What is 4D Animation?

By Ezmeralda Lee ; Updated September 15, 2017

Building on the popular 3D animation, 4D has added a time and space concept to it's dimensions. Animators are now capable to move an object around its own mirror image. This has been a mathematical idea and application for some time, but now through computer technology, it has been launched into feature films and other animation projects.


A geometric figure that is closed and in the fourth dimension is referred to as a polychora. To compare this to an object in the third dimension, it would be called a polyhedron, and in the second dimension, we would call an object a polygon. The most common association with a 2D figure is a square, and then it would become a cube when taken to 3D. To apply this same logic to 4D, you would come up with something that looks like a cubed honeycomb.


When visually looking at a 4D object, there is added depth in shadows and how we perceive light on the object. When light hits a 4D object, the shadow that is cast is one that is 3D making the object appear to have more sides. Another example is in the case of a 4D cube. When looking only at it's outline, when a light source hits the cube from the top, a shadow is then cast of a 3D cube inside of another 3D cube all inside of the outer 4D cube. This added depth perception comes from the added dimension.


Because humans can only see in 3D, 4D is a concept that we cannot fully see on our own. Computer programs and other methods are the only ways to help one further grasp the idea of 4D. One way to see the 4D idea is in the projection method, where a program takes a 4D image and places it on a 3D plane. The 4D image is projected, and then we can study it with different lighting and shadowing to get a better visual for the spacial dimension.


The most commonly used animation and artistic application is Cinema 4D. Artists manipulate the images in 3D, giving them fixed points called vertices. The vertices are then connected, the surfaces put into place and then the multiple planes are made. Because the dimension you see in actually is one dimension lower than you interpret, the computer programs allow us to manipulate the fourth dimension so that we can animate in the third dimension. That is when the still photographs we see appear to jump out at us.


Animation and production studios have taken this developing technology and run with it, marketing to audiences movies that can be interpreted in 3D, while the images appear to jump off the screen. It is with computer programs that utilize the fourth dimension that we can conceptually see in 3D. Disney, Pixar, Sony and IMAX are all examples of studios that have created and promoted cartoons in this manner, with Polar Express, Monster House and Open Season as a few such films, but today, many movies utilize 4D aspects.