So, you want to learn how to animate in Element 3D? In this chapter, we will lay the groundwork for this book. You'll need to know what 3D animation is as well as the prerequisites for this book. This book is designed to help users of every skill level gain an intimate understanding of Element 3D, and this chapter is designed to induct you into that world.
This book is designed to help you through the basics (which may be applied to any project) that can get you started with Element 3D. Whether you're new to the world of animation or are an old hand at other software, this book will get you up and running fast. However, before we get started, let's cover some fundamentals of 3D animation.
As this is not a book on Adobe After Effects, but rather a plugin for that software. It is assumed that you have at least a working knowledge of After Effects and its interface. You do not need to be an expert in After Effects; you just have be familiar with it.
Element 3D does not have a proper modeler within it. You must create models within another 3D package. There are free modelers available (such as Blender). Some can be quite expensive (Maya, Lightwave, 3D Studio Max, Cinema 4D, and so on). The principals shown in the modeling section of this book (Chapter 3, Your First Objects, and Chapter 4, Painting Your Geometry (Textures)) can be applied to any 3D software. They all contain the tools used in this book; just the locations of the buttons might change. Thus, it is assumed that you are familiar with the interface of the modeling software that you have chosen.
It should be said that we are not referring to stereoscopic imagery. You do not need glasses or a lenticular screen to view 3D animation. In the world of animation, 3D refers to simulating depth by creating a virtual world within your workspace (as opposed to drawing on a two-dimensional sheet of paper or cell).
Element 3D is far more than just another 3D plugin for After Effects. It's truly a revolutionary change in the method of 3D animation that has traditionally been used. For the first time, a user can bring to bear fully animated 3D models created in virtually any modeling software from within their compositing software (After Effects). An entire book could be devoted to the principles of 3D animation. Suffice to say that from the first mainstream computer animation (Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo opening credit sequence), it's taken over 50 years and countless man-hours to get to the point of, Element 3D.
Element 3D was originally developed as an object array animator. Wow, sounds impressive, doesn't it? Well, it is. Element handles 3D objects as if they were particles, and animates them in groups. Sometimes, these are groups of one object (such as an airplane flying across the sky); sometimes, these are hundreds of objects (such as a group of dancing iPhones). What really makes Element unique is that it gives an After Effects user the ability to animate stunning 3D animations within After Effects itself!
Until recently, using 3D animation with motion graphics or live footage required compositing packages (such as After Effects, Nuke, and so on). Now, with the introduction of Element 3D, you can create animations while doing your color correction or working on motion graphics (all within After Effects). This can greatly decrease cost and increase speed. It also brings with it the ability to create stunning 3D animations on the editor level. Over 50 years of CGI evolution (combined with countless man-hours) brings us here.
In the next chapter, we'll introduce you to the Element 3D interface and prepare our directory structure for your first Element 3D project.