3D Animation Art Styles

3D animation has a lot in common with people: it is creative and multifaceted. You never know what to expect from it, which is why the niche of game animation outsourcing likes it so much. While using various 3D animation art styles, game artists can come up with new innovative ideas. They can experiment with different approaches and make the game memorable and outstanding. In general, it may be enough for a lot of game developers and players to be fascinated by 3D animation. 

Today we’ll talk about 3D animation examples, various styles, and how game artists can use 3D animation in their projects. Let’s dive into the intricate world of animation in game development!

Different 3D animation styles art with fantasy characters and pixar elements collage

Understanding Different Game Art Styles in 3D Animation

From realistic to anime-inspired game art, there are a lot of places to go for game artists. Many 3D animation art styles perfectly complement the game’s narrative, enhance its aesthetic, and help find an appropriate target audience. Due to this, game developers can create an engaging visual experience for players.

Realistic 3D Animation

Realistic 3D animated young man in a subway station, pixar styled character animations

All gamers at least once had that moment when they were looking at the game art and wondering: “Is it a real video or graphics?” And this is about realistic 3D animation. Its difference from other game art styles in 3D animation is that realistic 3D graphics aim to replicate the visual aspects of the real world with a high degree of accuracy. 

While playing such games as Cyperpunk 2077 or The Last of Us Part 2, people notice the use of high-resolution textures to mimic the fine details of surfaces such as skin, fabric, and environmental elements. Accurate lighting and shadows are other distinctive features of 3D animation for games. Realism is achieved through advanced lighting techniques, including global illumination and realistic shadow rendering.

Before starting the project, game developers learn a lot about the behavior of objects and characters. It is a necessary stage for simulating real-world physics, including gravity, friction, and collisions. Due to this, the animation and gameplay of the game become authentic. Also, realistic 3D animation often employs cinematic camera angles and movements to enhance storytelling within the game.

In contrast to other 3D animation art styles, realistic 3D animation is often associated with high-end graphics and AAA titles. Simulation games, such as racing or flight simulators, benefit from realistic 3D animation to create authentic vehicle dynamics, lifelike landscapes, and realistic weather effects. And of course, this kind of animation is used a lot for creating convincing virtual reality experiences, where users expect a high level of visual immersion.

Cartoonish/Stylized 3D Animation

Vibrant 3D animated character running energetically across a colorful landscape

A lot of people associate cartoonish characters with childhood and games they were playing being newcomers in the game world. Obviously, in those days, the 2D animation style was very popular for cartoonish games, and 2D game animation services were at the peak of popularity. But nowadays, the 3D animation art style is a leader in creating cartoonish or stylized 3D animation. 

Among other art styles in 3D animation, cartoonish and stylized 3D games often feature characters with exaggerated proportions, emphasizing certain features for comedic effect. Vibrant and bold color schemes are prevalent, creating an energetic look. And, high contrast between light and dark areas enhances the stylized aesthetic of such games. 

In return to AAA titles, in cartoonish games characters and objects are designed with simplified, geometric shapes, avoiding realistic details in favor of a more iconic and easily recognizable appearance. Also, a very pleasant detail is that stylized animation frequently incorporates humor into character design to entertain the audience.

Perfect uses of 3D animation in cartoonish games are Fortnite and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. Fortnite has vibrant colors, exaggerated character designs, and whimsical elements. It’s well-known for its distinct and ever-changing in-game events. In return, The Legend of Zelda showcases a cel-shaded art style with expressive character animations and a fantasy-inspired world.

Fantasy 3D Animation

Disney Castle in a mystical forest with glowing flora and a magical atmosphere at night, western 3D animation styles

So many gamers around the world adore fantasy games for their ability to combine various 3D animation art styles and approaches to make fascinating titles. For instance, a lot of hyperrealistic games combine 3D realistic and fantasy animation. 

Talking about fantasy games, animation often features magical and otherworldly landscapes, including mystical forests, ancient castles, and fantastical realms. Unique and fantastical creatures, such as dragons and elves, are also quite common in fantasy 3D animation. Because of that, game developers spend a lot of time, working on skeletal animation of various monsters and mythical beasts.

From a technical point of view, fantasy games have a special list of animation techniques connected to dynamic lighting. It is necessary for enhancing the magical ambiance, featuring glowing effects, radiant auras, and magical light sources. 

One of the best fantasy titles is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. With its vast open-world environments, dragons, magical landscapes, and rich fantasy lore, it’s a perfect game for every fan of fantasy worlds. Our company was so inspired by the series that we even wrote a whole article about games that are similar to Elder Scrolls.

World of Warcraft is another good example of a quality 3D fantasy game. There a gamer can find a world with diverse races, mythical creatures, and epic quests in a visually expansive universe.

Key Techniques for Different Styles

What is concept art in animation? How to make good 3D animation? Newcomers in game development ask themselves these questions every day. But the answer varies on what art style you choose for the project. In general, art styles in 3D animation have a lot of different features but also have something in common. Key techniques and approaches are one of those things that are unique for every style. Let’s look at them in detail.

Collection of stylized 3D characters representing different art styles, realistic cartoon 3D animation

Texturing and Shading in Realistic Animation

If you want realistic 3D animation, there is no escaping the texturing and shading. 

