Create 3D Assembly Animations with Autodesk 3D Studio Max or Blender

A guest-tutorial by Jon Cantin at WoodMarvels.

As a long-time heavyweight in the Ponoko Showroom, WoodMarvels continues to surprise and delight with their diverse collection of lasercut 3d models. Today we bring you a special insight into the WoodMarvels process.

Jon, the man-marvel behind WoodMarvels, walks us through as he produces the assembly animation for one of his latest constructions - the Junior Tractor.

From the very beginning, I decided that every model I produce for WoodMarvels.com must include a 3D assembly animation. Over the past three years, this concept has evolved greatly but the foundation, which is what I'm including in this blog post, has remained mainly the same.

Software & Hardware Requirements

Although I'm using Autodesk 3D Studio Max 2011 for this process, you can set-up a similar system with Blender which is free of charge. I'm currently rendering at 720p HD and although I have a top of the line 64-bit HP laptop running a i7 core (equivalent of 8 cores) on Windows 7, the rendering times I experience for this project alone was about 150 hours. This doesn't include the design time, or any other work involved, just the rendering you see at the end of this blog post.


Import your finished 3D model into a virtual studio made-up of a tube around the model, flat surface (set the model on this), a circle above the tube upon which you roll a camera that looks directly at the model. I used a "look-at" modifyer for the camera and attached it to the path (circle) in my program but there must be an equivalent in Blender.

As you can see in the top view, I've separated the model into it's individual parts behind the tube. This means the camera can fly around the scene without seeing parts whose turn to come into the scene hasn't come yet.

Looking at the image now in "camera view", you can see that all the parts fly together at the same time, to solve this, you need to alternate their timelines so that each part comes into the scene, one at a time.

Render the basic assembly scene out, in this case, the entire assembly process will occur over 1400 frames (you need 30 frames per second). Usually these software estimates are off, but to put this into perspective, if it takes a frame one minute to render, it means it *should* be done 1 400 minutes later which is roughly 23 hours BUT keep in mind that parts are flying INTO the scene, each one will increase the time it takes to render the scene. Don't be surprised if 48 hours later, the animation still isn't finished. I believe this one took about 60 hours to do till it was all done.

What I really enjoy is making a small "story" at the end of an animated scene, although these easily double rendering times and delay the launch of products, the more time you spend on making an animation, the higher the likelyhood that it may become viral thus helping to increase sales.

Yes, that IS 1 hour and 17 minutes PER FRAME. Luckily in this case, I didn't have 1,400 frames to render! And here is the final result - a signature WoodMarvels assembly animation for the Make Your Own Toys Junior Tractor:

Keep in mind that in many cases it's not just the making and photography that sells your product - as Jon has proven time and time again; adding personality through engaging animations can really help bring a product to life.

So after all that, who is this Jon Cantin fellow?

Jon Cantin has the largest showroom on Ponoko.com and has published two books on the subject of creating 3D products using only 2D forms. He is the founder of WoodMarvels.com and now sells files around the world through various partnerships. He is a self-taught 3D animator, designer, businessman and world traveler.

There's a little bit of Jon's philosophy in every WoodMarvels product -

WoodMarvels.com is all about instilling a sense of pride in not only yourself but in those around you while creating a carbon neutral impact on the environment!


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