A 3D animation occurs when a static 3D object appears to move on a screen. Unlike traditional animation, where objects are drawn by hand for each frame, works in a 3D-animated scene are based on computer-generated imagery (CGI). Computer-aided design (CAD) software is used to configure the objects and their motions.
When creating a 3D animation, you don’t have to be able to draw by hand, and the ability can be useful but not required. Creating a detailed model (object) from scratch is a time-consuming task, so using a ready-made asset as a starting point is not uncommon. Assume a 3D animation of a fictional creature with monstrous facial features and strange body proportions is desired by an artist. In that case, it is preferable to start with a pre-designed asset. The asset may appear distinct from the original after some modifications and refinements. There are numerous online markets for such an asset, some of which are free.
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What Does a Company Charge for 3D Animation Services?
Essentially, creating a 3D animation is an artistic work, and as such, standard pricing is difficult to determine. Design, 3D assets required, turnaround time, whether or not the animation uses sounds or music, and, to some extent, where the creator is based all influence the total cost. Prices vary according to project complexity and requirements, such as resolution and duration and it differs based on the 3d animation company.
When developing a pricing strategy, artists and studios must consider several factors. They can charge a flat fee for their basic design service but charge extra for additional production processes required to finish the job. There is a significant price difference between the low- and high-end options, which is only indicated by the level of quality. For most purposes, such as marketing, education, and business presentations, most people will choose a price point in the middle. It should be significantly higher than the low end, but not too close to the high end for reasonable quality.
The Production Process of 3D Animation
Every frame of a 3D-animated scene involves a multistage process, similar to a 3D rendering service but with many more elements blended into the final image. All features influence each other and the output quality, so the entire process necessitates unmistakable attention to the smallest detail, and failure to do so is likely to result in a subpar result.
First stage – Preproduction
This stage is primarily concerned with the creation or preparation of the raw materials required to construct the foundation of the 3D animation:
- Script and storyboard : The procedure is comparable to that of 2D animation. Animators must first understand the script (if any) and storyline that will be conveyed by the animation. It depicts the visual flow, as well as the facial expressions and gestures created within the animation. Assuming there is a script, the animation will later require proper synchronisation between the characters’ speech and lip movements for a realistic effect.
- 3D assets : Every object in the scene is a three-dimensional model. Some animators buy ready-made assets and then modify them according to the descriptions in the project brief. Animators may have to create 3D models from scratch if the project requires the use of unique characters.
- Textures and colours : To create the illusion of surface and volume, bare-boned models are wrapped in textured and coloured layers. The procedure involves superimposing 2D images on top of 3D models. Certain characters have complex properties, such as an eye that absorbs and reflects light at the same time. Product 3D animation services typically employ a photorealistic 3D model of the physical product.
- Rigging : A rigged 3D model is a 3D object that has already been configured for all natural movements. Consider placing a skeleton inside a human or animal figure. The joints serve as pivots for the constitution’s movable sections, representing the natural range of motion. Rigging can be applied to any 3D object. When the raw materials are ready, the process moves on to the main manufacturing task.
Second stage – Production
The following stage entails manipulating 3D models. Animators move the models in accordance with the storyline and script. This stage also includes the creation of additional visual elements such as lights and visual effects.
- Animation : The available range of motion is determined by the rigging procedure. The rigging in a 3D character animation service that resembles a person or an animal should mimic the natural skeletal figure of the character it is meant to represent. The goal is to give the object a maximum range of motion while staying within natural limits. However, rigging can be done excessively by animators if the storyline requires it.
- Lighting : As previously stated, creating a 3D animation is similar to a more sophisticated version of a rendering process. The basic principle remains, in that good lighting is required for animation to appear realistic. Whereas an image requires only a few lighting configurations, an animation requires one for each frame, depending on the motions. For example, a moving cloud can block the sun partially one second and completely the next. A moving object casts a different shadow than a stationary one.
- Visual Effects (VFX) and Composite : Additional special effects, such as wind and rain, are used to create a realistic atmosphere in the virtual world. Then there’s the compositing process, in which the scene is created by blending two or more files from different sources.
Animators only configure the positions of the 3D models for all keyframes to speed up the process. The computer interpolates the natural sequence of motions between those frames. For smooth animation, one second of a scene should contain at least twenty-four frames (24fps). Furthermore, more than two keyframes can occur within a second. Even for a minute of 3D-animated video, the 3D animation designer must put in a lot of effort.
Third stage – Post-Production
The visual elements of the animation are now complete. In the postproduction stage, some finishing touches and revisions are made.
- Sound Effects : Music and sound files are superimposed on top of the animation. When an object or character speaks, its facial expressions and speech must be in sync.
- Review & Edit : Animators watch all of the scenes in order to look for errors. As needed, minor and major changes are made.
- Render :The final step is to compile and convert all of the animation files into a single video format that is ready for distribution.
Of course, large studios such as Pixar and Disney employ far more complex operations at every stage than small agencies. That being said, whether the animation is done by a small team of freelancers or a large company specialising in 3D animation services with full-time professionals, the basic procedures are the same.
