20 Tips for 3d Modelling

  1. Do Your Research

    This is to do with finding the most appropriate examples to seek inspiration from for the design of your model. For getting your object to look right, you need to look at real world examples. Even for stylised models, you need to find out how artists might have approached similar problems to your own. You would be wasting your time trying to guess or reinvent the wheel.

    “Talent borrows, genius steals” – Oscar Wilde

  2. Sketch

    Working out a design on paper is a swift method of trying out ideas. There may be some that disagree with this, but essentially, you are to a certain extent constrained by limitations when you doodle within a 3d package. Being able to work through complex ideas quickly is a boon, plus its great to have a record of design iterations, just for reference purposes. A 3d artist is still an artist, so if you feel you can’t draw, learn! You don’t need to be Leonardo Da Vinci on the page, but being able to rough out volumes quickly on paper is more beneficial than trying to sketch in 3d in your modelling package. Sketching not only lets you try out dozens of ideas in a small space, but also provides a permanent record of your design process for your own reference.

  3. Scales And Grid

    Create your model to real world tolerances. In this way, you will be able to be able to use all the assets you have created in future projects, as you build up a library of models. The grid systems are fantastic at helping you to build objects to scale. The other thing that might help you is to model using helper objects. Creating size guides helps you to set an asset to the right scale. For example, a box made the size of a human (around 1.7m) will allow you to scale your model so that it visually fits in well when characters are placed around it in a scene.

  4. Wireframe Modes

    The way the human eye works, it’s very easy to spot dark detail on a light surface than vice versa. Because of this, consider altering the colour scheme of your modelling package so that model wireframes are superimposed as dark lines on your models, and you will find it far easier to manage sculpting the model.

  5. 3d Package Customisation

    True speed in 3d packages is determined by how well you have made your most commonly used tools accessible. Set keyboard shortcuts for your favourite modelling tools to be close to your left hand. Put more complicated functions onto marking menus and shelves. This should enable you to build things with great speed.

  6. Learn To Script

    MAXScript, MEL, Python and other scripting languages are god-sends when it comes down to crunching through iterative tasks. As much as learning to script involves a pain factor, you should definitely conquer this hill.

  7. Modelling With Symmetry

    If a model involves symmetrical elements, then make sure that you take advantage. You can use mirror functions in a model’s node chain so that all the work that you carry out on one side is duplicated onto the other. 3ds Max ships with the ‘Mirror Modifier’, whilst a whole suite of tools is available to Maya users via the ‘Mirror Geometry’ system in the Mesh menu.

  8. Understanding Asymmetry

    A symmetrical design is easy to visually balance, but asymmetry can often introduce a more natural, organic element to a design. Clever visual balancing of a design can produce a very pleasing result to the eye, and is a powerful weapon to the designer.

    This modernist sculpture by Charles and Ray Eames created in 1943 demonstrates using visual balance via asymmetry.

    This modernist sculpture by Charles and Ray Eames created in 1943 demonstrates using visual balance via asymmetry.

  9. All In The Details

    Real world objects are not as clean as their original design. From the moment an object is machined, it starts to develop imperfections. Details as subtle as a single scratch make a model more believable. As well as weathering an object to make it look used, detail also covers the notion of capturing the finer design points of an object. A car dashboard might look more realistic if there are a pair of furry dice hanging from the mirror. A table would benefit from having a few coffee stains present in the texture. Thing about not only what an object looks like but how it would appear after it has been used over time.

  10. Model Integrity

    When you create a model, you must think about how realistic it is, or in other cases, how well it fits in with the art style. For example, if you use a brick texture on a building, are the bricks placed realistically across the wall? Are they the right size? Do they wrap realistically around a corner? Observing how things appear in the real world often gives you the direction for making them more authentic in 3d model form.

  11. Understand The Art Style

    When a team are working on a project, its important for all the team to understand the art style. Artists are creative by nature, but for any artist to go off on a creative limb in an effort to express themselves, is a mistake if they are working outside the bounds of the project art style. Anything you create must adhere to the art style, or your material will just stand out and in a bad way!

  12. Make Things Look Used

    Tools such as Substance Painter and the Quixel NDo are absolutely fantastic at taking your textures to the next level. With procedural wear, you are going to be able to make your models look with real-world models with stories. In reality, it doesn’t take long before even new objects start to pick up scuffs, dust and finger-prints. To make your models look authentic, you need to reflect this.

    3D art textured with allegorithmic substance softwares

    3D art textured with allegorithmic substance softwares

  13. Target Platform

    Whilst you are modelling, pay close attention to what your target platform will be. Whatever it is, you can find out what the guide ball-park figures are for polygon counts and texture sizes. If you want your work to be of professional standard, even if just for portfolio purposes, you need to be making models that use real-world figures. An asset for a Nintendo DS is not going to be taken seriously if it has 10k polys, whereas you might be being rather mean submitting a PS4 first-person shooter gun model with such a low poly-count. Whatever the poly-count is, make sure you use it in the right places though!

  14. Making The Most Of The Materials

    When you can build something into a material rather than adding extra polys to your model…. do it! This can seriously affect your final poly count.

  15. LODs

    If you are modelling specifically for games, LODs are absolutely essential. Even if the model is for a portfolio piece rather than for inclusion in an actual game engine, it should still be a goal of yours to produce LODs. The best starting point for your LOD is to have the lowest polycount possible on your high-definition model. See what you can strip out in a way that does not affect the form of your model. Unwanted definition on flat surfaces is a big no even for high definition models. It’s ok to keep a completely non-optimised construction only model, as a backup, but your final high-def model should be as lean as it can be. Then you can get to work on the other LODs. Try to cut out 50% of the polys with each step up the LOD tree.

  16. Naming Conventions

    Far from being a pursuit of the anally retentive, maintaining a consistent naming convention throughout the modelling process is mandatory. If the model you are working on is part of a larger project, you should be following a team strategy for naming assets. If it is for your own project, naming assets, materials and shaders is still a useful thing to do. Not only can you identify things quickly, but you are making your scene more readable for a third party, should they ever need to access it.

  17. Criticism

    Getting other people to assess your work objectively is a golden opportunity to make your model the best it can be. Embrace negative feedback with great enthusiasm, because if it is valid, the critics are doing the job of helping you work out what you need to do to make your model perfect. Knowing what the weak-point priorities are on a model can only save you time in the long-run.

  18. Know When To Finish

    In a commercial project, there is always a dead-line. Dead-lines are great as they force artists to draw a line under any piece of work they do. Unless you want your models to go the way of the Sagrada Familia (over a 130 years in development and still not finished), know when to finish.
    La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain (63)-XL

  19. Nail The Lighting

    Using a natural lighting rig will help you to assess your model as accurately as possible in test renders. That is of course unless your model is going to be used within particular lighting constraints. Whatever those constraints are, make sure you can reproduce them in your modelling setup so that you know that your colour and forms work.

  20. Smooth Presentation

    Mastering the final output stage can take up a considerable time. Eventually, you will have consistent rig and set up to be able to output your model and to show it off well. High end renderers such as Maxwell and Vray are great for handling global illumination, HDRI lighting rigs and bounced light, where as UDK, Cryengine and Unity are there to cover your real-time bases.


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