3D MODELING TECHNIQUES

One of the many fascinating aspects of 3D modeling is the endless number of tricks that artists can use to speed up their workflows. In this section, we will present some of the most essential 3D modeling techniques that artists have integrated into their workflows over the years.

Keep in mind that all those workflows are generally used to solve specific 3D modeling problems.

Polygonal Modeling

We are using the term polygonal modeling simply to describe here the raw manipulation of vertices, edges and polygons by performing an operation such as Move, Rotate or Scale. This also includes the use of the Pen tool, Topology Pen and snapping settings.

An actual workflow would consist of creating stripes of polygons to define the big shapes and fillings tools to quickly close the holes in the mesh.

Box Modeling

The box modeling workflow is focused on doing extrusions and adding edge loops to get the desired result. The classic example would be to create a cube and start from there.

Booleans

Booleans are an operation that allows the artist to combine two meshes and perform a wide variety of operations:

Subdivision Surface Modeling (Sub-D)

"A subdivision surface is a polygon mesh that has been divided into more faces while retaining the object's general shape. You perform subdivision to add detail to an object, or to smooth it out."

In most 3D applications, 3D artists can activate a Sub-D modifier that will make it much easier for artists to create round shapes. This modifier would turn a cube into a sphere.

By adding Edge Loops to the mesh, the artist can add tension and make some edges harder, less round.

As the artist adds more edge loop, the mesh becomes more and more complex. It quickly becomes more difficult to modify and edit the mesh. This is why one of the tricks is to speparate your mesh into multiple parts, that way when working on one part it will not affect another.

Sub-D Modeling With Edge Weighting

Certain 3D applications such as MODO 12 allow artists to use "edge weighting" to crease edges to different values (%). In certain context, this can be a huge time saver. The downside of this method is that the edge weighting is only useful within the software. If you are doing freelance work for a client that use a different 3D application, the changes made with Edge Weighting won't transfer over.

Rounded Edge Shader

Certain 3D softwares such as MODO feature a Rounded Edge Shader that, once applied to the meshes, will make the low poly mesh look like a high poly and this can be baked directly to the normal map. The Rounded Edge Shader also works with intersecting geometry.

However, it is not perfect and it has a downside. In order to make it look good, artists shouldn't use values that are too high, otherwise visual artifacts will become visible. The same issue will occur with concave geometry. The big secret is that, once the textured, those visual artifacts become really difficult to see for the end user. And the artist can just add grunge or else to hide those areas if it's really necessary.

Skirt

When artists have to merge two shapes in Sub-D modeling, this can require a lot of work. In some cases, it's possible to just create a ''skirt'' with one of the two meshes. The reason is, the only thing that matters is how the game mesh will look in the game engine and for that we need a good normal map, a good baking process.

Floaters

Instead of modeling everything all the time, artists can save time by adding floating geometry. Plus, it doesn't add complexity to the primary mesh. The Tack Tool in MODO is quite useful to snap meshes to the surface of another.

Sub-D Booleans (MeshFusion)

Certain softwares allow artists to perform Sub-D booleans operations. Traditionally, to do Sub-D modeling required a lot of work, because artists had to add a lot of edges when trying to create more complicated shapes. That's gone with MeshFusion in MODO 12. Artists can directly combine two Sub-D meshes and perfrom a variety of operations (subtract, union, intersect, etc.).

3D Sculpting

Certain 3D applications such as MODO and Maya feature some sculpting tools.

Adjust the shaders of your mesh for 3D sculpting
Artists can customize the ligthing of their scene and the material that is applied to their mesh to make it easier to sculpt; adding reflection, rim light, etc. Matcaps can also be used.

Base mesh
Often, to make the process easier, artists first create a base mesh with traditional modeling tools before sculpting. However, if you are either using Zbrush, you might feel comfortable enough to just start 3D sculpting from a sphere, thanks the the powerful Dynamesh feature in Zbrush that automatically generates a new topology with the click of a button.

Move tool
When sculpting, artists can simply use the move tool to get the desired result. That’s often much more efficient than trying to sculpt everything. The move tool is a big time saver.

Brush strokes
There are several techniques that can help artists to get the desired shapes and forms. For creating muscles, by example, artists can do big strokes and then smooth them out. Some artists will prefer to just remove a chunk, let’s say of an abdominal area and rebuild the muscles. Use what works and feels most comfortable to you.

To create things like wrinkles, artists might carve an area and then adjust both sides as needed, by removing a bit of matter on one side and then adding more on the other with either the push or inflate brushes. And then could polish the crack with a pinch or scar brush.

Flatten brush
The flatten brush can be used to flatten out large surfaces, bevel edges or create imperfections. This can be quite useful to sculpt rocks.

Pinch brush
The pinch brushes can be used to create hard edges.

Retopology
To create organic shapes, artists can sculpt something in a short amount of time, do a quick retopo of an area and then extract (thicken) it to create an organic shape.

Use curves as guides
Certain 3D applications might allow you to combine certain tools creatively. By example, it is possible in MODO to use ''curves'' as guide lines when performing other operations such as 3D texturing or 3D sculpting.