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The Magic Behind 3D Modeling
3D modeling is the art of creating virtual objects made out of geometric shapes using 3D computer software. There are different approaches to 3D modeling such as polygons, NURBS, SubDiv, Boolean and parametric... but the most common technique is polygonal modeling. The concept is to assemble quadrangles or triangles together by their sides to form the exterior surface of a 3D shape.
The principle is very simple, but it makes for an infinite amount possibilities of shapes, with equally infinite challenges in complexity. This is what makes it a real art form of the new digital age, albeit a more technical one than traditional art forms. Think of it as assembling small wooden sticks together into a continuous cloth of empty squares, jointed together by tiny 3D rotating bolts. Then, imagine deforming that cloth in space to create a seamless and continuous 3D shape. Try to wrap it into the form of an a human shape, a building or even just a tree, with no holes or sticks poking out or unattached. Quite a challenge, isn't it? Yes, definitely and it's not even the end of it! It's a skill for the future that you can learn right now; and it's not that different from Lego or Minecraft!
"3D modelers are nothing less than digital sculptors, using a digital medium instead of real physical materials."
Sculpting surfaces in 3D
Actually, a 3D modeler has more tools available in his virtual tool-belt than simply gluing sticks together. For example, it can take groups of points together - the bolts joining each stick with each other- and manipulate them in groups. Withing those groups, points can be moved within a radius of with varying influence. The end result is still mathematically a mesh of tiny stick glued together, but it appear as continuous, smooth surface. This makes reshaping the surface much more intuitive, but to be able to carve small details, the surface points have to be very tiny and so close together.
Luckily, 3D software allows you to virtualize this mesh of points as a rounded surface so it appear as a smoothly curved surface, at normal distance. Different tools also allows the artist to manipulate this surface, like clay, to be molded on your computer screen. But moving groups of points is just the beginning! You can also rotate, scale, scratch, pinch, poke, fill, bevel, pin, squash, extrude, bend, twirl and even animate your points in the end... This is where 3D modeling splits from the mathematics of geometric shapes and merges with the realm of art.
A New Art
The fact is 3D modelers are nothing less than digital sculptors, using a digital medium instead of real physical materials. They both create models from a formless block of clay, starting with a simple cube. The artistic process is made by gradual refining of this shape, slowly carving smaller and smaller details, while looking at the overall shape. The advantages are that your hands won't get dirty, and that there are plenty more virtual tools to use than real life limitations would allow on a sculpture. The drawback is that you are disconnected from your tactile sensations, hence the physicality of the object. Also working on a computer screen disconnects you from the real object and some details can 'slip unseen' behind the third dimension.
General Modeling Books
Specializations in 3D modeling?
There are now many different categories of 3Dmodelers, by specialization and domain. The entertainment industry (Films, Visual effects, TV & Games) largely shares common techniques and 3Dsoftwares. Architecture and engineering, on the other hand, have very different requirements in terms of techniques and software. The reason behind this is that real life structures need to be functional, realistic & durable. But this is exactly the opposite of the entertainment industry's vision on decors. In that case it needs to be flamboyant, extraordinaire, but temporary and also totally unpractical. However, 3D printing falls into both categories because it is a mainstream trend, that has real life applications. Therefore, it can be created by both entertainment and technical software suites, but will probably become it's own specialization in time.
Film, TV, VFX & Game modeling
Modeling for the entertainment industry
- Hard surface modeling
- Architectural modeling
- Organic / Character modeling
- 3D Environment Artist
- Digital sculptor
- Low-poly game asset modeler
CAD Modelers (Computer-Assisted Drawing)
Specialized technical modeling for real-life applications
- Architectural CAD modeler
- Engineering CAD modeler
Specific Modeling Software Books
Back to the careers Table of Contents
Careers in the 3D Animation & Visual FX Industry
- The different 3D Modeling Specializations for the next Digital Age
- Check out our complete Guide on 3D Computer Hardware
- Or just vote for your favorite 3D software
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