In the world of computer design, 3D modeling is the process of developing graphics and images that appear to have three dimensions. The process is complicated, but generally involves connecting a set of points with various geometric data such as lines and curved surfaces with the goal of creating a wideframe model that represents a three-dimensional object. It is popular in gaming, motion pictures, and other entertainment ventures, though it also has applications in medicine and engineering. In most cases it requires both specialized software and at least some knowledge of computer coding. Designers typically use one of four main modeling methods, namely polygonal, primitive, non-uniform rational B-spline, or splines and patches. Choosing one method over another is usually a matter of end goals as well as software capabilities.
There are a great many applications for digital 3D modeling, though the video gaming industry is one of the most commonly recognized by many. Designers use various three dimensional modeling methods to create realistic character models that appear on gaming consoles and online. The end product can be either animate or inanimate, but is typically characterized by its life-like look and apparent depth — a far cry from the one-dimensional graphics and cartoon-like animations that used to be the industry standard.
A number of motion pictures and movies make use of 3D imaging, as well. This is perhaps most readily apparent in features that are completely computer-generated, but the technology also has applications in live action film. Actually viewing these sorts of films in three dimensions often requires special screens or viewing lenses, however, since in most cases they are filmed as normal — which is to say, in one dimension. Computer programmers then manipulate the film into three dimensions, which can give a broader, more real-life feel when it’s ultimately watched.
Designers also use this sort of modeling in the medical field, usually to create detailed models of human body organs. This can be an important part of many diagnostic scans and can in many cases prevent or at least delay things like exploratory surgery, since medical professionals can see what’s happening inside the body with a great deal of precision from the outside. Programs in this category are also widely used in fetal monitoring and ultrasound scans of pregnant women.
The engineering community also uses 3D computer aided design (CAD) programs to create three dimensional models of new devices, vehicles and structures; everything from architectural design to urban pipeline dynamics can be brought more or less to life with 3D structuring. Not only can this help designers and planners get a feel for projects, but can also be a good way to diagnose problems and issues before they actually arise.
There are typically four modeling methods that designers can choose from. The first and most basic is known as the “primitive” modeling method. This is the simplest way of modeling 3D objects, and involves the use of geometric basics such as cylinders, cones, cubes and spheres. The forms here tend to be mathematically defined and precise, which makes it easy to work with in most cases, even for relative beginners. Primitive modeling is mainly used in developing 3D models of technical applications.
A slightly more advanced approach makes use of what is known as the “polygonal” method. Polygonal modeling involves 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, which limits its usefulness in certain applications.
Non-uniform rational B-spline modeling, also known as the NURBS method, is one of the best ways for developers to create truly curved smooth surfaces. Unlike polygonal modeling techniques, which can only approximate curved surfaces using numerous polygons, NURBs modeling actually does “bend” the space. This style of modeling is widely used across most platforms.
Splines and Patches Modeling
A more advanced form of NURBS modeling is the “splines and patches” method. This type of program allows developers to use curved lines to identify and project the visible surface. It often takes more time to build and execute commands in this category, but the results tend to be some of the most vivid and life-like.
3D modeling is usually easiest to do with software programs that have been designed expressly for that purpose. Maya® and 3DS Max® are two examples; there are many out there. While most three dimensional software suites are quite expensive, there are also a number of open source programs that are available for free. No matter their specifications, most follow polygonal and NURBS modeling methods. Some also have specifications for creating complicated materials like rain, clouds and blowing sands, which typically make use of a particle system to make the modeling process easier. There are also some scene description languages like POV-Ray that 3D modelers frequently use.