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Daniel Erning
Content Marketing Manager

3D animations for products and websites

One of the most common animations: The burger menu is hardly missing on any website
September 26, 2023

3D animations have been around for a very long time. Starting with computer animations on the PC to 3D animations on websites.

Probably the most common animation worldwide is one that hardly anyone notices: The so-called burger menu, which has been built into almost every website for several years in order to be able to fold in and out a menu (see animation above).

An animation is basically nothing more than changing graphics through a sequence of images designed (often with the help of a computer).

Clippy from Microsoft Word: One of the most famous computer animations

It all began on the Internet with the introduction of the GIF file format in 1987, which is still a popular format for embedding animated images. Companies tried early on to set themselves apart from the competition by displaying their logo as a 3D animation on the Internet.

Even though no one has probably used it for ages, the animation could still be known to “Millennials” and “Gen X”: The Netscape Logo Animation

Over time, Adobe Flash has become one of the most used formats to enable interactive web design and animations. However, after their boom in the early 2000s, the Flash Player and the Flash format were replaced again, in particular by the rise of Apple.
Because Apple and the new iPhones that came onto the market did not support the Flash Player. The reasons given by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at the time were initially critically assessed. In 2017, the Adobe Flash Player was officially discontinued.

Meanwhile, the HTML5 universal standard, which was introduced in 2008, had gradually become established.

Today, web animations and 3D animations are very widely used through HTML5 and CSS3, Lottie and JavaScript as well as SVG animations.

Basically, animations are a sub-discipline of motion design. Because motion design is a more comprehensive discipline that includes not only animation but also the design and choreography of visual elements in a specific space or context.

What is a 3D product animation?

3D animations of products on websites are either interactive and can be moved independently along any axis by the user. Or they are predefined movements of the product in the form of video, GIF or Lottie animations.

In essence, all product animations are dynamic images that are intended to show a product from every angle or make details and hidden objects visible in the form of cross-sections or exploded views.

The advantage of product animations created using 3D visualization is the fact that they are CGI (computer-generated imagery): There are therefore no limits to creativity and form of presentation.

Which animations are used on websites?

On websites, there are a variety of ways to create a special user experience with movements and animations.

As an operator of a website, you should be familiar with these 13 methods for animations:

1. Transitions: Transition animations are used to smoothly switch from one state to another, such as when you hover over a button or navigate between pages. They make for a more sophisticated and user-friendly interface.

2. Scrolling animations: These animations are triggered when users scroll down a web page. They can include parallax effects, show or hide elements, or animate objects when they come into view. Scroll animations add visual interest and guide the user through the content.

3. Hover animations: Hover animations respond to mouse interactions and cause elements to change their appearance or be animated when the user hovers over them. This provides feedback and interactivity.

4. Background animations: Animations that are applied to a web page's background, such as moving patterns, videos, or interactive backgrounds, can make the page more visually appealing.

5. SVG animations: SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) animations animate vector graphics using CSS or JavaScript. They are often used for logos, icons, or illustrations to add a dynamic element to static images.

6. GIFs and video clips: Animated GIFs and video clips can be embedded in web pages to present product features, illustrate processes, or create appealing content.

7. Modal and pop-up animations: Animations can be used to open and close modal windows or pop-ups and make for a smooth and visually appealing transition.

8. 3D and WebGL animations: Advanced web animations can use 3D graphics and WebGL to create immersive and interactive experiences, such as interactive 3D product views or games.

9. Character and storytelling animations: Animated characters or scenes can be used to tell a story, explain a concept, or guide users through a website.

10. Interactive animations: These animations respond to user interactions, provide feedback, or allow users to manipulate elements on the page. For example, interactive infographics or interactive product configurators.

11. Particle animations: Particle animations involve the movement and interaction of small, individual particles to create dynamic and visually impressive effects.

12. CSS animation: With Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), you can create a wide range of animations, including transitions, keyframe animations, and more complex effects. CSS animations are lightweight and browser-friendly.

13. Canvas animations: HTML5 Canvas allows you to create animations that are highly customizable and can be used for games, simulations, and interactive graphics.

Advantages of animations over videos

The Cambridge Dictionary defines animation as “moving images created on the basis of drawings, models, etc. that have been photographed or created with a computer.”

In other words, videos capture scenes from real life, while an animation is a designed sequence of images that often represent fictional or abstract content.

In short: videos record reality, animations are artificial creations.