While working on small details (such as skin pores, fabric patterns, or surface imperfections), game developers use high-resolution texture maps. It allows for closer inspection without loss of quality. To ensure that textures are applied seamlessly, preventing distortions and ensuring accurate representation, it’s a good decision to use UV mapping. Of course, while working on 3D animation, artists should combine multiple texture layers with different properties (diffuse, specular, normal, etc.) to create realistic materials with varying responses to light.

In return to other 3D animation art styles, shading is extremely significant. PBR workflows simulate real-world lighting and shading accurately. They also consider factors like metalness, roughness, and specular reflection to mimic realistic materials. Illumination techniques, such as radiosity or ray tracing, simulate the indirect bounce of light, enhancing the realism of shaded surfaces. Also, what helps a lot to enhance the realism, is to use of anisotropic shading for materials with directional highlights, such as brushed metal or hair.

Exaggeration and Simplification in Stylized Animation

Cartoonish art style in 3D animation almost always has simplified details to make the game bright and different from other genres, such as realistic 3D animation. Due to this, game artists can let the imagination flow and experiment with forms and materials. 

Stylized animation often features exaggerated proportions, where certain features of characters are emphasized for expressive or comedic effect. For instance, characters might have oversized eyes, heads, or limbs. Also, emotions are exaggerated too: extreme joy, surprise, or frustration can have too expressive facial movements.

Simplification is extremely important in cartoonish 3D animation art style. Stylized animation often simplifies backgrounds and environments, focusing on key elements to maintain a cohesive look. For example, environments might be created with minimalistic shapes and details, emphasizing the overall aesthetic rather than realism. Talking about realism, cartoonish games intentionally avoid realistic details, opting for a more abstract or symbolic representation of characters and objects. A perfect example: a character might have simplified fur patterns instead of realistic fur textures.

Underwater scene with a stylized 3D mermaid character surrounded by colorful sea

Imaginative Design Elements in Surreal Animation

If someone asks us to explain the different types of animation and what game artists like the most, probably our answer will be fantasy 3D or surreal animation. From experiments with realism to manipulation with time, there are so many opportunities to be creative and innovative.

What surreal animation may have is distorted proportions. A character might have impossibly long limbs or a distorted face, creating an otherworldly appearance. Another cool detail is metamorphosis. A character might transform into a surreal creature, or everyday objects might morph into fantastical elements. 

Actually about the last one: The Witcher 3 perfectly combined surreal, fantasy, and realistic 3D animation together. They even used CGI in their projects provoking hundreds of questions about whether is CGI the same as 3D animation. Anyway, CD Project RED made a fantastical game with elements of various 3D animation art styles, different approaches, and instruments.

The Best Studios in Various 3D Animation Art Styles

Of course, there are a lot of good studios with outstanding 3D animation art styles, but we would like to mention 3 of them.

3D animation art studio with a robot character working on animation software, new 3d animation style feels lagy

RetroStyle Games

RetroStyle Games is a studio that catches a lot of inspiration from creating games with a nostalgic, retro-inspired aesthetic. Of course, they are professionals not only in this field. Cyberpunk, pixel art, 3D fantasy models, and other design elements of various video games and art styles in 3D animation are their main trump cards.

RetroStyles Games is likely known for developing games with an unforgettable outstanding aesthetic, sometimes a little bit retro and nostalgic. Among their specific projects are Zombie Run 2 and Last Pirate.

Dreamfarm Studio

Dreamfarm Studio is recognized for its expertise in 3D visualization, animation, and interactive solutions. Usually, this studio works across various industries, including architecture, marketing, and education.

Talking about their projects, Dreamfarm Studio has been involved in a range of projects, including architectural renderings, product visualizations, and interactive applications. Among their outstanding games are Cross the Ages and K Star.

3D-Ace

3D-Ace is a studio that perfectly associates with different 3D animation art styles. This studio provides 3D modeling, animation, and outsourcing services. They have experience in diverse areas, including game development, simulation, and VR/AR projects. So, as you can see, they are professionals.

3D-Ace has worked on projects related to character design, game assets, architectural visualization, and more. In their portfolio, you can find bright NFT collections, 3D and 2D animations, and various NFT assets.

Different 3D animated characters and scenes showcasing various design styles

Well-known Artists in Various 3D Animation Art Styles

  1.  Realistic Game Art

Jin Woo Kim (Zeronis)  is known for realistic character designs and concept art. This game artist worked on games like League of Legends, contributing to character skins and visuals. His main expertise is concept art and character design.

  1. Stylized Game Art

Joakim Sandberg (Konjak) created the visually stunning and stylized pixel art game “Iconoclasts” known for its detailed and expressive character designs. His main expertise is pixel art and 2D game design.

  1. Cartoonish Game Art

Joe Madureira (Joe Mad) is a renowned comic book artist and game designer known for the cartoonish art style in games like “Darksiders.” His main expertise is comic book and game art with a cartoonish style.

  1. Fantasy Game Art

Yoshitaka Amano is renowned for his work on the Final Fantasy series. Amano’s fantasy-inspired art has had a significant impact on the visual aesthetics of the games. His main expertise is concept art and character design.

  1. Surreal Game Art

Swery (Hidetaka Suehiro) created games like “Deadly Premonition” and “D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die,” known for their surreal and quirky storytelling. His main expertise is game design with surreal and unique narratives.