3D Animation

By: Hanah Kee

3D Animation

     Technology has come a long way since the time of black and white television sets, especially in the field in of animation. Animation has evolved from very simple drawings to the basic 2D movies such as The Lion King and Little Mermaid. The next stage of animation’s evolution is a new, realistic, and exciting form of animation called 3D animation. An application known as computer graphic imagery or CGI has become an immense influence on the way 3D animation is produced today. CGI applies the concepts of 3D computer graphics to special effects. This application is used widely for visual effects because it allows not for only cheaper product, but also for a more realistic and higher quality product which is easier to control than the older methods of creating miniatures, drawings, or hiring extras. Without the use of CGI, many images would not be able to be produced using other technologies, and production would have to include expensive sets, actors, and props ("Computer-generated imagery").

     In 1995, a collaboration of two companies, Disney and Pixar, produced the first completely computer generated animated film called Toy Story, which forever reinvented the term animation.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

Toy Story was the first film to use 3D animation and will always be remembered as a breakthrough film and as a platform in which all future 3D films expanded upon. The visuals in the movie were incredibly realistic with the use of textures, shading, and lighting, which are important aspects all mastered in Toy Story’s 3D world. The film and animation style was such a success that it grossed $40 million its first weekend, more than $177 million in the box office domestically, and $362 million worldwide. More frenzy surrounded Toy Story when Disney and Pixar received an Oscar for its innovation and special achievements for the film ("A Brief History 3D Animated Films").

     DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images, also known as PDI, quickly became one of Pixar’s biggest competitors with the release of history’s second 3D animated film called Antz in 1998.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

Antz was released shortly before Disney and Pixar’s similar second computer animated film A Bug’s Life, which was released later that year. Disney also created a non-Pixar film called Dinosaur, which was noteworthy because although the characters were animated in 3D, most of the background was not animated but were actual locations. Dinosaurs therefore became the first 3D-Live Action film ("A Brief History 3D Animated Films"). DreamWorks and PDI later came out with the extremely successful Shrek in 2001, which won the first Oscar for Animated Long Feature over Pixar’s Monsters, Inc.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

Shrek incorporated elements of computer generated imagery with its use of fire, digital humans, and clothing. However, in 2003, Disney and Pixar came out on top again with their release of Finding Nemo, which won the Best Animated Film Oscar and is the highest grossing computer-animated film to date.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

DreamWorks later came out with more 3D animated films such as Shrek 2, Shark Tale, and Madagascar (Dirks).

     Later in 2001, Sony joined the animation game with its release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

This film simulated actors through the use of motion capture and computer generated imagery. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within became the first computer generated feature film that used only original designs and not real locations, people, or props. Another competitor to join the 3D animation race was 20th Century Fox who almost ended their animation attempts after the 2D failure of Titan A.E. However, Fox acquired Blue Sky Animation Productions and was encouraged to move into the newer and safer 3D realm producing such movies as Ice Age and its sequels.

("A Brief History 3D Animated Films")

Ice Age was the first film for Blue Sky, who later went on to produce the popular animated Robots movie ("A Brief History 3D Animated Films").

     Within the crowded mix of the growing 3D animation market, Disney made headlines once again when announcing after Disney’s release of Brother Bear in 2003. Brother Bear would be Disney’s last 2D animated film, and Disney was switching completely to 3D computer generated imagery style. Another major milestone for Disney was in 2006 when the 12 year long collaboration of Disney and Pixar ended, and Disney bought out its longtime partner Pixar Animations for $7.4 billion ("A Brief History 3D Animated Films"). Disney had financed and distributed Pixar’s animated films, and the two companies had split the profits and shared the fame of the previously mentioned films as well as The Incredibles and Cars. After the purchase, Pixar’s animated films such as Ratatouille and WALL-E were released. Disney’s first in-house non-Pixar 3D film since Dinosaur in 2000 was Chicken Little in 2005 (Dirks).

     A man by the name of Robert Zemekis further enhanced animation technology when he directed The Polar Express in 2004.

(“A Brief History 3D Animated Films”)

The Polar Express was the first film to use a breakthrough process known as performance capture. Performance capture is an advanced motion system which captures an actor’s body movements, facial movements, and expression digitally by computerized cameras (Dirks). Performance capture then creates a human blueprint for all the animated characters in the film. In The Polar Express, actor Tom Hanks, through the use of this innovative technology, was able to play the roles of several different characters in the movie. The actor wore an appliance, which had seventy-two tiny cameras on it which monitored his every move. By using so many cameras, the crew was able to pick from a large majority of viewpoints and ultimately lay a computer generated skin over the recorded positions ("The Polar Express - Performance Capture CGI").

     The first computer generated feature film that was shot directly in stereoscopic 3D is DreamWorks science fiction movie Monsters vs. Aliens. Before this film, all 3D films were shot in 2D format and then later converted. However, this film was shot in 3D to begin with. DreamWorks used a special 3D format called InTru3D, which combines DreamWorks authoring tools with the most up-to-date Intel technology. InTru3D gives an even more realistic, exciting 3D experience ("A Brief History 3D Animated Films"). Intel and DreamWorks have partnered up and have been making bold claims of working and further developing InTru3D. All films in the foreseeable future for DreamWorks are predicted to also use the Intru3D method that was used for its Monsters vs. Aliens movie.


Films produced using InTru3D need to be viewed in theaters using stereoscopic projection which requires special 3D glasses. The use of special glasses is another factor that sets this movie apart. However, the InTru3D method is more advanced than the previous attempts of such glasses in past generations. DreamWorks has used technology, so the images viewed in the right and left sides of the glasses will synchronize perfectly giving the ultimate 3D image without the blur, dizziness, and nausea that was previously stereotyped with these types of glasses (Krepshaw).

     When looking at all the amazing technological advancements that have been made in the field of animation, it is interesting to try and predict where our technology will take us next. Innovative modern applications such as CGI, performance capture, and Intru3D will soon become outdated in the future. When looking back at one of the first great advancements of color television and films from black and white to today’s accomplishments of 3D animation, it is obvious that technology of animation has proven itself as fast and ever changing.

Works Cited

"A Brief History 3D Animated Films." 3D Animated Features. 2009. 28 Mar 2009 http://arianeb.com/animated.htm.

"Computer-generated imagery." Animation Wiki. 28 Mar 2009. Wikia. 28 Mar 2009 http://animation.wikia.com/wiki/Computer-generated_imagery.

Dirks, Tim. "Animated Films." filmsite. 2009. American Movie Classics Company LLC. 28 Mar 2009 http://www.filmsite.org/animatedfilms.html.

Krepshaw, Brian. "DreamWorks and Intel commit to 3D with InTru3D." Crunch Gear - Gadgets. 20 Aug 2008. Crunch Gear. 28 Mar 2009 http://www.crunchgear.com/2008/08/20/dreamworks-and-intel-commit-to-3d-with-intru3d/.

"The Polar Express - Performance Capture CGI." squareCircleZ. 16 Dec 2004. 28 Mar 2009 http://www.squarecirclez.com/blog/the-polar-express-performance-capture-cgi/29.