What is 3D Animation – Full Explanation and Differences to 2D Animation

When the word animation comes to mind, you might instantly think of cartoons. Quite possibly, TV shows or movies is one of the most popular examples of 2D animation and 3D animation. But what is 3D animation exactly? And how does it differ from 2D animation?

We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, DiscoverGeek may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. This helps us to keep the lights on at night ;)

When the word animation comes to mind, you might instantly think of cartoons. Quite possibly, TV shows or movies is one of the most popular examples of 2D animation and 3D animation. But what is 3D animation exactly? And how does it differ from 2D animation?

Animation talks about brining something to life and thanks to technology, we have computer animation – the process in which animated images are generated through digital means. Animation is not just for entertainment, it is also used across different industries including medicine, construction, architecture, and more.

The Main Difference

When you think of 2D animation, you think flat while 3D animation is more life-like when it comes to movements and space. Think of it in terms of shapes that has length and height, it’s a circle or a square or a triangle. But with 3D animation, you have the added width or depth on the shape, so the circle becomes a sphere, the square becomes a cube, while the triangle becomes a pyramid.

A 2D animation can be drawn on an x and y axis while a 3D animation is drawn on an x, y, and z axis. Think of cartoons from the 80s and 90s, like Snow White or Popeye, those are usually 2D animation while modern cartoon movies of the 21st century, such as Frozen, make use of 3D animation, like . But that doesn’t mean 2D animation is completely obsolete today.

Making 3D Animation

You might be more familiar with 2D animation or traditional cartoons where artists draw objects and make them move one frame at a time. With 3D animation, there are several techniques:


Just like with 2D animation, 3D animation also uses stop-motion where objects move frame by frame. This can be done through the computer or by filming clay objects where each item is painstakingly moved and recorded.

Non-Photorealistic Rendering

It was mentioned that 3D is more lifelike but with this technique it creates animation that is not similar to the world but makes of a 3D space. This can be usually found in games.

Stereoscopic 3D

Now, this is a little old-school 3D animation. By using the principles of binocular vision and combining it with the viewer’s depth perception, a 3D effect is created. This common in 3D movies where you are required to wear special glasses. The old form makes use of glasses with one red and one blue lens but newer ones are clear.

Digital 3D

Technology has further evolved 3D animation and it makes use of special software to be run on computers. The best laptops for 3D animation require a sizeable memory (both RAM and hard disk space), an excellent processor, and an updated operating system. It also helps if you have a large display to be able to see all of the details of the animations.

Applications of 3D Animation

So, what is 3D animation really for? Here are some of the real-life applications of 3D animation:


As mentioned, 3D animation is used for making different cartoon characters come to life. But apart from that 3D animation is also very important in real action movies. There are just some scenes that cost way too much to be produced in real life so movies actually make use of 3D animation.

In the gaming industry, 3D animation is also highly important. From making scary monsters come to life on the screen and now, even in VR. More and more games are becoming life-like and they make use of 3D animation.


You might think about what 3D animation has to do with the medicine world. Just think about it, back then it was just a simple sonogram. But today, expectant mothers can now see a 3D ultrasound of their babies.

It can also be used for checking other internal organs of the body, checking the heart, tumors, cysts, and other masses. Both doctors and patients can better understand what goes on in the body with 3D animation.


There are so many real-world applications of 3D animation that it is actually very helpful during the teaching and learning phase too. Just imagine how geometry, mathematics, trigonometry, and algebra can be taught with the use of 3D animation instead of just relying on 2D.

This can also be relevant for sciences such as biology, zoology, and more. Students don’t have to rely on imagination alone or images in their textbooks. They can see bodily functions and get a better grasp of what is being taught with 3D animation.


With the availability of 3D printers, it is now more clear where 3D animation comes in. But even before the popularity of 3D printers, 3D animation has been used for creating prototypes of many objects. It’s a better option than using 2D, especially for items that have moveable parts.

Architecture, Engineering, Design

From a piece of simple furniture to entire floor plans of houses and even roads and infrastructures, 3D animation has a major role in the architecture, engineering, and design industries. It can be used for designing new concepts and ideas without having to try them out in real life first.

The Advantage of 3D Animation

To sum up, what is 3D animation, it’s making objects that are made using a computer move in a three-dimensional space. It can be used for different areas of life and industries and it offers many advantages.

The very main advantage of 3D animation though is it allows people to create. It’s a whole new three-dimensional world where you have all the space for creations. It can save you money, it can bring joy to people, it can be for innovative solutions, and more.