Transportation toys in 3D: From static models to animation

Dimension render by Vladimir Petkovic.

As the world of 3D and AR have evolved at Adobe, so has the story around 3D content. From the beginnings of Project Felix to the current landscape of Dimension, Aero, Substance, Mixamo, and the Adobe Stock 3D collection (at over 10K PBR models), we are always working consistently across teams to create the best experience for artists and creatives.

One of the most critical components of any custom content initiative is being confident that users have what they need in app while features are evolving. In this spirit, we wanted to give you, those creative storytellers working in Dimension and Aero, insight into the some of the work that goes into building a tailored and yet unified experience.

This article is a content story — a story about 3D models and animation. It is also an opportunity for artists and designers to experiment with a new, free collection of 21 assets, both animated and static 3d models, within these apps.

A collection of free transportation toy models made for Dimension on Adobe Stock.

A visual of the free transportation toy assets, animated, in the Starter Asset of Aero.

The initial content strategy

Over the past two years, the design, content, and user research teams have come together repeatedly to investigate what Creative Cloud users are interested in exploring in 3D and AR. Through these learning, research had identified an unmet user need – the ability to access animated content for use in augmented reality (AR) experiences (especially for those who were new to 3D). In the words of Stefanie Hutka, Senior Experience Researcher at Adobe, “We found that creatives across a wide array of backgrounds – such as 2D, 3D, and motion graphics, expected to find animated assets in an AR experience. We also learned that a majority of creatives, many of who were new to 3D, were interested in using sourced 3D assets.” This information guided the team to the next question. If we created a custom collection of 3D models for artists working in 3D and AR, taking into account different user expectations, what would they be?

Phase 1: The experience

The beginning step for any content strategy is to understand the end use. For Dimension, our goal is to give artists the ability to create lush, impactful 3D scenes from a desktop application. For Aero, the content may, at times, require added functionality (like animation) to allow more versatility on a mobile device in a real time environment.

As the Aero Team worked to develop Record Path Animation in-app (the ability to pull an asset along a user-generated path), the Content Team began to strategize what type of content would give artists the overall best experience.

An example or Record Path Animation in Aero.

The goals of this content vision included:

  1. Leveraging a high-end design sensibility during asset creation that would differentiate the content for both 3D and AR users.
  2. Focusing on assets that would work well in both a Dimension render and an Aero immersive experience.
  3. Developing a custom collection that could have the utmost versatility if pulled along an animation path.

Phase 2: The content

With these goals in mind, the initial concept came to the team quickly – modes of transportation. It is natural for users moving objects along a path in a real time experience to be interested in planes, trains, and automobiles. These objects roll, fly, and float around us on a daily basis and open up new areas of the world through travel and exploration.

The next step was to find reference and source material that could help guide the content development. For inspiration, we started with vintage modes of transportation from public domain sources like the Library of Congress, the Met Collection, and others. By using these historic archives as a resource, it became easy to envision the type of assets that could be developed and the way the content collection could connect as a whole.

A train moving through the countryside from the Library of Congress, Reproduction #LC-USZ62-72119 (left). The Express Train by Charles Parsons (1859) from the Met Collection, Accession #63.550.62 (right).

The development story does not end here. In order to make these assets truly unique, the Content Team then worked on a visual strategy to push this custom collection further. Using concepts like nostalgia, personal history, childhood, and #tbt (Throwback Thursday), we focused on evolving these visuals from vintage forms of transportation to vintage forms of transportation toys. Leveraging materials like warm beech wood along with glossy steel and scratched copper helped to solidify the aesthetics – hinting at the handmade nature of toys and the industrial history of transportation. With these components in place, the assets took on a life of their own, becoming beautiful, one-of-a-kind works for artists to use during 3D art creation.

A 3D model of a toy train from the Transportation Toys Collection on Adobe Stock.

Phase 3: Animation

After finishing the collection of 3D models for Dimension and Adobe Stock, we decided that, for Aero, we could enhance the user experience through additional functionality. What would be more engaging and more fun than adding small animated features to each asset to help make the in-app design experience more successful?

It became critical at this juncture to decide how each asset should be changed. Should the car rock back and forth, simulating movement on a rocky road or should only the tires spin? Should the sails on the large boat billow as if in a strong wind or should the user only see slight movements to imply a light breeze? Each of the models was evaluated on an asset-by-asset basis but also as a collection to be certain that the movements were natural to the Record Path Animation feature. It was also important to be sure the animation enhanced versus detracted from the creative experience.

The final results turned into a one-of-a-kind experience, embracing all of the elements that make 3D assets within an augmented reality experience truly unique.

Video made by Justin Patton and Vladimir Petkovic in Adobe Aero with assets from Adobe Stock.

The finale

With the static and animated assets now complete and available for creatives to use, we are excited to see the results. Whether you create a 3D render in Dimension or an animated experience in Aero, the opportunities are endless.