Alternatives to CGI-based 3D animation
3D animation is divided into two categories. Aside from CGI, the physical type known as “Stop-motion” employs real objects rather than digital models. Photographs of physical objects captured in various poses in the sequence serve as the raw materials for stop-motion animation. In many ways, the works are similar to traditional animation, but stop-motion uses photographs instead of drawings. Still, images are rearranged in a specific order to create a scene and the illusion of movement. For example, if an object must rotate 360 degrees, it must be photographed several times to represent the entire motion. There should be thirteen photos every thirty degrees.
Depending on the number of objects and the desired motion fluidity, the stop-motion production process can be quite lengthy. More photos enable smoother animation. If you want a ten-degree rotation increment, the 3D animation professional must photograph the object 37 times. Things become even more complicated when different lighting configurations are required for different frames. There are several types of stop-motion animation:
- Claymation : Clay or a similar material is used to make the objects. Metal skeletons are sometimes used by animators to make the clay structure more rigid.
- Puppets : Instead of clay, some animators use traditional instruments. Skeleton rigs are also required for the instruments to remain stable.
Other types of stop-motion animation, such as cut-outs and silhouettes, are two-dimensional.
Estimated completion time of CGI 3D animation
Again, there is no standard timeline because it all depends on variables such as project complexity, equipment, and the number of people working on it. The timeline is divided into stages as shown below.
- Creative Brief Stage (Write a project scope) : Three days
- Script (Write the dialog) : Two days
- Storyboard (Visualize the script) : Two weeks
- 3D Modeling (High-quality character. Simple products are quicker) : Two weeks
- Rigging (Complex character. A few minutes of animation) : Two months
- Animation (A higher frame rate takes more time) : One month
- Sound Effects (Create a score and soundtrack) : One week
- Rendering (With a render farm) : One week
Using eight working hours per day (five working days per week, twenty working days per month), the estimated completion time is 95 days or 760 hours. Because of the lower level of complexity, product animation is likely to be less expensive, but the quality should remain the same. In the case of a limited budget, a freelancer may bargain for a longer completion time or a lower resolution render.
A 3D animation design can be completed quickly if a project requires it, but it is resource-intensive. You would need to expand the team and use high-performance computers. Communication between the group and the client is another factor that influences completion time, and everyone involved in the project must be on the same page at all times.
What are the Hourly Rates for 3D Animators?
The adage “you get what you pay for” holds true in the 3D animation market, though in rare cases, a low-cost service produces results of equal quality to a more expensive one. Lower cost does not always imply poor animation, and a team of independent freelancers is likely to charge less than a well-known studio. The advent of cloud computing allows people to collaborate on the same project even when they are not in the same room. They can be in different cities or countries, but thanks to cloud storage or cloud-based 3D animation software, they can collaborate just as quickly.
Individual (team of) freelancers
Whether you need a short 3D animated video or an hour-long film, budget is always an important consideration. A limited budget forces you to seek out affordable services in order to complete the job with reasonable quality. Freelancers will most likely charge lower rates than studios because they don’t have as many overhead expenses, such as renting an office or splitting profits with the bosses. They use personal computers to work from home. The only expenses are likely to be electricity and the software licence fee.
Pricing for freelancers can also be flexible. The fee is largely negotiable based on the project’s complexity. They may employ a standard pricing strategy, but the price may be higher or lower than the base rate. If you believe the project is not overly complex and a quick turnaround time is not an issue, you may be able to negotiate a favourable price. Freelance 3D animators are excellent for short marketing content, product presentations, school lesson materials, and personal (non-commercial) use.
One disadvantage is that a freelancer typically specialises in one aspect of 3D animation work. The person who does the 3D modelling and rigging may not provide sound effects or visual effects, and vice versa. To get a fully functional animation, you’ll need to hire several freelancers. A scriptwriter/storyboard artist, a 3D modeler/rigger, and an animator/renderer must all be part of the team. Only scriptwriting and modelling can be done concurrently to create the story and 3D assets. The animator takes over once the raw materials are ready. In addition to experience level, freelance 3D animators’ hourly rates vary depending on location.
Hiring a professional 3D animation studio is the easier but more expensive option. The most significant benefit of hiring a studio is that they have an in-house production team, and everyone who works on your project works in the same office. As insignificant as it may appear, direct collaboration plays a significant role in reducing turnaround time. They arrive at work at the same time and collaborate in person, allowing them to solve any potential problems faster.
A dedicated project manager acts as a liaison between the client and the production team. A project manager does not simply relay questions and answers; instead, he or she understands all aspects of the work. Invoices, billing, progress, deliverables, file format, and estimated completion time will all be answered by a single point of contact. You will receive an accurate end-to-end production service.
Right from the start, the production team understands at least the big picture. It would not be unusual for a studio to work on all aspects of 3D animation at the same time. For example, while the script is being written, the 3D modelling service may begin drawing the objects or characters. The person in charge of sound effects is already hard at work on a synthesiser.
Despite being built around the same time, each has a different difficulty level and, as a result, completion speed. They are also separate components that must be assembled later in the project. Certain elements, such as modelling, rigging, animation, voice-over, and rendering, cannot be created concurrently.