How to approach the 3D world

by Daniele Daldoss

One of the questions I’m more often asked is: “How do I enter the 3D world?”. Sometimes I think back to that period when I never opened a 3D software and all I had was a passion regarding this “futuristic” field of design. You know you want to learn more about a subject but you don’t know where to start. I’ll try to write a quick vademecum with advice and personal experiences addressed to all of those that want to get a better understanding of the field of 3D, whether they are designers, creatives or managers interested in expanding their business into new fields.

Seek for the right software for you

This can seem quite discounted, but the first step to start something like this is finding the perfect software for you. The market is full of great products used to achieve the same result. The good news is that the theory is the same for each software. You’ll have to deal with vertex, edge and face; the 3D space will be defined by the three X, Y, Z axes; you’ll start your projects working with primitives such as cubes, spheres and cylinders. The bad news is that every software uses different names for similar features. The “Subdivision Surfaces” are called “HyperNURBS” in Cinema 4D for example. Sometimes you’ll have to figure out what other 3D Artists are talking about even if you both are speaking of the same thing.

There isn’t a magic formula for a 3D artist to chose the perfect 3D software. My advice is to try the ones that inspire you most and stick to the one you prefer. Most of the software has a “try before you buy” plan, and most of the software houses have all the interests to make you try their product to prove that’s the best on the market.

Find your tutorial’s style

The web is nowadays a bottomless pit of knowledge. Everything can be learnt online… all you have to do is understanding how and what to search. From my personal experience, I can say that all I know about 3D and Motion graphics were found online. Tutorials are the main source of information. You can find pages with written instructions, videos and even podcasts that can be comfortably watched on your smartphone on your journey to work every morning.

Everyone is comfortable with a format over the others. I personally find beneficial short videos that act like infographics. Two of the best creators, who thought me a lot, is Andrew Price through blenderguru.com and Gleb Alexandrov on creativeshrimp.com.

Regardless the application you are using and the style of a tutorial you wish to follow my advice is to keep it short. There are plenty of videos lasting more than one hour that you’ll never follow through to the end. Try to find short videos that teach you exactly what you are looking for at the moment… this will help you to “split the subjects” and remember every technique easily. Another great resource you’ll find online are forums. I personally visit a lot blenderartists.org, a place where to ask questions and deal with other artists on the most varied topics. Never be afraid to ask a question (for simple or stupid it may appear). Every question can lead to others and others… and so on. This is the best way to learn new techniques and how to use all the technical features of your 3D application.

Start “humble”

Starting “humble” doesn’t mean limiting your dreams. It simply means that even the smallest project can be successful if properly realised. You’ll always find “sacred monsters” online; 3D artists that modelled and animated a spaceship battle with particles and lights effects worthy of the master of special effects of Lucasarts. This can put you down if all you can do at the moment is placing a cube in the centre of the scene… but, you know what?

Even the smallest and simplest project can be realised in such a perfect way to get some value. After all, we always have to start somewhere. You’ll be surprised by the satisfaction the model of the chair in your kitchen will bring you!

Starting humbly has also an additional effect. You’ll be able to finish your projects. This seems like a minor thing, but consider this: if you model a simple object per day after 10 days you’ll have enough small models that you can put together to create bigger scenes. The same models can be also transformed or re-textured in order to become something different, and in no time you’ll have in your hands a good portfolio of 3D models!

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Keep yourself motivated

It’s important to keep yourself motivated. One of the biggest enemies of 3D is not knowing how to proceed, leading to stop or abandon your project. I have to admit… I made this mistake plenty of times. I started with huge projects, but when the first adversity arose I found myself lethargic, abandoning or putting aside what I was working on. As I previously said starting humbly is a good idea. Do not think about the whole jungle you are modelling, think instead of the single plant, rock or terrain you’re representing. In this way, issues will be less and following the right instruction or tutorial you’ll complete what you’re working on within the same day (and trust me, nothing motivate you more than having something ready in a small amount of time).

Split the subjects

3D is a discipline that spaces in different fields such as sculpting, graphic design, animation, coding and so on… It’s easy to get lost if working on a big project that requires knowledge of different subjects. How to avoid the frustration of having to find a solution for all the problems that your model can give, probably leading you to delay or in the worst case abandon your project?

The solution is splitting the subjects! Every project you work on will give more or fewer headaches. Maybe you’re modelling a transparent bottle of cream, and suddenly you ask yourself:

-Should I apply the label as part of the texture or modelling it as a separate object?

and right after,

-Should the cream be created using a liquid simulation or should it be modelled as an object?

and again,

-What about the knurling of the cap? Should I create it using a normal texture or should I model it entirely?

As you can see the accumulation of questions can literally drive you crazy and make you abandon even the simplest project. But if you notice, every question is related to a separate subject. You’ll always find a short tutorial on what you are looking for; I don’t mean how to model the bottle of cream, I mean how to create the knurling on an object or simulate a label on a bottle. They usually take 3 to 5 minutes to be watched and I assure you that in this way you feel enriched after every piece of information you’ll acquire. And last but not least your project will speed up like a train.

Work on what you love, and...

When you start working on a 3D project (let’s say your very first project) the whole universe is your canvas. Maybe you wish to model a simple object, but what object to chose? Mostly for the very first times trying to work on something familiar and that you like. Maybe you are a trekker? Why not working on a compass? Maybe you are a soccer player? Try to model a football!

It happened to me that in the heat of wanting to create something new, I chose the first object available. As for everything else I encountered issues and the final result was delaying and abandoning the project. If you are modelling something for fun, to discover new things but outside the working environment, a lot of distractions can interrupt you. Better starting prepared and having under your eyes something you really want to see for the next 8 hours!

Keep an eye on different perspectives

If it’s true that working on what you love is the best way to keep your concentration, but is also true that from time to time a new perspective is required. You’ll start your journey through the 3D world and soon you’ll be able to model most of what you like, and on a certain point you’ll feel a certain amount of “stagnation”. This is the moment when a new perspective should be considered. Maybe you’re a huge fan of science fiction, but less interested in romance. But still, why not trying to model the churn of “The House on the Prairie”? Maybe after all that metallic science fiction is now the time to work on old lived wood! It’s surprising how working on something we were literally not interested on could change our perspective. Maybe we will never like the inspiration we had, but probably this will lead to more interested creative outcomes (for the science fiction lovers… a spaceship made of wood?).

Creativity is the ability to find solutions to problems and put together different concepts in order to create something new. We usually are resilient to changes as this would mean putting an extra effort to understand how to adapt to changes. No one likes being outside the comfort zone. Probably, like Andrew Price (blenderguru.com) advises, the best way to develop yourself as a 3D artist is working 50% on your own projects and 50% following tutorials. In this way, the amount of energy and frustration generated by not having solutions for new, unexplored, projects are balanced by the comfort of just having to follow the instructions of someone that explored that path before you.

In conclusion

What I offered you in this short article is one of the infinite approaches you can have with a new field you’re interested in. I believe that a very huge component for dealing 3D is not learning how to do something, but instead how to find information on how to do. I can teach you how to model or texture a guitar, but in this way, all you can do will be modelling the guitar. I can instead teach you how to find how to model a guitar, and you’ll be able to find hot to model the drums, the bass and all the other instruments of the band… and sooner or later the band itself!

Just remember, you’ll always find issues along the path. The more resilience you’ll develop the easier sorting these issues out will be!

Stay motivated guys!

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