Have You Tried Animating 3D Models in Fusion 360? Here’s Why It’s Useful

Emily Suzuki Emily Suzuki July 20, 2023

3 min read

Animating your 3D models in Fusion 360 can be an important step in validating concepts, winning over clients, and more.


In the world of 3D modeling, the application of animation can be roughly divided into two objectives. Functional animation is for visualizing the purpose and interaction of components, and visual animation is for displaying the final appearance and external features of a design. 

Designers and engineers often use functional animation during the prototyping phase of product development to ensure a design is ready for manufacturing. On the other hand, visual animation works best for depicting the final embodiment and details of a more mature idea—perhaps during a client presentation. 

Let’s take a closer look at these applications and learn how to animate a 3D model in Autodesk Fusion 360

Functional animation—understanding what works and what doesn’t

Even the simplest mechanical components are best understood through physical interaction in the real world. This is why so many design teams create physical prototypes—to evaluate a design in real life before manufacturing.

But what if you could visualize exactly how moving parts will interact before even building a physical prototype? That’s where functional animation comes in. As a 3D model grows in complexity, functional animation enables teams to assess each moving mechanism’s quality ahead of building a prototype or sending a design to manufacture. 

The goal is to reveal the inner workings of a design, for example, to check if two gears will interact properly. So, don’t expect to showcase the final design’s overall aesthetics yet—save that for visual animation. 

prototyping-and-fabrication -fusion-360

Visual animation—previewing a final design

As explained above, functional animation is extremely important to ensure a design will, well, function. But when it comes to product design, aesthetics are also key for ensuring a customer will select your design over a competitor’s.

Visual animation is a more polished graphic that shows off the intended color, texture, and overall function of a design. It gives design teams a preview of what their full design will look like and how it will act once manufactured. This could be useful during prototyping, but it’s most useful for sharing the design more widely with other internal teams (i.e. branding, marketing, and other stakeholders) or during client presentations to ensure satisfaction before moving forward.

Visual animation is also useful after a product hits the market. Products ranging from watches to electric vehicles often employ detailed renderings and animations of 3D models in their commercials and on their product packaging, website assets, etc.  

Animating 3D models in Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 enables you to easily create animations of CAD models. The fundamental tool for managing the position and orientation of components over the course of an animation is the timeline.

For each component in an assembly, you can add keyframes on the timeline to specify what a particular component looks like at a particular moment in time. The animation engine will interpolate between these keyframes to generate smooth, precise movement.

Exploded view animation example in Fusion 360.

For each keyframe, you can apply a variety of transformations to the components in the scene. One common task in animation is exploding an assembly so that all of its components can be seen spread out in 3D space and then animated into their final positions. Fusion 360 contains several options specifically for generating these types of assembly explosions.

Once an animation displays the desired motion of an assembly along with the camera movements around it, you can render the timeline into a movie for export. As part of the rendering process, Fusion 360 provides controls and options for controlling style, quality, lighting, environment, and the like. The result can be as simple as a basic wireframe motion study of a camshaft to the intricate visualization of a whole engine in operation.

Animation, whether functional or visual, is an important tool for any designer working with 3D CAD. For clients and collaborators alike, animations provide insight into the interaction and performance of 3D components. Not only does it help visualize the dynamic functions of a design, but it also aids in identifying interference issues within an assembly.

The animation tools in Fusion 360 let you intuitively create meaningful and compelling animations. Check out this article for some great first steps on animating in Fusion 360!

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