How to use 3D in classical animation

In the following article, we will talk about how to use 3D in classical animation. We will show you what the famous “filmstrips” are for, their interaction with the main character of the animation, the background, etc.

We will also show you how to handle the depth of backgrounds or objects, and much more interesting information.

After reading this post I’m sure that when you draw a character, you will apply what you have learned here today.

Classic animation, filmstrips and motion

Here I will introduce you to something that differentiates animation drawing from other techniques.
In classical animation we work with filmstrips, which separate the elements, to be able to animate them independently, these are transparent, so that what is behind is not covered.

They can separate parts of the same element (for example, parts of the body of a character.) They can differentiate the character from the background, or divide a scene, so that the camera can go through it in a more realistic way.

Of course, having all the elements in the same illustration, makes it very laborious to make an animation, since it would be necessary to generate new drawings for each frame, with this method, only the necessary elements are redrawn.

Each of these divisions has different objectives and particularities, what they do is to separate parts of the same character, where the movement is born, to leave that part fixed in the original, and then separate it in a new film.

A clear example, if a character flexes the elbow, there will be a drawing of the complete character, but the arm will reach the elbow, the rest of the arm will be in other filmstrips, which will be added to generate the movement of the arm and the hand.

This method is used to avoid having to redraw the whole character, and that a segment moves. The disadvantage is that, what does not move will remain fixed, and the character will lose dynamism.

We try to animate the whole character, because if, for example, we move the arm, our body will respond in some way to seek balance, it is a resource to take into account, and take into account the “why yes” and “why no”.

Separate the character from the background, filmstrips and depth.

como usar el 3D en la animacion clasica
Several frames of the same character walking

The most used resource is to separate the character from the background, in principle, we have the background in the back, and in front of the character walking through it, then, we can say that we will have two filmstrips, one for the background and one for the main character.

The background will be an illustration without transparency, since it is behind, and the character will be drawn on several filmstrips. In this case, a drawing of the background is usually made, larger than the cutout of the screen (If the character walks through it, it will be a landscape panoramic image). In this way, the drawing of the background is moving, giving place to the character and/or the camera, to go through it.

fondo y 3d
Character on the background.

Not always the background is flat as I said before, sometimes, an extra depth will be needed to generate realism, and there will be elements that are in front of the characters, or something that moves in a background element (A branch falling from a tree, for example.).

If a character walks through a scene and passes in front of a tree, but then, behind another tree, the latter will be in another new film in front of the character, and so on for each element that is further ahead. These, in the foreground, will make the character go deeper into the scenery.

To generate a background with great depth, one resource is to separate it into filmstrips. If we zoom in on a flat drawing, it will not look like we are walking through a three-dimensional space, we will notice that we are approaching it, since all the elements are approached at the same time, no matter how far away they are.

To generate the sensation that it is credible, the superimposition of filmstrips is used, which approach the spectator at different speeds, trying to generate a sensation similar to the real one.

When you travel on the road, the near elements pass at high speed, and what is far away seems almost not to move, this is because the farther away, the wider our vision is, and what we have near is rapidly approaching and moving away from our field of vision.

You should separate the elements according to their distance from the viewer, and move them differently, except for the last one that will be in the distance, and it will be the fixed background, for example, the moon, we always see it fixed in the same place.

Filmstrips, illustration, distance and movement

Films separated according to their distance and movement in front of the camera.

This is an interesting resource that is here to stay. It is still used today, although in almost all cases, adapted to digital work, although there are those who animate with the classic technique, they are a minority.

It evolved and was readapted to current techniques, do not think that this was only in the past, today it is still used in a much more optimized way.

If you ask yourself, is this useful if I want to make illustrations and not animations?

First of all, when using design and illustration programs, you should work in layers like films. If you have the background, the characters, and various elements separated, you will be able to readjust your illustration and relocate the elements in a freer way.

I assure you, that these resources will feed your illustration, it is important that you acquire techniques and resources from different artistic disciplines, this will enrich your work, your breadth of resources, your imagination and your knowledge, are very important things for artistic work.

When you draw a character in an environment, undoubtedly, you will take into account some of these tips, or at least they will cross your mind. Not only when placing the character on a stage and seeing how you can handle depth, but also when moving him.

The next time you watch an animated series or movie try to decipher this resource, use your critical eye, train your observation, and try to see where and how they were used, little by little, you will be able to see them.

Don’t get obsessed looking for these resources, keep enjoying watching cartoons, and believing in the magic that the screen shows you.

fondo completo con filmina
Complete background as it will be seen on the screen.



As mentioned during the course of the article, three-dimensionality in classical animation is used to generate the effect of depth and distance in general.

Everything you have learned today is of great value, every tip, every explanation, absolutely every line of this post, is for you to open your creative field and your artistic process and development to expand more and more.

So that every time you make illustrations to be animated, every resource you can apply it to perfection, because it will be engraved in your head.

See you next time!

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