Different art styles in 3D animation

There are many different styles and sub-styles in 3D animation, each with its own unique characteristics. Listed below is a short summary of the most popular styles today in 3D animation.

Covered in this post are the styles:

  • Realism
  • Photorealism
  • Stylised
  • Low Poly
  • Cel Shading (Toon Shading)
  • Anime
  • Abstract

Realism

This style aims to create animations and 3D models that look as realistic as possible. This is often used in animations and high quality video games, where realism is important for creating a believable world. It may not aim for photorealistic imagery, but it aims for the highest quality and close as possible to a real life look and feel.

Photorealism

Similar to the above – but it goes one step further where this style aims to create 3D animations that look photorealistic. The focus is on creating life like characters, environments, lighting and objects, with a high level of detail and accuracy. Photorealistic 3D animation aims to create images that look like they could be photographs or video footage. This style requires a high level of technical skill and attention to detail, and is used for creating animations, product or architectural visualizations.

For example the short animation Jibaro has an amazing photorealistic style.

Stylised

Stylized 3D animation involves simplifying or exaggerating real life elements to create a unique and eye-catching visual style. This can include using bold colours, exaggerated proportions, or simplified shapes. This style is often used in animated movies and TV shows, where the goal is to create visuals that are fun, engaging or unique.

Low Poly

An art style pretty much exclusive to 3D animation that uses low detail and low geometry shapes for everything in the scene from foliage to the characters. It literally uses low poly geometry and this creates a very distinctive and also engaging style.

Cel Shading (also known as Toon Shading)

When I first started writing this post I had included a style called Cartoon, but this isn’t quite right as 3D animations aren’t cartoons and cartoons are a 2D hand drawn technique, however there is a cartoonish like style known as Cel Shading.

This is a technique that is used to make 3D models and animations look like they were drawn by hand in a traditional 2D style. It is often used in video games and animated movies, where it can add a unique look and feel to the visuals. Similar to stylized animation, Cel Shading animation emphasizes a simplified and exaggerated style, using flat shading and black silhouette outlines around objects. This style also often involves using bright colours, simple shapes, and exaggerated facial expressions and movements to create a cartoonish style look.

This can be consider very close to a stylized animation and within 3D animation it can be argued all these styles (Stylised, Cel Shading, Toon shading) sit within a stylized framework. However, it is possible to have a traditional looking cartoon style used in 3D animation with Cel Shading and the example below shows this, hence this style has been listed an individual style.

Anime

Anime art style is perhaps one of the most famous and distinctive art styles ever created and one that originated in Japan. It has been used in traditional 2d animation, comics, graphic novels and 3d animations.

It is characterized by the use of exaggerated facial features, large expressive eyes and stylized hair. Although the bodies of the characters are usually proportional and not exaggerated in any specific way.

The art style can vary from show to show, with some series adopting a more realistic style while others use a more exaggerated and cartoonish approach. Overall, anime art style is known for its vibrant colours, attention to detail, and its ability to capture a wide range of emotions and complex storytelling.

Abstract

Abstract animation strives to break free of copying reality and instead expressing emotions and creating vivid, unique visuals that don’t necessarily represent anything in the real world. This can include using geometric shapes, experimental lighting, and other creative techniques to create a visually stunning and thought-provoking piece of animation.

Closing Thoughts

Listed here are short summaries of the most popular and commonly used styles in 3D animation, but there are many other sub-styles and styles that can be utilised in the world of 3D. If I have missed a key style or you have a question please do make a comment in the post. The style that is used in any animation will depend on the specific project and the desired look and feel.

For more info on animation and 3D Animaiton please see the animation section of the website. Also to see the animation work that I am creating (primarily in Unreal Engine or Blender) please see my Youtube channel.