3d modeling

An introduction to 3D modeling of hard surfaces

Think of the coolest 3D models you’ve ever seen: robots, vehicle and building 3D models, weapon modeling and other machines all have one thing in common. This thing? Modeling of hard surfaces.

You are probably already very familiar with the world of hard surface modeling. Here’s a quick rundown of the absolute basics.

What is 3D hard surface modeling?

A simple hard surface model design in Blender.

Modeling hard surfaces in programs like ZBrush and Blender is something you will be able to do whenever you create something human and inorganic. The difference between organic and inorganic modeling ultimately comes down to a few key factors:

  • Smooth and specular panel designs.
  • Rigid and structured bodies.
  • A geometric and often industrial pattern.
  • A focus on intricate details.
  • Usually involves at least one axis of symmetry.
  • Colors and materials are usually bounded by mesh boundaries.
  • Hard surface models often rely heavily on real world references.

Some industry professionals use a different definition more focused on production rigor – a hard surface model is one that is not rigged or distorted throughout its role in an animation or game, but that is more of a static prop or environmental element. This state of mind is not very common; for most 3D artists, subject matter and style are the end of everything here.


Hard surface modeling is not exactly CAD modeling per se. However, the more realism you are able to channel into your hard surface model, the more compelling and exciting it will be to see and use. Some knowledge of mechanics goes a long way; research will excite you if you find yourself inclined to this type of subject.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to classifying your 3D model – in a general sense, however, any subject that does not habitually warp or deform, such as a sturdy metal key, can be safely grouped in this category. .

Hard Surface Modeling Examples

Creation of WALL-E steps in Blender.

For examples of hard surface models, just take a look around. The kettle on your counter, the fire hydrant outside your apartment, and even your television remote are all eligible. The possibilities only get more exciting from here.

The most popular hard surface modeling projects go beyond everyday objects – 3D artists are able to live out their wildest fantasies as Steven Spielberg immerses himself in a world of wonder and terror. If you can’t wait to get started, here are some of our favorite hard surface modeling project ideas for beginners:

  • Vehicles
  • Weapons
  • machinery and machinery
  • robots
  • Buildings and architecture
  • furniture design
  • Product modeling
  • Anything machine-made or man-made

A hard surface model of a Lego man.

Common and inspiring secondary elements of hard surface modeling include:

  • Pipes
  • gears
  • Mechanical joints and levers
  • wheels
  • Light-emitting elements
  • Screens
  • Buttons
  • Handles
  • Vents
  • Brackets

That being said, however, it’s also worth noting that many hard surface designs are made of things like metal and plastic, so “soft” elements can still be included in context.

The rubber tires of an all-terrain vehicle are an example of this, and they leave nothing to be desired in terms of the technical challenge they present. The tread design, for example, is a hard T-surface modeling, despite being much softer than the rest of the model.

Related: How to Use NURBS Curves in 3D Modeling: A Blender Tutorial

Hard Surface Modeling Techniques for Beginners

Modeling of WALL-E in Blender.

Hard surface modeling typically begins with a geometric primitive, which is then refined into a hierarchy. In order to represent every minute detail of WALL-E’s forward-facing body panel, we first need to break it down into component parts – its control panel near the top, for example, needs to be separated from its dirt-compacting device. waste.

You can start breaking down your topic both visually and logically. Things that articulate are an easy distinction to make; if it’s meant to part ways, that’s an obvious line to draw. Each sub-element then becomes much easier to flesh out and parry.

There are no rules in the world of hard surface modeling, but we can certainly recommend more than a few general best practices:

  • You can cut a primitive in half with a single edge loop (CTRL + R) and remove one side to make room for a Mirror modifier.
  • To add even grooves around a shape, you can add more edge loops. Removing them alternately makes a great base for handles, sci-fi elements, etc.
  • Boolean operations can be used to create clean, controlled geometric cuts and combinations, and to unify your model at all times.
  • Keeping the mesh as simple as possible will usually serve you well in the long run, especially when drafting your model at first.
  • Details should be added second, after the main body of the model has been finalized to some degree. Once you have a viable base to work from, creating those details will be much easier and much more creatively intuitive.
  • Hierarchies and parenthood can be used to support a more functional model that will end up being much easier to fake later.

As always, you should do your best to keep your quad mesh exclusive, although there are some scenarios where this is admittedly difficult to do. The more you practice, the more you’ll come to recognize when you’re about to rush into a corner. Keeping things as clean and simple as possible will always result in a much smoother workflow, as well as a much more attractive end result.

Related: What are normals in 3D modeling?

Your main tool will be the 3D software you choose. The most popular 3D modeling software will invariably be Maya, Blender, ZBrush and the rest of the usual suspects.

While hard surface modeling in ZBrush can end up being very different from hard surface modeling in Blender or Maya, much of the difference will be superficial. Most types of 3D modeling software offer the following hard surface modeling tools and features:

  • Extrusion, perhaps the simplest 3D modeling tool.
  • Bevelling, which rounds corners and edges.
  • A kind of knife tool that allows you to add new geometry to an existing mesh.
  • The ability to subdivide your entire model mesh after defining your base design.
  • All ordinary 3D operators: scale, rotation and simple translation.

Both creative instinct and a vision you are passionate about will help lead the way: you can create anything in any type of 3D program. Sometimes all it takes is a little experimentation to find the approach that works best for your style.

Related: Some Awesome Sites for Free Blender Textures

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