Part One: Now
3D modelling has come a long way since its humble origins over 40 years ago, meanwhile its capabilities have continually evolved and grown better alongside the technology used to perform it. Thanks to this there are a whole bunch of interesting things going on right now, with plenty more on their way. We are on the precipice of a modelling revolution, where recent technology and those in development seem set to become game changers in the world of 3D modelling.
For example, the arrival of 3D printing has further enhanced the abilities and potential applications of 3D modelling; while virtual reality, although very new in its current (non-Virtual Boy) form, looks set to change the way we interact with 3D models forever. This skill lends itself to many different industries and professions in varied and surprising ways, and it’s this that makes the future of 3D modelling all the more exciting.
Even with the skill’s varied applications, 3D modellers such as myself are bound to have their own area of expertise, a type of thing they most enjoy creating, or even a preferred geometry type. In fact, we’ve already created a post all about 3D Modelling within Autodesk Maya 2016, where we’ve provided info on the geometry types you can work with, as well as some toolset tips and tricks!
To truly begin this piece I’m going to run you through some of the interesting and exciting ways 3D models have been put to use within various professions. Each one will include a hyperlink for those who’d like to find out more about each topic. Let’s start off in the exciting, engaging and at times terrifying world of film and television.
TV and Film
First up is recent TV, or in this case TV streaming; yes, I’m talking Netflix,’s nostalgia-steeped dramatic 1980s-based horror mystery series and word-of-mouth hit, Stranger Things (that was a bit of a blooming mouthful!). Without modelling we wouldn’t have had its faceless, teethy and definitely bad breathed nightmare-fuel, the Demogorgon and its horrible home the Upside Down.
Meanwhile in the realm of blockbuster cinema we have roughly 20 square blocks (1 square mile’s) worth of New York City modelled for Marvel’s The Avengers (2012). The Incredible Hulk was also created using 3D modelling.
3D modelling is also extremely useful for architectural visualization; and I imagine pretty blooming cost effective in the long run, too. When further combined with cloud rendering solutions like GarageFarm.NET’s render farm, the visualizations can come to live in much less time and with much less hassle.
When it comes to visualising expensive things that don’t exist yet, would you believe non-existence is often the case for the latest cars you see advertised in a usually stunning fashion; the only real part of the car you’ll see is the wheels! Hidden underneath that polished CG exterior is a Mad Max-esque electric vehicle known awesomely as the Blackbird, with a 360° camera mounted on its head to get those realistic reflections for its CGI counterpart, and an ability to mimic the driving of almost any car. Why do this? Because quite often the actual car has either not been manufactured yet or is still in development when the advertisement goes live.
Science & Healthcare
3D modelling isn’t just great for entertainment and selling people stuff, it can also be used to save lives. In May 2015 Dassault Systèms released a scientifically accurate, and commercially available 3D model of a healthy human heart. 3D simulations such as this can help diagnose cardiovascular diseases, by allowing an infinite number of solutions to be tested out before treatment, potentially leading to much earlier diagnosis and the avoidance of a large percentage of the needless deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases.
Cosplay, Prop & Costume-Making
Because the act of 3D modelling is such an open skill, this allows it to be greatly useful for recreational creative endeavours like cosplay, which is simply the act of dressing up as a character from film, TV, books or videogames. The inspiration and emotional connection a person can gain from their favourite fictional characters has continually proven to be a wonderful motivator for people to create awesome and exciting things, and turn the imaginary into the real.
If 3D modelling had to be described in three words, they would be “Imagine. Create. Explore.”; 3D modelling can go hand in hand with cosplaying, because, like modelling, cosplaying is at its heart very much about the imagination, from the source material starting life within the imagination of its creators, to imagining and planning what needs to be done to temporarily become that character in the real world. When the costume is finally created, a cosplayer can inhabit their impression of that character’s persona and explore their personality through real world interactions as them.
In an article for Adam Savage’s (of Mythbusters fame) Tested website, Bill Doran of the prop & costume making company, Punished Props described 3D modelling (and 3D printing) as an amazing advantage when it comes to the productivity and quality of the pieces he produces.
3D printing is a big topic that could easily fill its own entire post (probably even several). Heck a Google search of the specific term “3D printing” brings up over 33 million results, as opposed to “3D modelling” and “3D modeling”, which total at just over 1 million results. This doesn’t mean that 3D modelling is any less of a big deal, if anything the advent of 3D printing has made it more of a big deal, since when it comes down to it, you need someone to 3D model the printed object in the first place. That is, at least, until our robot overlords take over and start designing and printing bigger and better versions of themselves!
The cost of a basic 3D printer is low enough to be affordable to members of the general public; in fact, you can even get one for cheaper than most of the hard hitting virtual reality headsets. For example, the Oculus Rift costs just a smidge under £550, whilst the Playstation VR costs around £350 – meanwhile, you can get your hands on a daVinci Junior 1.0 3D printer for only around £280.
There are some blooming cool things that have been 3D printed, from prosthetics improving the lives of children and adults across the world, through to a fully functioning Batman cosplay complete with working gadgets, all the way to a record breaking 17ft (~5m) long Boeing aircraft wing piece. If you’re tempted to buy a 3D printer and print pre-built models, or fancy getting into the 3D modelling game and start printing your own stuff at home, it’s worth checking out product reviews first, such as this one for the above-mentioned daVinci.
True photorealism wouldn’t be possible without smart use of texturing, but you actually need something to apply those textures to, so a detailed 3D model can save the texture artist a lot of extra hassle of ‘faking’ certain details.
