Top 5 Skills to Master when 3D Modeling

When I was in college, I was learning to model with AutoCAD and Form Z. The classes were a little bumpy as I tend to learn things a little differently from other people. I learn through doing. I’m a very kinesthetic and visual learner, so lectures on 3D modeling were silly to me as the subject is such a visual experience, that I did much better once my hands were on the software. My biggest takeaway from all that education was that there are five main things that were most helpful for me to master when 3D modeling:

Skills to master

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Shape vs. Form

The biggest thing is that you need to understand shape and form and how they relate to one another.  When someone says, “I need you to model this shape.” What they are really saying is that they want this “outline” extruded into space. This will then create a form. By differentiating these two words, you can quickly and intelligently gather the contextual information about a design as to how it relates to three dimensions.

Draw all of the Angles

A buddy of mine in college drew amazing concepts that were inspiring and dynamic. Because humans are so easy to fool when it comes to perspective, we can draw something once and we can make certain assumptions about the form and the qualities of the materials. But when it comes to 3D modeling, you have to be able to show the idea in multiple views to inform the 3D modeler (often you) what the other views and details include. Perhaps there are lines or shapes or forms that aren’t readily available in the side view of something? By showing the top and the front views at a minimum you can show those details that are often lost from just showing one side of something. In Sketch to Model, we show you how to do this on a very basic level. The benefits are immediately apparent when you have these extra views versus not having them.

Represent the Materials

Another critical component to 3D modeling is the rendering phase. While you can go the archive and see the Intro to Rendering series there, the key take away is this: When you model something as a white, plain, muted object, you are stripping away a considerable amount of the intent behind what you are trying to communicate. Unless you are making everything out of Styrene and white foam-core, you probably want to add a little color to at least express a certain amount of material break and contrast to further sell your renderings to the audience.

Assess the Model

This tip is a test of self critique. Sometimes it can be really hard to be 6-8 hours into a model only to realize that it is absolute garbage or just missing the mark in some way. Always stop every 20 minutes or so and do two things. 1. Save your work. 2. Look at the work and make sure that what you are modeling is truly representing what you are wanting to represent or if you are leaning on your limited knowledge of the software to compromise on the intent. Far too often people will lean on the tools they know to “sort of” get them to the finish line. This leads to poorly constructed models that will wind up taking more time to fix. If you are doing something that looks bad, stop working on it and figure out where the problem area is. Save what you can from the file and start fresh. Chances are by stepping away and starting on a clean page, you’ll come out with a more refined result the next time around. This is the same for anything you are working on from rendering, to model, to doodle, to drawing.

Get the Context

One last piece of advice is to figure out as soon as you can and better yet, before you even start modeling is to find out what the end result of the model is going to be used for. Often times, a model meant for rendering is built in a completely different way that that of a model that is going to be prototyped by 3D printer or CNC. You have to understand the target before you pull the trigger. By gaining this understanding, you can sometimes save hours, if not days by building the model in the appropriate way.

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