3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 89: Learning 3D Graphics | 2
Lesson 89 - Learning 3D Graphics - Part 2
First of all, the proper subject is 3D arts and technology, not any particular software package. When you learn to use a word processor, you are simply learning software. You are not learning how to write. The naÃ¯ve person thinks of 3D in terms of obtaining and learning how to use a program. As a result, he or she will spend an incredible amount of effort trying to figure out which program to commit to. This is, in part, a consequence of the high cost of professional-level packages, and the common belief that "if I can learn MAX (or Maya, or Lightwave, or Softimage), I'll be able to get work."
All of these packages are difficult, and most of them are very difficult, especially when compared to software outside the 3D world. If you are not capable of mastering complex tools, 3D graphics is not for you. But this takes us off the main point. The challenge of simply learning the software packages is secondary to learning the arts and concepts of modeling, animation and related fields--regardless of the package used. The time has long-since passed when each program had its own approach. The 3D arts world has matured to the point where all of the packages are competing around greatly overlapping approaches. There is broad agreement about what kinds of tools are necessary and standard, and therefore the same artistic skillsets apply to all of them. Just yesterday I was working on techniques for modeling human faces, and jumped constantly between three different programs. Despite differences in interfaces, the concepts were all the same.
Let consider modeling first. 3D modeling is a new and beautiful art form that will no doubt become as established as traditional painting and sculpture. The great challenge in learning to model is in developing strategies and techniques that allow the artist to work from the general to the specific--creating broad contours and structure before adding detail. This is a serious endeavor, worthy of an artist, and is a far larger and more important issue than figuring out a software interface. Every modeling technique worthy of the name must address this problem.
Modeling skills begin with the strongest possible understanding of the basic material-the polygonal mesh. Building with polygonal meshes means positioning, adding and removing vertices, and each program will have its own angle on this. The serious student doesn't waste a lot of priceless time on gimmicky mesh-deformation tools (like a lot of the modifiers in MAX), when there is so much to be mastered in basic mesh building and editing. If you do not understand how to build basic architecture from simple cube-shaped meshes by extruding faces, and how to add detail through the addition and reorganization of vertices--you are completely out of touch with the art of modeling. You must also learn how organic modeling is achieved through the smoothing of crude, blocky meshes (using MeshSmooth in MAX, Metaform in Lightwave, or analogous tools in every other program)..>
Nor need you spend a lot of money to get started in a serious way. Every serious modeler should download a copy of Nendo from Nichimen Graphics. A demo copy is free and a licensed copy is only $100. This is the finest tool for learning polygonal modeling I have ever seen, and is highly respected among professionals. The most impressive aspect is the interactive tutorials that teach you how to model selected objects. The techniques and strategies used are exemplary. You'll see objects built from extrusions, vertex editing and mesh smoothing. If you want to get started on the right foot, put some serious hours into this. You may also want to look at the three columns I wrote on modeling with Nendo last year, if only to get a visual handle on these concepts. You'll find them as Lessons 51 through 53 on the 3D Animation Workshop homepage. In any case, if you can learn sound modeling principles using Nendo, you are in a position to evaluate the merits of other modeling tools and of formal training in modeling.
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Created: Mar. 28, 2000
Revised: Mar. 28, 2000