How much does it cost to make 3D Animations

This is an information article on the process of creating 3D animation and will be interesting for those who work in 3D animation and graphics.

In order to create a 3D model you need to know where it will be used. Modeling for videos or movies is totally different from modeling a VR app or a mobile game. In cinema all we care about is how real the model is, that’s why there are difficult and detailed models used. The designer is restricted by the game engine, limits of the console or a mobile platform when designing a VR app or a game. In this case, a designer is considering the interactivity and stability of the model, the visual aspect is moved to a second place.

Let’s have brief look on the process of creating a 3D model in order to understand the costing of 3D Animation better.


Modeling

The basic elements that form a 3D model are as follows:
  • Vertex is the highest point of a dimensional shape. It has a set of attributes, such as three-dimensional (x,y,z) and two-dimensional (U, V) coordinates
  • Edge – the line that is defined by two vertexes or a connection between two vertexes. This element has two sets of vertex coordinates and one set of coordinates of itself, that is the sum of vertex coordinates.
  • Polygon – this is a basic component of any 3D model. The simple polygon is basically a single triangle. More complex shapes can be broken down into a collection of triangles, this process is called triangulation. The polygon consists of vertexes connected by edges.

When a 3D modeler is creating a model for a mobile app, or AR/VR software, his main goal would be to achieve a high-quality look using the minimal possible number of polygons. Most of the time, he can use up to 70 000 polygons per scene. Sometimes they may use 400 - 600 thousands of polygons to create a much more detailed 3D models.

For a mobile device app, it is recommended to from 300 to 1500 polygons per mesh(object) and it ranges from 1500 to 4000 for a desktop software. usually, characters are created with 5000-7000 polygons. The number and density of polygons should be proportional to how close can user bring the camera to it. If the object is really small or far away then fewer polygons (Low Poly) are needed to create it. For the complex objects or at a shorter distance high polygons (High Poly) are to be used.

When 3D modelers are creating characters or other complex models, that will be viewed from short distances, it is necessary to use models with high polygon count(high poly). Usually, it is done by creating a very difficult and heavy model at first, then cutting and simplifying it down to a necessary level.

3D models developers use the following software for low poly:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk 3Ds Max
  • Cinema 4D
  • Modo
  • Blender

we recommend you to try out Blender if you are a beginner, also it is free. Softwares used for high poly:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk 3Ds Max
  • Cinema 4D
  • Modo
  • Blender

So, how much does it cost to create a 3d model? The time period needed for the modeling process is approximately from 40 to 60 hours.


Texturing

Texture – is a two-dimensional image, it is applied on a 3D model creating its appearance.

After the modeling process is over, designer creates a two-dimensional(UV) version of an object which in other words, texture, on a 3D model. To create a UV version of an object modelers use UVLayout as it is more convenient but they can use the same software that they used to create a 3D model. After the UV layout sets of textures are created, that consist of the following:

  • Color map – this is self-explanatory, the colors used in the texture
  • Bump map – this map shows all of the parts of the texture that meant to be not flat
  • Normal map – this technique is used in order to fake the lighting effects of uneven surfaces
  • Displacement – creates actual uneven surface
  • Specular – adds glare effect to the texture
  • Alpha – adds transparency to some parts of the texture

Material is a set of properties used for displaying the model or its elements. The material can differ based on the next parameters:

  • Specular level
  • Glossiness
  • Self-illumination
  • Opacity
  • Diffuse Color
  • Ambient

3D model is finished after applying a texture. Below are the softwares used for texturing:

  • Substance Painter 2
  • Substance Designer
  • Autodesk Mudbox
  • 3D Coat
  • Mari
  • Adobe Photoshop

The process of texturing a complex model takes about 10 – 30 hours. This is a rough estimate from our designers and accounts to costing.


Rigging and skinning

The designers begins the process Rigging, after all the exterior modeling is complete, for the model to move or to be animated, this is a preparation process before the actual animation can be done.

Rig – is a virtual skeleton of a model. It consists of bones and joints, that are connected to each other in a particular order. The quality of the rig construction shows the realism of the model’s movement. When rigging a model in Unity, try not to use more than 30 bones per character.

After Rigging it is followed by the next step Skinning. In this process 3D model is connected to a “body”, every vertex has to be connected to a corresponding bone this is the important aspect of Skinning process. We recommend these apps for rigging and skinning:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk 3Ds Max
  • Cinema 4D
  • Modo

Just like any other stage of creating a 3D model, the cost estimation varies and it depends on the nature of the model and what kind of movement you plan to implement. It is estimated that 10-30 hours is needed to complete this task.


Animation

The goal of animation is to make the object alive, to create the most natural and fluent movement possible. And of course, this movement must be suitable for the object, its role, and scene.

Use of keyframes is the easiest way to animate an object. According to this method, the designer is setting the position of the object in the first and last frame of the animation. Next, the software takes over and generates all of the transitional frames. This method is comparatively easy to implement, but needs a lot of work put in for a complex movement, and the skill of the designer is to be taken into account on the in the final output.

Procedural animation is a kind of 3D animation that is generated by a computer. It is used to simulate the movement of rigid and soft body objects(cloth, hair, fur), to imitate particle systems (liquids, gasses), or to create character animation.

Motion capture animation is another method and was created in order to simplify the whole process. Special sensors are attached to an actor, then his movements are applied to a 3D character model.

Softwares used for animation are as follows:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Autodesk 3Ds Max
  • Cinema 4D

Now, how much does it cost to animate a 3D model? As stated before, there are three methods to make a 3D model move. Each one is different, thus takes a different amount of time. The fastest way to do it is to use motion capture. For example, to animate a 3D model of average complexity using the motion capture method the developers will need about 20 hours for each 10 seconds of movement. Now, the animation using keyframes is another deal. It is more complex and thus, takes more time. Approximately, it takes about 4 hours to create one second of animation for an average 3D model.


Rendering

Rendering – in 3D graphics, is a process of creating an image from a set of textures and geometrical data.

It is a final step of the 3D animation. The software will calculate all object properties that are in the scene, all the textures and light sources and create a final image.

In games real-time rendering is used and is often used in any kind of software that is implementing 3D graphics.

The goal of real-time rendering is to calculate the properties of a scene as fast as possible and react in an instant to user’s actions. 3D accelerators are used to maintain the high quality while minimizing the rendering time of 3D graphics in games. With the help of 3D accelerators the software can prepare light maps and shadow maps in advance, thus reduces the rendering time.

Pre-rendering is a technology used by the 3D designers to create animated videos or cutscenes. The main goal of this technology is to create a photorealistic image. This is a very complex process, rendering of one frame can take up to dozens of hours. In order to speed up the process, developers use render farms. Render farms are multiple computers combined together for a single goal – to render a frame.

The majority of the 3D software has the rendering function built in. However, you can use standalone render engines alongside. Here are the most powerful render engines:

  • Mental Ray
  • Vray
  • Renermam

How much does it cost to render a 3D model? It is a complicated question, just like any previous step of 3D modeling it all depends on many different factors. But most of it depends on how powerful your hardware is. To give you an example from our experience, the average rendering time of one frame takes about 1-3 hours. But that is just one frame, to render 30 seconds of video you need 30-90 hours.


Conclusion

We’ve discussed the process involved in 3D modeling. Now we’re sure that you are familiar with all of the production stages and can find all of the necessary software to try it out on your own. Or hire a VR developer to develop your 3D animation video.

Most of the softwares are not free but there is a way to start with if you are eager to try out 3D modeling, start off from Blender. It is free and easy to install. Hope this article is useful.