Getting Started with 3D for Video: 8 Questions with Alex Dow

Learning 3D from the best.

Alex Dow - Zaxwerks Software
Alex Dow - Zaxwerks Software. Alex Dow

Diving into 3D post production for video can an intimidating prospect, but we had a chance to sit down with one of the industry's most creative and capable 3D gurus, Alex Dow. Alex is a principal at Zaxwerks Software, a 3D software company out of Southern California.

1. So Alex, when thinking about introducing 3D for the first time in video, what do I need to know? Like, how does it differ from normal graphics that appear on screen?

Normal graphics are 2D.  2D is flat, like when you cut words out of paper.  3D has thickness and depth and is more like a photograph.  There's shading, texture, cameras, lighting and atmosphere.  The biggest advantage of 3D over 2D is that 3D attracts your eye.  The reason every news program has 3D graphics for their introductions is because it makes you sit up and take notice.

2. What are some of the common uses for 3D when making a video?

That's a great question.  It's easy to spot the 3D in movies and video games but these are multi-million dollar projects that few people will ever be a part of.  On the other hand there's a whole world of 3D graphics right under your nose and that's the world called 3D Motion Graphics.  This is where you use interesting graphics to communicate a message. "Here's my show."  "Here's our big event."  "Our President will now tell you a story."  Some common uses are show openers, show titles, sponsor logo animations, lower thirds, transitions between story segments,  call to action screens and speaker support during interviews or direct monologues.

3. Do you need a special program to make 3D graphics and titles? (mention AE, others)

These days there are programs to fit every price range.  If you want totally free you can download Blender, but you'll be in for a very long and steep learning curve. Unless you have lots of free time you'll probably give up after a while and decide that 3D is too hard.

  But that's really not your fault.  Blender is a program written by techies for techies.  So unless you're a techie... you get the picture.

The professional standard for doing 2D motion graphics is Adobe After Effects.  After Effects has limited 3D abilities, so unless you really know what you're doing you will have a hard time making something you'd show to other people.  The best companion software for turning After Effects into a fast and usable 3D motion graphics system is to add a plug-in called Zaxwerks 3D ProAnimator.

Zaxwerks has been around almost as long as AfterEffects has been around, so many of the 3D graphics you see on TV, at sports events or for corporate presentations are done with Zaxwerks.

4. Some of the big 3D platforms seem expensive. Are there other, 3rd party apps that will get the job done?

Sticker shock is a big part of the 3D world.  People don't realize that when they pay $3500 for a piece of software they are not buying something that is easy to use or fast.  Big 3D programs are made to do very custom work, so unless you are doing big budget projects that's not a direction that's profitable.

Low budget software, (under $200) is sometimes fun for the first few days but then you hit a wall and everything you make ends up looking like everything else.

Mid priced software ($300 to $600) is usually the best of both worlds.  It's oftentimes much easier to use than a giant 3D program, but still has enough options to create custom work.