The biggest benefits for product marketing result from this in these points:

  • Interactivity: Video can be rewound and rewound. With animations, the options are truly interactive and at the same time can tell and convey much more to the viewer in less time.
  • Often lower costs: Since there is no need for a location, for appropriate personnel on site and for the often cost-intensive equipment, the total production costs for animations are also often lower.
  • Reusable assets: Animations often create digital assets that can be reused in future projects, which saves costs in the long term. The digital twin of your own product is the best example of this. There are also entire scenes and props, which can be reused efficiently and at any time.
  • Consistency: For brands in particular, it is important to be consistent across all channels. With animations based on CGI, it is particularly easy to appear visually consistent. There is no need for reshoots or corrections due to deviations in live-action scenes.

8 benefits of 3D product animations

1. Visual appeal: 3D animations are visually compelling and can show products from different angles and perspectives. This visual appeal can immediately grab the viewer's attention and make the product more enticing.

2. See more than in reality: 3D animations can provide an incredibly detailed and realistic representation of a product. They can even show more than would be possible to see in reality. In the case of complex products or those with unique features, 3D animations can thus make it easier to understand. Functions, assembly instructions or usage can be easily demonstrated with the help of animations.

3. Fewer returns: Anything that helps a potential buyer understand all the features of the product before buying can result in fewer returns. The fact that the type of product images has a positive influence on the number of returns is now sufficiently proven in many studies and surveys. 3D animations are a special form of product presentation here to positively influence the return rate.

4. Uniform brand identity: 3D animations are easy to adapt to a company's branding and marketing strategy. This enables consistent messaging and branding across various marketing channels.

5. Cost savings: Although creating a high-quality 3D animation requires an initial investment, it can be cheaper in the long term compared to traditional methods such as physical prototypes or complex photo shoots. Updating and changing animations is also relatively easy and is a significant lever in saving costs for larger product portfolios and similar products.

6. Interactive Features: Some 3D animations can be interactive and allow viewers to explore the product themselves. This increases the viewer's understanding and interest in the product. Engagement with the product is significantly increased.

7. Competitive advantage: Using 3D animations can set a company apart from competitors who still rely on traditional marketing methods. Brands can thus position themselves as innovative and customer-friendly at the same time.

8. Lower environmental impact: Fewer physical prototypes, fewer returns, less logistics, less printed material and less manual effort help save resources. Waste and emissions can be saved with 3D animations compared to videography and photography.

Tips for optimal web performance of 3D animations

As a product marketing manager, if you want to offer more than just static product images or embedded videos on your product pages, animations are a very good tool.

Although it shouldn't be a problem anymore to load extensive websites with any device and scroll smoothly, there are a few tips and tricks that need to be considered. If in doubt, the website owner knows about it anyway; here is an overview of the most important tips for optimal web performance of 3D animations:

Optimize 3D models: The number of polygons for a 3D model of the product can be reduced and the textures used optimized to minimize the size of 3D assets.

Use efficient file formats: If possible, be sure to use lean file formats such as glTF for 3D models.

Implement LOD (level of detail): With LOD techniques, simpler 3D models can be loaded remotely and detailed ones can be loaded up close.

Caching: With browser caching for 3D assets, redundant downloads can be avoided.

Compression: If necessary, textures and 3D assets can be compressed to reduce file size without sacrificing quality.

Responsive design: 3D animations should be implemented responsively and adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions.

Test: 3D animations should be thoroughly tested on various devices and browsers beforehand to ensure compatibility and performance.

Monitor performance: To ensure a good user experience with 3D animations over the long term, the performance of the product page should be continuously monitored using tools such as Google Lighthouse or WebPageTest.

Content Delivery Network (CDN): A CDN can be used to distribute 3D assets from servers that are geographically closer to the user to reduce load times.

Fallbacks: For users with older browsers or devices that do not support 3D graphics, so-called fallbacks, i.e. placeholders, can be set.

User settings: So that individual loading speeds can be taken into account, for example, it is possible to implement a control panel for settings — this allows users to control and adjust the quality or complexity of 3D animations, if necessary.

Like the pros: photorealistic 3D animations for products

The incredible realism achieved through 3D animations is based on cutting-edge technology and meticulous attention to detail. Advanced rendering techniques, physics simulations, and lifelike textures contribute to the authenticity of the animations. From the subtle play of light on surfaces to the accurate representation of materials, 3D animated products can compete with real images, making it difficult to distinguish between animation and actual footage.

renderThat: specialist for all products and all content formats through 3D visualization

For over 10 years, RenderThat has been producing photorealistic and professional content for well-known manufacturers and retailers. And that is based on 3D technologies.

Since we have a lot of experience with 3D animations, we believe that you too are paying too much for moving images of your products.
Not because video agencies or photographers charge too much money.

But because static images and videos are simply no longer up to date.

Take a look at why this is the case in this story:

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