The Evolution of 2D/3D Video Production: A Decade in Review

Author: Bob Dec 20, 2023 7 min read

3d video production takes the leading position among the animation forms. This graphic technique is loved for its ability to use a digital object and, utilizing motion and creating a world where it moves through a 3-dimensional space, give this object life. Filmography, TV shows, games, or other digital art where this method is applied are called new era boomers.

But little do you know if you believe 3D animation appeared in the new age. Its history dates back to the 1900s. So let’s have a 360-degree view of the technology, and how it appeared and developed throughout the years.

1900s and Clay Animation: Half a Century Before 2D-3D Animation Video Production

That was a total breakthrough in the animation industry and the time when the seeds of 3D visual effects were planted to preach later. In the first decade of the last century, there appeared an unprecedented storytelling style that included shaping clay into real-life characters. The clay was segmented to allow characters, their bodies, heads, legs, and arms to move. Back then animators incorporated a very creative process and applied new production methods:

  • Freeforms: Artistic movements, absence of a set structure, quick transition. This worked for scenes where characters were supposed to quickly transform into other shapes.
  • Painting: There’s a ready-made canvas and clay was supposed to be molded around it. This allowed creators to animate the image and design the feeling as if the picture came alive.
  • Melting: A source of heat was used to melt clay figures; when captured, the process formed a dissolving episode.

Perhaps, the most known clay film of that period was The Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Dream (1908). Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big success.

What’s really amazing about 3D animation video production is the fact it never vanished for good. Today, there’s the whole industry producing high-quality clay-based films: Chicken Run, ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride, and others. Of course, to create 3D video production like this, professionals are making use of modern technology advancements and animation techniques. Still, the core of the 1900s remains.

The Halt and 2D Video Production

Many years have passed before the clay method transformed, evolved, and ended in the appearance of 3d video production companies. Surely, there we will witness a period of reemergence, but for now, 2D animation video production is in full swing. 

In the early & mid-20th century, 2D animation video production companies witnessed a huge rise in innovation and creativity in video production, film making, and special effects. The brightest example is perhaps the Warner Bros & Walt Disney Animation Studios who changed the entire film industry by giving the audience Steamboat Willie (1930) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

And in spite of the fact that modern animation software allows filmmakers to ease the flow of creating animations, with 2D animation, the illustration of thoughts is more detailed and imaginative. Throughout time, 2D techniques have preserved their charm to many viewers and are taking a solid position in the area of multimedia production.

3D animation history dates

The Emergence of 2D-3D Animation Video Production: Boeing Man / Boeman Boom

2D is still around. But there’s a random Boeing employee who sets new industry trends without any distinct intention. In the mid-1960s, William Fetter created 3D images while making short films for Boeing. Fetter made use of wireframe drawing to model pilots and test whether or not they’d reach the tools, sit, or move in the cockpit. For the very first time, a computer was used for designing models and then animating them. His experiments and random guesses made William Fetter the founder of computer-generated imagery. 

Following Fetter’s steps, Frederic Parke created human face 3D models that included expressions of distress and happiness for Face & Body Parts (1974). A few years later, Edwin Catmull designed and presented computer-generated limbs. 

Star Wars & 3D Animated Video Production: Beyond Cultural Significance

The epic space opera franchise Star Wars is the source of innovation in video production. These are only some of its technological significance advancements:

  • THX
  • Blue screen
  • Go motion
  • Dykstraflex
  • Bionic limbs
  • Holographic displays
  • 3D computer animation

The year 1977 was influenced by the release of Episode IV: A New Hope. The movie gave the audience their first look at 3D wireframe animation. Though now that motion graphics technology looks plain, over 45 years ago that was a state of the art, allowing sci-fi fans to get closer to extraordinary effects, advanced technology as well as the futuristic feel that they deliver.

Tron followed the standards set by Lucas. This was the first movie where CG imagery was utilized in an extensive manner: for nearly a quarter of an hour, the film included images that were 100% computer generated. Together with this, 200 of the scenes in Tron used CG backgrounds.

1990s’ Evolution: Terminator, Jurassic Park, Toy Story

The final decade of the 20th century was influenced by the industry’s best movies, where any 3D animated video production company had a chance to leave their footprint. 

To start with, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) was adored by the greater audience for a brand new Arnie, cool plot, and thrilling digital and sound effects. 3D methods were extensively used in the film to deliver a smooth transition between the shapes (from a police officer to a truck driver in the truck chase scene) or add computer-generated floor replicas (at the hospital).

Jurassic Park (1993) made history. 3D was used almost everywhere: for green screens, city destruction, CG dinosaurs, and other impactful scenes. This was one of the rare films to utilize the whole 3D animation package. 

3d video production
But the only movie that left all its predecessors far behind was Pixar’s Toy Story (1995). Unlike other movies, this one didn’t include some CG elements but was the first CA film. And if critics had huge concerns that a 3D technology could take the audience to a wholly new emotional level, after Toy Story had won multiple awards and grossed almost four hundred million worldwide, the skeptics stepped aside. Soon, Toy Story gave way to Monsters, Inc., Up, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, and more.

2009 and Realistic Creatures of Avatar

Actually, Cameron came up with the idea of filming Avatar back in the 90s. But what he did apprehend was the lack of advancements in the field of technology that would allow him and his team to deliver a film where 70% of the footage would be created from computer-generated imagery. So he waited.

Before Avatar, most successful 3D movies were animated. So James Cameron decided to move forward and use the skills of a 3D video production company to build his own virtual reality world. Cameron was working alongside Vince Pace to patent a fusion digital 3D camera system that later allowed him to move through a 3D terrain.

3D Animation: 2013-2023 Decade in Review

What differentiates 3D animation of the last decade from the 3D animation back in the 90s or 70s is how realistic-looking everything appears. The lighting has become better, modeling – clearer, texturing – more intricate. The recent works of Dreamworks and Pixar have created a cartoonish universe with faces and moves that are human-like if not more.

3D animation has gone beyond a technique and become an art for animated movies like Frozen, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, The Boss Baby, or Zootopia, and a true helping hand for Marvel movies, Dune, or Tenet. Thanks to new software, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence combined with the power of 3D, the line between what’s real and what’s not is blurred. And more is to come.


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