The Four Stages of Animation

3D Animation Can Add Dimension to Your Custom E-Learning Projects

Animation is a great way to grab learners’ attention in e-learning, but how do you determine when and how to use 3D to take it to the next level of engagement? It’s helpful to think about 3D options in stages of complexity (and cost). When planning to use 3D animation, you can choose from simple to challenging approaches, which can help you to discuss expectations and effort for your custom e-learning projects.

Stage 1: Models

In its simplest form, it can be exceptionally useful to show scalable, rotatable models of things. Models are great for objects that are difficult to capture with video footage or demonstrate in real life, such as a human heart. Computer-generated models can be used to show off vehicles, the inner workings of complex machinery and medical devices, the layout of a building, and much more. Models can allow learners to enlarge the object and rotate it, which may be sufficient for the learning activity, and therefore, doesn’t require additional effort to create custom animation. This approach is the least expensive route to incorporate 3D in your e-learning.

You can find a plethora of stock models online at sites such as TurboSquid, CGTrader, and Free3D with reasonable licensing costs.

3D Heart
The heart model is $2.

Stage 2: Non-Character Animation

Non-character animations simply means using any model of an object, such as a car, and adding movement. By default, models are not programmed to move. The more complex the model and type of motion, the more work that needs to go into rigging it (or in laymen’s terms, prepping it to be animated).

Non-character animations can take anywhere from three days to three weeks, depending on the complexity and length. Usually the more challenging 3D animations are done to create an engaging demonstration video or virtual reality (VR) learning experience. The cost for a project at this stage depends on the complexity of the object you want animated. Need a car to drive down a street? It’s not very difficult to move a car and rotate the wheels. Need to show the car’s actual engine running? Yikes.

Rigged Car
The yellow, red, and blue lines are the Rig. Artists animate those to move the whole car.

Stage 3: Character Animation

The next level up involves character animation, which can be used to simulate human interaction. Characters can be used for two main purposes. First, character animation can demonstrate a communication scenario in a humorous or appealing way. Second, character animation is a good way to demonstrate accidents or injuries, instead of staging a live reenactment.

Animation gets more difficult once you start incorporating people and animals into your project. Characters need to be rigged just like other models before animating, but because the body and face are so complex, it takes much longer to set up. If the character models are poorly created, it can add to the difficulty and cost to a lot to fix.

As for the actual animation, simple ideas are better. In order of difficulty, sitting is the easiest, followed by standing, walking, and finally performing a parkour stunt. Picking up heavy objects or interacting with an environment can be quite difficult as well. Characters that interact with themselves or each other are perhaps the most complicated. 

With that in mind, unless your e-learning course will go viral, and you absolutely need to create original characters, I recommend using stock characters. You can find plenty of characters on TurboSquid, CGTrader, as well as Long Winter and animationbuffet.com. Be sure the stock characters you buy include rigs. Most character models, especially the cheap ones, do not.

Stage 4: Visual FX

Visual FX is anything that needs to be computer-generated and dynamically simulated in a 3D environment. This includes fire, smoke, hair, flappable clothing, breaking objects, and crowds of people.

Visual FX is by far the most difficult and specialized way to implement 3D, and most VFX studios work exclusively on multi-million-dollar projects. So, if your custom learning project demands that a flaming tornado destroys a two-story house, most learning projects simply won’t have enough money in the budget to pull it off. This stage is simply beyond the reach for most, if not all, corporate learning projects.

As you can see, there are a lot of options and decisions to make when considering using 3D animation. But with expert consulting from the ILG, we can help you manage your expectations and budgets while finding really great opportunities to use 3D animation into your learning.

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