobby can quickly begin to consume quite a bit of both time and money - but also while offering the opportunity to create captivating and unique art that otherwise wouldn't be possible without the power of modern technology at the tips of our fingers.

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