What is 3D Modeling?

3D printers can be used to create models or products directly from digital designs.
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  • Written By: Anurag Ghosh
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2014
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In three dimensional computer graphics, 3D modeling is the procedure of developing a 3D model using specialized software. It is a process of creating a wireframe model that represents a three dimensional object. That object can be alive or inanimate. A three dimensional model is created using a set of points in 3D space, which are connected by various geometric data such as lines, and curved surfaces.

Three dimensional models are created using four popular methods:

Polygonal modeling. Many three dimensional models are created as textured polygonal models. Polygonal modeling is a method of creating a 3D model by connecting line segments through points in a 3D space. These points in space are also known as vertices. Polygonal models are very flexible and can be rendered by a computer very quickly. One cannot, however, create an exact curved surface using polygonal 3D modeling technique.

Primitive modeling. This is the simplest way of modeling three dimensional objects. Using geometric primitives such as cylinders, cones, cubes and spheres, complex models are created. This approach ensures easy construction as the forms are mathematically defined and precise. Primitive modeling is mainly used in developing 3D models of technical applications.

NURBS modeling. The NURBS (Non-uniform rational B-spline) modeling method can be found in popular software like Maya. The developer can create smooth-surfaced 3D models using this modeling technique. Unlike polygonal modeling techniques which can only approximate curved surfaces using numerous polygons, NURBs modeling can truly create smooth curved surfaces.


Splines and patches modeling. These methods are similar to the NURBS modeling procedure. They depend on curved lines to identify the visible surface.

3D modeling can be easily performed using dedicated software such as Maya, and 3DS Max. There are also some scene description languages like POV-Ray which are used for modeling. While most three dimensional software suites are priced very high, open source programs are available for free. Most programs follow polygonal and NURBS modeling methods to create models. For modeling complicated materials like rain, clouds and blowing sands, the programs employ a particle system to make the modeling process easier.

Today, 3D modeling is employed in a wide variety of activities. The video game industry uses various three dimensional modeling methods to create realistic character models for video games. In the medical field, detailed models of human body organs are created using various advanced 3D modeling software. The engineering community uses 3D computer aided design (CAD) programs to create three dimensional models of new devices, vehicles and structures.


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Post 4

Good article!

Post 3

@hamje32 - Lightwave 3D modeling software is an industry standard, along with Maya. I think Maya was used to create the Shrek animation movies. The problem with both of these programs, however, is that there is an incredibly steep learning curve. You usually have to take classes for a year or something before you can really become comfortable enough to be productive.

I don’t have that kind of patience, so I usually use simple, free 3D modeling programs along with stock 3D models to create my animations. It saves a lot of time and lets me focus more on the creative aspects and less on the technical aspects of learning how to use the software.

Post 2

@hamje32 - If you don’t want to make your own objects you can use Google sketchup. These are free 3D CAD models you can find online from Google and you can import them into a lot of popular 3D CAD modeling programs. You can find everything from furniture to everyday household objects and more models are being added every day.

Post 1

Years ago I plunked down a lot of money to buy Macromedia’s Director Suite. Back then they bundled a 3D modeling program called Extreme 3D. It was a pretty cool tool but a little difficult to use. I never got beyond creating some simple primitives which I was able to meld together into basic shapes.

Eventually Macromedia dropped Extreme 3D when they went into developing Flash. I don’t know if they have any comparable 3D packages they still make, but all 3D software programs require some getting used to.

The most disorienting part is learning how to navigate in 3D space and then learning how to lathe your objects into stuff that resembles everyday items.

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