Unfortunately, the more complex the model, the bigger the file size, and this is where the problems can start. If you’re trying to create something photorealistic and are pre-rendering the imagery, feel free to model in as high a resolution as you’d like but be very aware of the medium you want to use that model for, or the amount of render time you have available to you. Also, consider whether you’re going to put money into super fast rendering by using our render farm, thereby allowing you more time to perfect the scene beforehand. Insane levels of complexity can be the case for photorealistic models, especially those sculpted out of digital clay in the likes of Autodesk Mudbox, often with incredible results!
If you’re using the model for animation, vastly over-complicated geometry may crash the software before you even get a chance to do much with it, but if you’re going to be rendering out still images of that model you’re much less limited in what you can achieve.
The problem with attempting photorealism within videogames
Videogame worlds have to constantly render your surrounding environment while you interact with the world, which takes time, and the more powerful the game’s engine and the platform you are playing it on – whether it be a computer, console, tablet or smartphone – the better the 3D models, textures, lighting (and so on) can be. The more complex the scene, the longer it takes to render each frame, and because of the limitations current software places on videogame assets, 3D modelling for games requires a different tactic than what is acceptable for pre-rendered CGI found within films and television.
To get around these limitations, games modellers have to create both a high and low res version of each model, and then apply special texture maps extracted from the high res model onto the low res version, all to make it look like the in-game model is more complex without adding loads of render time and risking the dreaded lag, or worse, crashing the game! This is why certain elements may look terrible when viewed close up, but they look okay from a relative distance.
Good news is we are pretty close to having photorealistic characters in videogames, so that’s something to look forward to in the near future, if only we could figure out how to bring life to those cold, dead digital eyes… and I don’t know about you, but the day I see hair that looks and acts realistically in a videogame, the future will truly be upon us.
Part Two: Near Future
Coming up in the near future are some pretty darn awesome and frankly mind boggling things. You may even be lucky enough to be reading this when some if not all of them have become a fully fledged reality. The future is an exciting place for the 3D model, in both how the public and professionals alike are going to not only be able to interact with them, but create them too.
Virtual reality offers us a new way to live out our fantasies; the ability to be an active part in the impossible, and the terrifying.
– Tashi Hanlon (VICE UK: How VR Video Games Could Change Our Minds)
It would feel wrong if we didn’t start here, after all virtual reality quite literally boggles your mind. It’s also the most publically accessible of the lot, since all three of VR’s heavy hitters have finally seen public release. While VR entertainment is indeed hotting up, immersive 360° 3D modelling is still in the prototype phase, after all it’s a whole different ball game compared to VR videogames and 360° video.
There is a whole lot that can be said about VR gaming, with a lot of the most interesting bits having been covered in a chin scratchingly thought provoking video by Vice Gaming. Who would have thought viewing and interacting with 3D models in this way could have therapeutic potential for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and on the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, carry potential ethical dilemmas and medical risks with regards to the popular medium of VR horror.
While virtual reality 3D modelling isn’t yet a challenger to its mouse manipulated, screen-based brethren, there’s little doubt that this medium is going to create waves in the 3D modelling industry. After all part of the point of 3D modelling is creating something that can be viewed from all angles, meanwhile we’re currently stuck with our eyes glued to a two dimensional computer screen for backside numbing periods of time.
Quite simply VR will give us the ability to finally interact with 3D objects in a truly three dimensional environment. One could argue 3D modelling and virtual reality were always meant to be together. Anyway, enough VR worship, let’s actually get into some of the 3D modelling-related treats on the horizon.
The smartly named VRTX is being developed by Austrian indie devs Blackish Games; wow, if anything helps further the idea that VR and and 3D modelling were meant to be together, it’s this coincidental similarity between VR and the oh-so-important vertex point. Ehhem, back on topic, VRTX is being developed using the HTC Vive, with Blackish having so far uploaded 6 prototype test videos to their YouTube channel between January and November 2016, and have shown great progress.
Blackish have described their inspiration for starting the project as frustration over none of the big modelling packages announcing VR support. Motivated by the fact it would be advantageous for developers of VR experiences to be able to create them within VR, the developer is first focusing on modelling, before working out how to incorporate UV mapping and texturing into the software later on. This is definitely one project worth keeping an eye on!
While the public have already had some experience with augmented reality, these have mostly been limited to wacky Snapchat filters, makeup apps, the Nintendo 3DS’ card-based AR, Pokemon Go, and the unfortunate demise of the first iteration of Google Glass, among a few others. All these have given us a small taste of what augmented reality is capable of, but finally the near future will bring with it some much meatier offerings.
Released for developers in March 2016, the $3000 HoloLens is a blooming expensive piece of kit, but one that if done right could be the future of augmented reality (no pressure Microsoft!). If you’re a developer yourself and are curious about integrating this piece of kit into your business, it’s worth checking out Techradar’s recent review of the headset. Now let’s jump into a couple of the interesting features that could have people interacting with 3D models in a whole different way.
We have printed human body parts and have used them to help improve lives. Would it be possible to print medicine, too? The current problem in the pharmaceutical industry is the inability to personalize drugs. Would we be able to easily print a tablet with a specific dosage for a specific patient with specific needs?
3D in Space
Instead of bringing a heavy and space consuming materials to build a base on a planet, would we be able to just 3D print it? The resources on earth are finite. Our chances of survival would drastically increase if we are able to colonize another planet. Can 3D help save the human race?
The possibilities are endless. It’s not enough to discuss everything in just one article. 3D modelling really can change the world.