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The 10 best 3D shorts of 2013

We round up mini-marvels and hidden gems from the world of animation across the last 12 months - all impressively executed and thoroughly entertaining!

If you're looking for a quick blast of inspiration to spur you on in your creative effort, a beautifully crafted piece of 3D can do wonders. Here, we've put together a list of awesome examples, released in the last nine months. From sci-fi to comedy, each is a joy to watch from both a technical and an entertainment point of view...

01. Space Bound

The enduring power of companionship is the central theme of Space Bound, an achingly poignant animated short from 3D artist Ellen Su and animator Kyle Moy, both students at New York’s School of Visual Arts.

Space Bound focuses on a young astronaut and his dog, who are stranded in deep space and fast running out of air. Despite the grim hopelessness of their situation, the two enjoy a final, jubilant romp in the universe as their last minutes of air expire.

The colour and movement in Space Bound complements the scale and emptiness of space. There is a graceful dignity to the whole aesthetic. For Su and her partner Moy, the story was something that came naturally from their own experiences.

02. The Blue Umbrella

The short accompanying Monsters University proved that Pixar still has the ability to tell charming stories with only a couple of everyday objects. This is a simple love story between a blue and a red umbrella in a magical city that comes alive with expressive faces when it begins to rain. It was the brainchild of technical artist Saschka Unseld, who has worked in Pixar’s camera and staging department since 2008.

To create the photo-realistic animation style, Pixar had to develop new special effects techniques. “The photographic look of the film was a substantial departure for Pixar,” says supervising technical director Chris Burrows. “To accomplish it, we were fortunate enough to use some new illumination techniques developed within RenderMan for Monsters University.”

Originally, the team had considered shooting footage, but eventually the fully CG cityscape was chosen for its flexibility in the camera placement and movement. The team built all the shots and then rerecorded them with a separate camera capture unit for a hand-held look. This helped to give a sense of weight and the impression of moving through physical space.

03. Shave it

There are some animations that grab you from the get-go. 'Shave it' did just that, thanks to its breathtaking explosion of colours and characters. Produced by Argentinian agency 3dar Studios, the animation is able to tell a thought-provoking tale in a truly beautiful and black comedy fashion.

The story begins in the wilderness of the forests where giant bulldozers are tearing apart the woods. There is a monkey that accidentally finds a shaving machine and decides to use it. Subsequently disguised as a human being, he moves out to the city and starts a career.

Director Jorge Tereso says, "Over the last few years I've been travelling to Brazilian Forests in the Amazon. This had a deep imact in aspect of my life. When the oportunity of making a short film appeard, I joined forces with Fernando Maldonado, who co-directed and animated most of the film with an amazing speed and quality. You can see a range of storyboards, drawings, concept art, colour scripts, character designs and stills from 'Shave it!' on the 3dar Studios website.

04. Stardust

We couldn't believe our eyes when we stumbled upon this stunning CG animation from Dutch film production company PostPanic. Founded in 1997, they've been creating unique visual work for the international advertising, broadcast, retail, and music industries.

The film was inspired by the death of PostPanic's good friend and graphic designer Arjan Groot, who died aged 39 on 16 July 2011 from cancer. The film tells the story of Voyager 1 (the unmanned spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore the outer solar system). The probe is the furthest man-made object from the sun and witnesses unimaginable beauty and destruction.

The story centers on the idea that in the grand scheme of the universe, nothing is ever wasted and it finds comfort in us all essentially being Stardust ourselves. Voyager represents the memories of our loved ones and lives that will never disappear.

05. Under the Fold

Danish company The Animation Workshop is widely renowned for its stellar animation work. This latest project, 'Under The Fold' only adds to their already impeccable reputation.

The film takes place during the beginning of the Great Depression. A loving father, Frank, loses his job and struggles to find another in streets crowded with unemployed workers. Homeless, and with his son Andrew in tow, things start to look pretty bleak.

The film was directed and animated by Bo Juhl Nielsen, with Thomas Vind Mortensen as the production manager and animation supervisor. Rune Rask took on the technical art director and CG artist role, with art direction taken care of by Sara Mai Olsen.

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06. Let's talk about soil

This intentive 3D animated documentary created by Uli Henrik Streckenbach focuses attention on the dirt that sustains us in dramatic fashion. The clean and precise animated short takes you on a journey of how soil is created, how we are losing it, why we need soil and how we can safeguard it.

Streckenbach is commited to the cause, though, and recently won prizes for an animation on overfishing. For more information on the subject, visit Global Soil Week. Design, modelling and animation duties on the short were shared with Ronny Schmidt while Maik Lochmann did the character rigging and Andrea Abendroth took care of the scarecrow.

07. Serial Taxi

A serial killer is on the loose! But all may not be as obvious as it seems in this brilliant 3D short by Ringling College of Art and Design student Paolo Cogliati.

The film tells the tale of a young woman who decides to avoid the rain and catch a taxi home instead. As she flags one down, her mobile phone informs her of a taxi serial killer, who's still at large. Panicking, she desperately looks for an escape. Question is, does she find one?

Director Paolo Cogliati tells us all about the short's production in this in-depth interview.

08. 98% human

Animal rights organisation PETA is well-known for producing controversial advertising campaigns to get its message across. And it's latest offering '98% Human' is definitely no exception. The hard-hitting commercial isn't by any means an easy watch - there's a pretty unpleasant ending - but it's a fantastic example of photorealistic CG. 

It's difficult to believe the creature is not real - and that's actually the point of the harrowing advertisement. PETA’s message is that we should remove real apes from TV, film and commercial production in favour of such pixel-generated creatures instead. 

The idea came from ad agency BBDO, New York, with design and animation taken care of by Mill+ NY. The content may upset some, but what's undeniable is that everything from the modelling and rigging to the fur, texturing and animation is nothing short of amazing.

09. Booty Call

Anomalia is a training and networking platform to support the long-term professional growth of 3D animation artists, led by Isaac Kerlow, formerly of Disney, and Kyle Balda, formerly of Pixar. The work of 16 animators taking part in an Anomalia workshop, this caper follows a pirate on his quest to rob a ship.

The ship crew on board is enjoying joyous celebrations filled with excitement returning with such hefty profit, while Babinsky below the deck is moving the chest full of gold into his boat. But when his careless handling of the treasure drops, one small coin rolls out and disappears deep into the bowels of the ship...

10. Premier Automne

We instantly fell in love with this animation. Created by Je Regarde, Melting Prod and InEfecto and directed by Carlos De Carvalho and Aude Danset, its unique stylised approach to character design draws on  a hand-made aesthetic that's haunting and evocative.

The story is based around two children: Abel, who lives in the winter and Apolline who lives in the summer. Isolated in their 'natures', they have never met each other - they're not even supposed to meet.

So when Abel crosses the border and discovers Apolline, curiosity is overwhelming. Their encounter soon becomes more complicated than they could imagine. Both of them will have to learn compromise to protect the other. It's all beautifully done, and there's an excellent look behind the scenes of the 3D work in this 'making of' compilation:

Liked this? Read these!

Which 3D shorts did we miss? Let us know in the comments box!

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