3D modeling requires a unique combination of technical and artistic skills. It’s a discipline with a lot of potential on the job market, but it’s also a great hobby. 3D modeling has various applications that can be useful in everyday life, and it’s a skill you should consider exploring.
And while there is a common misconception that the barrier to entry is very high, that is not the case at all. In fact, it’s not hard to get into 3D modeling these days, even if you don’t want to invest any money in it. As long as you have a computer with a decent processor and some sort of graphics card, you’re good to go.
3D modeling: how does it work?
The basic idea of 3D modeling is to create three-dimensional shapes which are then visualized in different ways. The end result can be a static scene rendered from a specific angle or a detailed model that can be viewed from all angles.
When working with 3D, you usually start with a basic geometric shape (a cube, sphere, cylinder, etc.) and start tweaking it with various modifiers until it looks like what you’re trying on. to create. Of course, this is an oversimplified version – in reality, most complex models are made up of several separate smaller shapes that are individually modified.
The main workflow revolves around modifying these shapes on several levels. You can either move the whole object around (or apply various other transformations to it, like scale or rotate it), or break it down into its components and work with them.
For example, with a cube, you can select one of its sides and modify it. You can even select a single edge on that side or work with individual vertices (the corner points that connect the edges). Various modifiers can help you apply major transformations to these shapes without much effort.
Should you use free or commercial 3D modeling software?
A decade ago, 3D modeling was considered a field that required expensive commercial software to enter. The main suites on the market are still popular today: 3ds Max, Maya, Cinema 4D, Houdini and others. Blender, basically the only viable completely free software, existed back then, but was a far cry from the Blender many of us know now.
Today, Blender can easily compete with the big players in the market in terms of features, UI/UX, ease of use, and community support. In fact, even some studios have started looking specifically for Blender experts, which wasn’t the case a while ago.
With that in mind, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a commercial package, Blender is the way to go. It can take you as far as other popular choices on the market. Blender will likely become even more popular in the near future as development continues apace.
Hardware requirements for 3D modeling
One of the main perceived disadvantages of 3D modeling is that it requires powerful hardware to get started. This is no longer the case.
Even a mediocre computer with an integrated graphics card can run popular 3D editors like Blender. Editing can be a bit slow when working with complex modifiers or when your scene gets very large, but you probably won’t be doing any of that when you start.
For rendering, a better computer directly equates to faster render times. This means you can get away with an underpowered computer, as long as you have the patience to wait for your renders to finish.
Keep in mind that the difference in speed can be quite staggering. A computer with a modern graphics card like an RTX 3070 might be able to render a scene in seconds, while a computer with older hardware might need days.
There are render farms online that can alleviate this problem, although they come at a cost. If you just want to try your hand at modeling without making a serious commitment, this is probably a better approach than spending a few thousand dollars on a powerful computer.
Choose a specific field in 3D modeling
Once you’ve covered the basics, you’ll come to a frightening realization: 3D modeling is a huge field. There are literally at least a dozen sub-disciplines that you can spend months exploring:
- Rigging and animation
- Game optimization
- UV mapping
These are just a few examples. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to learn them all.
Typically, you will choose a specific direction and work on it. For example, you might want to become an animator or even an environment artist who renders massive scenes. Either way, relax, the amount of knowledge you need isn’t as great as it seems once you figure out exactly what you want to do.
Learn with a business goal in mind
If you’ve decided to pursue 3D modeling for financial gain and not just as a creative hobby, there are specific areas you’ll want to focus on. Selling static models is a good entry point, although the market is quite crowded.
You can also consider selling your renders in different forms, such as traditional art (eg, prints or t-shirts). Game development is also a huge field where 3D modelers are in constant demand.
Either way, you need to carefully consider the market you are about to enter and determine the core skills required to succeed. Each specific area of 3D modeling is unique in this regard, and you will need to spend some time exploring until you find what you want to do.
Get started in 3D modeling
Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to pursue a career or hobby in 3D modeling, be sure to join some 3D modeling communities. One of the advantages of 3D modeling is that the field is very developed in terms of community support and there are always plenty of people ready to help you and answer all your questions.
The best free 3D modeling software