Areas of 3D modeling
3D modeling is the process of creating objects and characters for games, animations, movies, engineering projects, virtual and augmented reality, design projects, etc.
You have certainly come across 3D already, which ranges from modeling and Pixar animations to new car models.
There are two main 3D areas. The first one is Hard Surface, which involves creating human-made objects, such as homes and electronics. The second one, Organic Modeling, as its name implies, involves the natural world, such as animals, plants, flowers and materials found in nature.
Realism x Stylized
It may seem obvious that realism refers to things that mimic life. These models do not necessarily exist in the real world, but if they are represented in a way that looks like an object we have seen before, we may believe that they belong to our world.
In turn, stylized models have similar aspects, but creativity is free to exaggerate details, sizes, shapes etc., just like the traditional caricatures that emphasize features and details to convey a concept or an idea.
Before you start modeling
It’s good practice to look first for references for what you have decided to model. In most cases of 3D production modeling, whether it is applied to games, an agency or product, a visual concept of the model called Concept Art is used. Depending on what will be produced, it may be used with another important document called Model Sheet, which provides the patterns for all sides of the 3D model.
To create a simple object, start with a basic geometric model that fits the final shape of your object. To create a cup, for example, start with a cylinder and resize its sides to make it look like the final object. This is called Box Modeling and the most commonly used software programs include Maya, and Blender, among others.
On the other hand, Subdivision Modeling or Sculpt Modeling is more complex, as subdivision modeling may be based on box modeling. In other words, you may start with a simple, basic geometry model, but you will need more subdivisions and your object is going to end up with a higher polygon rate (high poly). Software programs include, e.g. Zbrush.
High Poly and Low Poly
These terms are used to explain the amount of polygons contained in a model. Low Poly is a mesh with a low amount of polygons. The High Poly mesh contains a high polygon rate, which is used to add details during modeling, such as skin pores. However, it is rarely used as the final piece of a game project, as it requires high computational processing power, but it can be used as a digital sculpture.
Topology and Retopology
A good 3D model needs a good topology. In other words, the polygons need to be organized and aligned correctly and logically so that the future animation may perform well. Retopology, as its name implies, is the process of redrawing the topology of an object.
Retopology aims to transform a High Poly model into a Low Poly one, i.e. it decreases the polygon count of the model. To achieve this, the Low Poly object needs to receive a 2D texture containing all the High Poly detail information (Normal Map Technique).
Normal Map is a technique used to simulate the relief on a surface by calculating the angle of the shadows on a texture, consequently, creating the impression of greater depth and a high polygonal rate. This transfer provides the Low Poly object, which contains fewer polygons and requires less graphic processing, with a result that is identical to the High Poly model, which has more polygons and requires more resources.
The last modeling step is opening the UV Map, which is the process of transforming 3D model information into 2D. A good example that helps understand that process is when we print paper toys on a sheet and, as we follow the assembly instructions, the 2D surface becomes a three-dimensional object.
This is the modeling stage at which we apply textures to objects, i.e. we apply texture to create clothes on characters, rocks, wood, etc.
Understanding and communication of the project to the customer
To start communicating with a customer, initially focus on the briefing stage and create a document that describes the basic scope requested by your customer.
This document contains some questions the customer must answer so you can obtain the necessary background to develop the 3D art. If you need to model a character, for example, you’ll need information on physical features and behavior (the physical and behavioral persona). Sometimes, a customer may provide you with a Concept Art or Model Sheet. If that’s not the case, ask them to show you some reference pictures that illustrate their ideas. Next, they get a Semantic Panel containing the references the modeling artist created based on the briefing.
However, do not rely on your customer’s briefing answers alone, interview them to obtain more information, if needed. The higher the amount of information that document provides, the smaller the risk of rework becomes.
Marking checkpoints is essential. Ideally, keep the customer up to date, do not delay showing changes, involve your customer in the creation process. During those meetings, point out what has been done and changed, and prioritize that.
3D artists need to constantly update their knowledge and put it into practice, either by specific training or by gathering information on the Internet. We need to constantly look for knowledge related to color theory, fashion, architecture, etc. All kinds of knowledge contribute to professional growth and provide the fundamentals for modeling any type of object or character.
The results created by combining technical skills and experience in dealing with customers makes art professionals an essential part of projects that involve Augmented Reality, Games, Virtual Reality and others.