3D industry market report part 1

Statement Of Purpose

Ulti Arena wants to help the digital creative industry to grow. We’d like to offer all of the artists, creators, and gamers in the gaming industry an educational and inspirational snapshot of the field as of today. This is our offer back to the community we are trying to support. Our aim is to compile a resource worthy of your time; one that will help de-tangle the buzzwords surrounding “3D.” This means hot topics like virtual reality, 3D printing, computer animation, and 3D simulation. Our market report serves as a comprehensive guide to the industry as of today. Now, let’s see what’s inside.

What Is The 3D Industry?

There’s no denying it — “3D” is a hot topic. There are a lot of buzzwords floating around: virtual reality, 3D printing, computer animation, and 3D simulation, for example. It’s easy to get lost in the chatter. Before being able to accurately gauge the industry and consider a snapshot of this world of technology, it is necessary to first define what we’re talking about.

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A World of Digital Design

3D graphics are encompassed in the even broader term of computer-aided design, or CAD. This term refers to the rapidly-unfolding world of possibility that exploded with the invention of computing, almost 50 years ago. From computers in the 1960’s to the sleek, handheld iPhone, CAD has seen a tireless progression through novel technology. The subset involving 3D graphics is also a complicated, living thing. It fuels many industries, including engineering, entertainment, and education.

  • Specific techniques. To bring their visions to life, those who create 3D content are categorized by their use of specific techniques and processes, like designing, rendering, visualization, and animation.
  • End products. The output of 3D design can be anything: in the case of 3D printing, these plans and ideas are actually realized into physical objects; in animation or 3D art, the actualizations manifest themselves as rendered images or videos.
  • Process. The journey behind all of this creation has the term “3D modeling”: math, geometry, and art rolled into one, through the medium of computer software. What is essentially created here are files that represent points in space; arrangements of polygons, curves, and triangles tied together to approximate the physical structure of a tangible object.
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A Many-Splendored Thing

This industry has offshoots into so many aspects of modern life that it is difficult to wrangle them all into a list of subcategories. Three-dimensional content is everywhere, both industrially and commercially.

  • Ubiquity. 3D design permeates tech products such as smartphones, televisions, factories, medical imaging technology, and gaming consoles with ubiquity.
  • Wide Distribution. 3D design can be found in film post-production, animation, videogames, industrial engineering, product design, architecture, medical imaging, virtual and augmented reality, simulation, forensics, art, branding, advertising… There is almost no limit to its reaches.
  • Flexibility. It is an undeniably expressive and flexible medium almost as limitless as the physical reality it mimics.

For the purpose of this report, we’ve broken the sprawling influence of 3D content into three categories: Virtual or augmented reality, animation, and additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing). This way of organizing the 3D industry helps demonstrate the dynamic progress of each area in which 3D design is utilized.

No Smoke Without Fire

Based on the sheer number of existing 3D applications as discussed above, is relatively easy to account for the excitement surrounding the term “3D.” It is a booming industry — 3D productions obviously have a lot of resources being funnelled into them. This translates directly into the movement of research, labor, and funds to support further growth of this technology.

Computer Graphics

A more tangible way gauge to the rising importance of 3D design — one that is rooted in real-numbers — is to take a look at the the industry that forms the backbone of 3D creation: the software. Probably the first thing anyone who begins to work in 3D learn is that there is almost an endless amount of options. It’s a sprawling array: from free, open-source software like Blender, to industry-grade paid options like Maya, AutoDesk, Zbrush, Rhino or Lightwave. In total, there are more than 100 different computer programs used to make mathematical representations of three dimensional scenes, and it’s getting bigger still.

The Hard Facts of Software

  • Market Value. Consider this: the computer graphics software market value (also known as market capitalization) regularly values somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion per year. Put simply, that’s the size of the industry as judged by number of shares per share value. You don’t have to be an economist or stock broker to get that this is a very large number.
  • High Sales. If you’re still scratching your head, a number that is a bit easier to understand might just be the money people put into this industry at retail. According to Statista, annual worldwide sales of computer graphics software, including CAD/CAM, visualization/simulation, digital video, imaging, and modeling/animation products, total about $16 billion annually.

Growth and Revenue. In terms of how much money the industry makes for itself, consider that the section of the 2017 IBISWorld US industry report (NAICS) devoted to design, editing & rendering software publishing reports an astounding $10 billion in revenue for the industry, which increased at an annualized rate of 0.9% in just a five-year period alone. Translation: that means that demand for software is soaring, and its growth is accelerating. That may not be so shocking, but when you look at how this statistic breaks down, you might be surprised. Software manufacturers geared towards CAD specifically constitute over half of that revenue!

3D industry revenue

Forecast. If you weren’t convinced by the impressive growth rate, take a look at the forecast from a Dun&Bradstreet First Research industry profile from March of this year — this profile included over 60,000 multimedia, graphics, and publishing software companies and predicted this branch of CAD as forecast to grow at an annual compounded rate of 4% between 2018 and 2022.

Growth forecast for 3D industry

The tools for creating 3D models are a big deal. Modelling software, as profitable and numerous as it might be, is notoriously clumsy and unwieldy to newcomers; each 3D modeling software has an incredibly complex user manual. While modeling in a physical medium is as easy as molding clay, CAD still has a long way to go. This is a good thing. This means even more investment, sales, and revenue in the 3D design industry. In economic jargon, the level of technology change is high in this industry. Take that as a sign of future innovation, disruption, and profit.

The New SaaS on the Block

  • New Trend. It is worthy to note that a primary trend that is hitting the CAD industry is the adoption of cloud-based software delivery. This enables companies to offer software as a service (SaaS).
  • Subscriptions. SaaS allows companies to charge a monthly or annual subscription fee for access to software rather than selling user licenses for a particular piece of software. The software is then accessed via the internet by customers, unlike past methods of distribution which included physical CD programs.
  • Response. Use of SaaS in the design world is a direct response to the increase in demand for collaborative creative projects — like video games, major motion pictures, and music videos.

One Cloud to Rule Them All

A requirement of cloud-based software is extremely strong computing resources, like web engines, that run the SaaS program. This dovetails nicely with the development of extremely powerful and efficient computers and servers; companies of the past were physically unable to offer cloud-based products. While some criticize the monthly premiums of SaaS as a hard pill to swallow, this method of distribution is much more prudent in the long term. Updates are automatic — meaning the cost of replacing software versions is spread out evenly, and the tools available are always the best on the market. Users of SaaS can also access their software from any computer. Adobe and Autodesk have already implemented the SaaS model.

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