Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.

But don’t overlook MCAD. Much of the work involved in producing computer animation is in procuring and creating the necessary 3D models. Companies that employ 3D CAD already have this data available within their engineering departments. This is a huge step in keeping costs in check on an animation project.

Engineers might wonder whether they can handle an animation themselves without farming it out. Some CAD packages have canned animation software in which movements of an assembly can be choreographed on a timeline. But these features are basic and have their limitations (lack of photorealism and limited output formats, to name just two). An animation that only needs to show a range of motion — say, for a linkage in a design phase — could use canned animation in CAD software. However, specialized software is generally the way to go for wowing people at a trade-show booth or for creating high-quality marketing videos.

Setting up an animation

Animations can be created on a standard CAD workstation. The complexity of the subject matter determines the amount of horsepower necessary. For example, it takes less horsepower to animate a BIC pen coming apart compared to a full-blown, multithousand-part assembly-line animation.

There are two types of “horsepower” required. The first is necessary to choreograph and set up and keyframe the animation. This is analogous to the horsepower you would need for CAD work, and the key-frame software resembles CAD software. The keyframe animation can be visualized as wire-frame models you can orbit around while adjusting movements as you go along.

The other type of horsepower required is that used to convert each frame of the wire-frame view into the finished, photoreal version. The standard is 30 frames/sec of animation. This process is called “rendering” and consumes a lot of processing power. Some individual frames could take 15 min or more to render. To figure the total rendering time, multiply individual frame rendering time by 30 frames and 60 sec for each minute of animation. Clearly, rendering can be time consuming. These are unmanned computer hours, of course.

Download this article in .PDF format
This file type includes high resolution graphics and schematics when applicable.