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Discovering the beauty of 3D CAD modeling

Updated on February 14, 2013
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What is 3D modeling?

Computer-aided three-dimensional modeling, or 3D CAD modeling basically involves lines to form a geometrical figure in a three-dimensional space with the help of computer graphics software. This new art completely revolutionizes the planning stage of any project because the artist can see a virtual mock-up of the actual model. Three-dimensional modeling is now commonly used in:

  • Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Designing and conceptualization
  • Movies and other video production
  • Video games

What sets computer 3D models from 2D drawings is that it has depth but more often than not, creating three-dimensional objects from a computer begins with two-dimensional drawings -- or blueprints. The good thing about it is, the 3D CAD object can be rotated in any angle so you can check certain details as you go along. Now this is something you can't do with an already drawn 2D illustration.

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The 3D modeling software

Choosing the right software all depends on how comfortable you are working with them. There are those you need to purchase and there are those that are free. Here's a shortlist of the most common 3D modeling software out there:

  • 3DS Max
  • Blender (free)
  • Maya
  • Hexagon
  • Sketchup (free)
  • Carrara
  • Cinema 4D
  • Lightwave 3D
  • Silo
  • Zbrush
  • Rhino 3D

Feel free to surf the net for more details about each and know the prices involved. But for beginners I would strongly recommend to start with Sketchup, which I have now been using for almost 2 years. Although it is a little limited compared to other 3D software, you can easily perform complex shapes by adding ruby scripts. Plus there are a lot of tutorials found online. Personally, I think it is easy to work with so you can pretty much do some exploring that you can apply on your concept 3D model.

Step 1
Step 1 | Source
Step 2
Step 2 | Source
Step 3
Step 3 | Source
Step 4
Step 4 | Source
The same pyramid after rendering
The same pyramid after rendering | Source

How does it work?

Three-dimensional modeling, like any graphic design, involves lines to form a shape but instead of working on a flat surface, you are working on a three-dimensional space:

  • x-axis
  • y-axis
  • z-axis

A 3D object is composed of several 2D shapes placed on different planes within a space. One must have a basic knowledge of geometry in order to come up with complex figures. After you have installed your 3D software, you may now create your first 3D model. Here's a step-by-step process of making a basic geometric shape like the pyramid using Sketchup:

  1. Draw a square to form the base.
  2. Draw a line that runs from the center of the square to set its height. You can get the center of the square by drawing a diagonal line across the square. Hover your mouse over the line until you see a blue dot. This is the center where your vertical line should be drawn. Once you're done, erase the diagonal line.
  3. Draw a line from one of the corners to the highest point of the vertical line. Do this on all four corners.
  4. There you have it. You're first 3D object

The process of making different shapes, objects and models may differ from one software to another but they all produce the same result. You just have to familiarize yourself with the buttons and what they do.

The beauty of 3D modeling is that you can rotate your object in any angle, set colors or textures (wood, metal, rubber, masonry, etc.) and convert them into a two-dimensional image with photorealistic results -- this process is called rendering.

3D models using Sketchup

What inspired me to jump into 3D modeling is I wanted to create a customized car for a video game I love. So I browsed the web for the best 3D software there is, and based on the reviews I've read, Sketchup is the most user-friendly application to work with. Sadly, sketchup files are not compatible with the video game so I wasn't able to use the car I made. On the other hand, I've discovered how fun it is creating three-dimensional objects. Below are some of my creations. Some are finished while some are still works in progress:

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rendered using VrayNo strings yetClay render. No texture.still a work in progressstill a work in progressClay render. No texture.Rendered using Vray.Future car concept.Clay render.Lamborghini-inspired concept.Still a work in progress
Rendered using Vray
Rendered using Vray | Source
No strings yet
No strings yet | Source
Clay render. No texture.
Clay render. No texture. | Source
still a work in progress
still a work in progress | Source
still a work in progress
still a work in progress | Source
Clay render. No texture.
Clay render. No texture. | Source
Rendered using Vray.
Rendered using Vray. | Source
Future car concept.
Future car concept. | Source
Clay render.
Clay render. | Source
Lamborghini-inspired concept.
Lamborghini-inspired concept. | Source
Still a work in progress
Still a work in progress | Source

In a nutshell

Just like any other hobby or skill, 3D modeling requires patience, continuous learning and constant practice. If you have a knack for graphics, then you may want to explore the world of 3D modeling, and as you develop your skill you may find yourself doing 3D animation as well.

There are a lot of video tutorials out there that will help anyone get started. The information is free so use it to your advantage. The full potential of any 3D software depends on the user's skill.

Since this new art is now used in several fields, you can make a living out of it given the right opportunity and proficiency. Although most entities hire people with formal education or those who are certified, it does not necessarily mean that you don't stand a chance. Whatever your interest or talent is, I think everybody starts with zero experience and 3D modeling is no exception. The key here is you have to have the passion, dedication and interest.

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