The extra dimension provides an added sense of depth that's very hard to recreate in 2D. And with the introduction of more affordable and free 3D software in recent years, more and more artists are moving into 3D and creating incredible 3D art.
Here are some fantastic examples of our favourite pieces of 3D art. Click the icon in the top right of each image to see it full-size...
01. On the Road to Nowhere
This insanely adorable little alien monster pilot was created by Mohamed Chahin in Blender, before rendering in Cycles. Chahin says that when it comes to 3D art, he's most inspired by stories.
"As artists it's our job to tell these stories in a more visual manner," he says. "After all, all artists are storytellers." It's certainly fun to imagine just what this lovable little critter could be getting up to as he flies around in his orange aircraft.
02. The Forest
When lighting artist Joannie Leblanc created this beautiful woodland scene, she knew just how important it was to use lighting effectively to produce the mood she desired.
"Lighting is not just about light and shadows," she explains. "You need to think about what people will focus on in your art to grasp their attention. Contrast, depth, colours and rhythm will help the eyes travel in your picture like a flow, letting the viewers immerse themselves into your world."
03. Overwatch Tracer Fan Art
Based on an original concept by Meijun Chen, this stylised version of Tracer from the popular first-person shooter Overwatch was created by full-time student Rico Suyang Wang, with 60 hours spent on modelling and 10 hours spent on texturing.
"I love the original concept a lot, it always makes me laugh and feel happy every time I work on it," he says.
04. Somerset Isle
Somerset Isle is a real-time environment rendered with Unreal Engine. "The composition and lookdev is heavily based on the amazing concept works from Chong FeiGiap (Running Snail Studio)," explains environment artist Tomer Meltser of his image, "while many of the design and structure ideas in the environment (boats, architecture) are based on images of Chew Jetty (Malaysia) and other waterfront towns of this nature."
05. The Observer
"I tried reproducing the mood of an early morning in Japan," says 3D generalist Julien Crochet about lighting this unique image. "So with artist Yoii's character and rooftops as a focus point, I used a low sun to get soft shadows and also mostly diffuse reflections and a shallow depth of field to keep a smooth atmosphere. I also used light coming from down the street to break the shadows."
06. Aghori Portrait
It's hard to believe that Aldo Martínez Calzadilla's 3D art, Aghori Portrait, created using ZBrush, Maya and Mari, only took two weeks to finish. "I try to work as fast as possible," he explains. "In my experience, moments of inspiration don't last too long, so I try to go through the process of creating an image as efficiently as I can."
The meticulous groundwork of modelling and sculpting was his favourite part of the project. "I knew that in order to do a good job with the Aghori, the forms and anatomy had to be good and accurate to the reference," he reveals.
07. Summer Reading
Arthur Gatineau's image is based on a concept by Fredrik Rättzén, a Swedish visual development artist. "I really wanted to keep all the features and details, including the camera angle, lighting and general mood," says Gatineau.
"I did my best to match everything. As I'm faster on 3ds Max, I did all the modelling and UV work there, then I exported everything – including the camera as an Alembic – and switched to Maya."
08. Slug Race
It may be a whimsical scene, but Slug Race is closely based in reality. Brazilian 3D artist Fabricio Moraes and his collaborator Guilherme Formenti used Agisoft PhotoScan to generate 3D spatial data from digital photos.
"Photogrammetry was a technique that I had always wanted to try. So I scanned a lot of trees, rocks and ground to get a more realistic approach," says Moraes.
The pair used 3ds Max and ZBrush for modelling and lighting, V-Ray for rendering and Nuke for compositing. "I normally use Photoshop to compose the final image," says Moraes, "but this time I gave Nuke a try. I was amazed at how powerful it is."
09. The Trade
Jacky Lee's image, The Trade, took him two months to create, using Maya, ZBrush, Substance Painter, Arnold and Photoshop. "I like the process of creating something from scratch, watching the gradual creation of the images, which become vivid and inhabit their stories and souls. This makes me very happy," he tells us.
"I think the atmosphere and composition of a piece of 3D art is very important, as well as the story," explains Lee, who studies classic paintings for inspiration. "I really like classical oil painting, and often observe and analyse each painting's mood, colour and composition."
10. Dark Forest
Jakub Javora's surreal Dark Forest scene, with its glowing doorway contrasting with the natural scene, perfectly sums up the artist's eclectic and eccentric interests. "I'm mostly inspired by weird phenomena like chaos theory, sexual selection and various religious practices," he explains.
Unusually for Javora, this scene was a pure 3D composition with no 2D techniques involved. "Some people are using the same tools and workflow without changing," he says. "I am always trying to do something extra to keep my creative spirit going and enjoy the work."
Next page: 10 more great 3D projects