3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 89: Learning 3D Graphics
Lesson 89 - Learning 3D Graphics - Part 3
I do not believe that NURBS modeling can be approached before the student has very strong polygonal modeling skills. NURBS are often (incomprehensibly) presented as an easier and more direct way to model, or simply as a more modern methodology that is replacing polygonal modeling. This attitude is a serious problem when students begins with programs like Maya and Softimage, which are justly famous for their NURBS implementations. Many teachers will simply start with NURBS in these packages, as though one didn't need to address polygonal modeling first. All of the top packages that have NURBS toolsets (Maya, Softimage and MAX) also have outstanding polygonal modeling tools. If the educational program you are looking into bypasses polygonal tools to jumps directly into NURBS without grounding in polygonal modeling, I suggest you look further.
Make sure that NURBS are being taught in a serious way. True NURBS modeling is not just another kind of smoothed polygonal modeling (subdivision surfaces) like Lightwave MetaNURBS or MAX MeshSmooth. It's a radically different way of thinking about the construction process. Take a look at the series of columns I wrote on MAX's NURBS (beginning at Lesson 64), and especially at those in Lessons 69, 70 and 72 that describe the building of the piston and violin models. NURBS modeling is not about pulling vertices. It's about complex issues of trimming, blending, surface continuity and modeling relationships between surfaces. Until you understand these things, you are not in a position to join the critical debate over where NURBS techniques are a superior choice over traditional polygonal modeling techniques. You can only find your own viewpoint and preferences if you understand both NURBS and polygonal modeling clearly.
Texture painting and mapping is a very important subject that is generally not given its due in educational programs. That's because it can be a very difficult subject to teach. Strong Photoshop skills are a given in today's 3D world, and much modeling (especially in games) is directly in support of illustrations. Mapping images to 3D surfaces can be hard work, but it will be impossible if you don't clearly understand the concept of texture coordinates--how they are generated by projections and how they can be edited after projection. Too many people simply play around with the toolsets with any solid understanding. Whether you are teaching yourself or learning in a school--don't be satisfied until you feel you have a firm understanding of the concepts. This is a great example of a place where people who like to think themselves "artists" find excuses for failing to master principles that are undoubtedly technical. If you are throwing around the term "u,v coordinates" without clear picture of what it means, go back to the drawing board until you do. Take a look at my Lessons 54 and 55 for some background.
Learning animation in professional 3D means absolute mastery over the use of function curves to both create and edit movement. Anyone can learn to lay down key frames and see what happens. The serious student wants to learn exactly how animation is really controlled within a program, and that is through the use of function curves. All of the top programs have excellent graphing tools--Lightwave 6 is finally making up for Lightwave's former weaknesses in this area.
Learning animation set-up for characters is especially hard work. Take the time to really understand how a good skeletal structure is built, and how it deforms the mesh. The set-up for inverse kinematics takes a great deal of experimentation to master. You can't be in a rush on this. Here's a piece of advice based on long experience: Learn character animation set-up using very simple character models. Don't complicate the process by starting with characters with a lot of defined musculature or with structures that are very different than the standard human form. You can't model properly for animation if you don't already understand how character tools deform a mesh. And this securing this knowledge takes a huge amount of practice with simple models.
I'm afraid I've run out of time and space when I was just getting warmed up. As things look now, I'll be leaving teaching soon to devote my full time attention to a number of things, especially Web 3D. I've got an exciting new book project in the works that I hope to be able to tell you about next time. But I love teaching, and believe that the future of 3D arts depends on the quality of 3D education. Please take your own education seriously.
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Created: Mar. 28, 2000
Revised: Mar. 28, 2000