Top 3D modeling and animation file formats (7 formats)

Animation industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Digital marketing is exploiting the visual impact that rich and animated content has on potential consumers. Cartoons, movies and other animated sequences are offering immersive experience.

The animation industry is experiencing such phenomenal growth which has never been registered before. However, the process of creating engaging animations is no child’s play. Right from developing low poly 3D meshes to large scale animated environments, animators have to be meticulous enough to ensure that the outcomes are impeccable.

Various File Formats of Animation Software

For CGI animation, a number of software packages are available for securing desired outcomes. You can build a character model in Maya ad then import it in ZBrush for enhancing the details like facial expressions and muscular flexes. During the process of importing file to different rendering software, the chosen format has to be compatible with the package.

Each format has its specific requirements and serves particular functions. So, for a given type of animation, you would have to use the matching file format. The problem with choosing a format that is inconsistent with the software where the file is exported is that vital data would get lost during transfer. There is also the risk of file getting corrupted.

For steering clear of such prospects, you need to understand the importance and use of various animation file formats. This is also imperative for choosing the right format for your needs. Commonly used formats are .obj, .3DS, .Fbx, .step, .stl, .collada, and .iges.

.3DS Format

Animation industry has been given new performance benchmarks by Autodesk. 3DS Max is one of the most powerful software for 3d rendering and modeling. It is presently used for wide scale creation of low polygon models. In presence of other competitors, it is still relevant today.

The .3DS format of this software enjoys the privilege of being compatible with all 3D packages available in market. There is no hassle involved in exporting the file format to any 3D software. Along with less complication, attributes such as color, material, textural properties can be stored in it. The format is commonly used for architectural, academic and engineering modeling.

.FBX format

This file format for Filmbox is largely used in architectural domain. The matrix offered for file support is significant. All files that are rich in complex geometry, textural shades, meshes and good quality materials can be stored with ease. Files can be transferred easily without straining the nerves of animators. The format is extensively used for storing gaming related materials and movie components.

.Obj Format

This file format is meant for 3D design and hence support for animation, transformational and hierarchical modules is missing. Color related information is not stored by default within this format. Instead a file with .MTL extension is used for storing color info. Despite this drawback, it is a good format.

The format is preferred by animators because precise and approximate encoding is supported for surface geometry. Files in this format can be seamlessly transferred which increase the format’s utility. Major 3D software packages like Maya, Cinema 4D, Blender, Meshlab, and XSI support this format.

.STL Format

This stereo lithography format is deployed for transfer of files that are meant for 3D visualization and printing. The format is typically helpful for animators who wish to store just the 3D model’s layout for visualization purpose or sending to 3D printer. It is also used for rapid prototyping, although models’ appearance and animation qualities are not factored in. Only non-complex geometry is supported by this format. FreeCAD, Blender, SketchUp and SolidWorks prominently use this format.

.IGES Format

During 70s, US Air Force had developed this format for representing the surface geometry properly while maintaining the integrity of colors. The format is useful for storing information about animation and material attributes. The format does no longer undergo updates but is used still by CAE, CAD and CAM programs for transferring data. Engineering and defense domains use this format widely. Amateurs use this format commonly as pros use STEP format.

Step Standard

This product data exchange data is commonly used in engineering domain. All complex aspects of the animation process sequence can be seamlessly stored within this format. The popularity of this exchange format is because of its ability of storing data related to complex geometry, material attributes and topological features. For product designing and testing in engineering field, the format is highly useful. All CAM, CAD and CAE software support STEP.STEP saves discrete model related data in different files. This is the explicit benefit of STEP standard.

STEP was developed with the aim of providing animators with a platform for describing product related data all along the lifecycle of the model. There is no need to rely on specific system. The drawbacks of the standard are its complex nature and size of the original files. To overcome these shortcomings, STEP has been disintegrated into modular systems.

.Collada format

This versatile 3D file format is extensively used in movie and gaming segments. All elements of design are supported which include color, material attributes, geometrical complexities, textural designs, physics, animation and kinematics. Collada format was initially designed for rendering it the 3D file format standard. However, the format had failed to keep pace with time but is still in use by many 3D software packages. Maya, 3DS max, Blender, SketchUp, Lightwave 3D have support for this format. Major gaming engines such as Visual3D, ShiVa and Panda3D game environment support this format.

Final Words

If you are a beginner in the animation industry, you would need some time to get accustomed to these prominent file formats. However, you need to keep in perspective the fact that every file format would not support entire array of file properties and may be suited for specific purposes. In order to get optimum outcome from each format, you need to fulfill its unique requirements.

All formats have been developed over time to facilitate seamless creation of 3d animations. Each file format comes accompanied with its own set of benefits and support specific development environments. This implies that if the wrong format is used for a purpose, the support system would fail to deliver appropriately.

The file formats have an important role to play during conversion of 3D models from one system to another to ensure compatibility with different software packages. If you are desirous of animating a model, you need to save it in proper file format. Also, you may be sharing your designs with clients or vendors frequently. If the person does not use the same format, you have to convert it into an appropriate format. With the help of proper file format, you can transmit data in a manner that information is readily usable by the receiver.

The 7 file format options discussed above would help you store and send animation related files to other user without causing any corruption or information loss. Streamline your workflow and enjoy happy animation.