Animation enthusiast Alexey Zakharov brought old 2D photos to life in The Old New World. Here’s how he created this amazing effect.

Converting 2D images to 3D videos is not something new. If you’ve used After Effects before, then chances are you’ve probably worked on a 2D to 3D project — but you’ve probably never created something as ridiculously awesome as Alexey Zakharov’s The Old New World.

With the help of modern 3D and compositing software, the Moscow-based artist created a video featuring real vintage images that have been transformed into living 3D worlds . If you haven’t seen the video here it is:

As you can probably tell, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill 3D photo project. The advanced 3D camera moves and organic characters really help sell the illusion of realism in this project.  Zakharov was kind enough to answer a few questions about his process of creating this 3D world.

1. What was your inspiration for this project?

“I’ve made image animations before this project with French photographer Julien Coquentin (example pictured below). I’ve also worked on a series of Michael Sowa’s paintings animations and a few other 2D to 3D photo projects. So photo animation was not a new area for me. One day while I was browsing the internet I came across Shorpy. This astonishing site was filled with tons of reconstructed high-resolution photos. These guys are doing a great job. At first I made only one animation shot using a single photo. One year later, I decided to make something more complete.”

2. What was the most challenging part of this project?

“There was a lot of work in Photoshop, like cutting photos into layers, cleanup, etc. But altogether the project was more time-consuming than difficult. Animating is a difficult task for me, because I’m not true animator like the Pixar guys. The hardest thing for me is to find free time for the project. Time was the most valuable resource.”

3. How much time did it take you to complete this project?

How Alexey Zakharov Brought Vintage Photos to Life in 3D: The Old New World New York Skyline

“This project was a personal project that I only created in my free time. As such, I was interrupted at least three times for different reasons. I cant say exactly how long the process took, but if I had to guess, I’d say 9-12 months.”

4. What software did you use? Can you describe your workflow?

“Basically there were two main stages:

  1. The Camera Projection: A picture, sliced into layers, is projected on the geometry (made in 3ds Max software). I used this process for city backgrounds, buildings, and other static elements.
  2. Creating the CG: The creation of a full CG characters — people, animals, vehicles, etc.

This two-step process was necessary because I couldn’t composite the moving elements during the first (projection) stage for technical reasons. After I created the projections and the CGI, I composited all the layers together using After Effects.”

5. Did you find the compositing process easier because the shots were in black and white?

How Alexey Zakharov Brought Vintage Photos to Life in 3D: The Old New World

“In some parts it was easier. I used no color grading to try and keep with the original gamma of the photos. There were some problems with the color grade on the 3d-rendered elements that were composited into the photo backgrounds.”

6. How did you create your human characters?

“I am not a professional character animator, so mostly I used library models with mocap files. I had to repaint all the textures and add some cloth stuff to make the people look authentic.”

7. How did you create the smoke for this project?

How Alexey Zakharov Brought Vintage Photos to Life in 3D: The Old New World Train Scene

“I mostly used the great FumeFx plugin for 3ds Max. I use the Afterburn plug-in to create the steam train scene. There is also a little bit of smoke footage.”

8. What project are you going to work on next?

“I don’t know exactly, but I need a little break from photo animations.”

9. Where can people see more of your work?

“If anyone wants to see more of my work, I suggest checking out my Behance page or my Vimeo Channel.”

If you’re interested, here’s a quick breakdown on how Zakharov created a photo-to-3D effect using 3D software:

Have you ever tried a project like this before? Share your results in the comments below.