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The Evolution of 3D Animation: Technology Transforming Cinematic Experiences

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the realm of 3D animation stands at the forefront of innovation, reshaping how we watch and experience movies and TV shows. As a computer science graduate with a passion for animation, it’s always interesting to see new graphics papers in publications like SIGGRAPH or arXiv that present new technologies that simplify the workflow of 3D in major sectors. Let’s talk about some technologies that seem obvious to animators now, but have been innovative in the progress of animation perfection.


 


Procedural Animation


It is not a new concept but has been developed to help the animation industry. This involves using algorithms and mathematical procedures to generate, manipulate, and distribute visual elements within a digital environment. This has made modeling non-destructive, meaning objects can be manipulated later on if a director needs changes.


 


Some of the areas of interest include:


Procedural Modeling - Enables the creation of complex and detailed structures for accurate and photorealistic objects.


Procedural Texturing - Artists can create versatile and scalable materials that reserve resolution.


Procedural Scattering - Designers can populate environments with vegetation, rocks, and other other elements. These objects can be independently animated but share attributes to optimize the memory usage of the scene.


 


This is but one technology that has greatly increased productivity for everyone involved in the 3D industry, including VFX artists, biomedical researchers, and architectural visualizers among others.


 


Machine Learning in Animation


In the age of AI, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the advancements in AI in the industry as they have been overlooked by the rise of generative AI. VFX studios have been one of the leading industries utilizing new ML papers released, one of the best-known (won an Oscar) algorithms in the industry is Weta FX’s Deep Compositing. Released in 2010, this has become a monumental technology used to detect depth in images and separate objects like a 3D scene.


Other notable innovations using Machine Learning are Character Animation and Behavior Prediction. Companies like Ziva Dynamics and Cascadeur have built animation systems from the ground up to utilize machine-learning models for predicting next movements, and interpolating motion within keyframes for smoother and more realistic movements of the characters.


 


USD File Format


Pixar Animation Studios cooked up a file format in 2016 that has been instrumental in the animation and VFX industry for its compatibility throughout pipelines, from 3D modeling to compositing. It was made to enhance collaborative workflows within Pixar. It has been a fast-adopting file format in the 3D world and is currently gunnering for file formats like FBX on animation exporting, and GLTF files for their lightweight nature and compatibility with web frameworks.


 


Color Space


For a time, Filmic was the only option to color your 3D scene, then The Academy developed an open-source color space named ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) that has gained widespread adoption throughout the entertainment industry. This comes with a wider gamut and accurate color representation that facilitates most of the industry creatives' needs. But, there’s been a newcomer that has gone on to become a default color space for Blender, Agx (A Good Experience), is an adoption of ACES and has more vibrant colors with minimal tweaking making it a beautiful experience working with it. These colors have enhanced the definition of photorealistic to complement algorithms like BSDF and BSSDF that are responsible for creating accurate materials and light distribution within a scene, making the final render ‘photorealistic’.


 


And Finally… Virtual Productions


This name has been the talk of the animation space for the past two years after the release of The Mandalorian. This refers to the use of digital technologies, including real-time computer graphics and visual effects, to enhance film production. This has made it easier for directors to visualize their final image in real time instead of waiting months to see what the rest of the pipeline will produce. This ties back to procedural modeling because environments can be dynamically deformed to fit the image of the director on set and even add new components that will complement the scene.


While still a new and expensive endeavor, this technology still has scholars constantly developing better algorithms to make the real-time essence more efficient and cost-effective. The goal is to make the technology accessible to low-budget studios and even upcoming creatives.


 


Bridging the Gap


As we've witnessed the transformative power of cutting-edge technologies in the realm of 3D animation, it becomes crucial to acknowledge the strides made in bridging the accessibility gap. These advancements have not only propelled the industry forward but have also fostered an environment where expertise is not confined to elite studios but is increasingly within reach of enthusiasts, low-budget studios, and emerging creatives.


 


Conclusion


 


The evolution of 3D animation, fueled by these groundbreaking technologies, has not only transformed cinematic experiences but has also democratized access, making advanced tools and techniques available to a broader creative community. As technologies continue to advance, and new algorithms released, we can anticipate even more inclusive and efficient workflows in the realm of 3D animation. As generative AI progresses, there will be more innovative solutions to streamline the production of animation. Already, papers on Gaussian Splatting and Simulon’s real-time AR rendering are paving the way to innovative and accessible software that will make it better for creatives with low budgets and incredible ideas to execute.


 


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