Getting Started in 3D Modeling and Animation

Which aspect of 3D should you learn?

Realistic 3d model of glasses, an ashtray and a pitcher

Gilles Tran [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

So, you've seen countless movies, games, and commercials full of robots, futuristic buildings, alien spaceships, and vehicles that make your jaw hit the floor. You know they couldn't possibly exist in the real world, but at the same time, you're not quite sure how the artists and filmmakers are able to bring such amazingly complex concepts to the silver screen.

Well, look no further. In this series, we discuss three quick steps to put you well on your way toward making 3D computer graphics of your own.

3D is a complex and wildly varying craft, but the payoff for learning it is well worth the effort. Whether you want to make a career out of 3D animation one day, become a modder for your favorite video game, or you just want to try your hand at a new creative medium, there are a lot of ways to begin making 3D. We discuss a few of them here.

'Just Installed Maya—What The Heck Do I Do Now?'

This is a very typical reaction for people launching a 3D software application for the first time. It's natural to want to jump right in when you start learning something new, but 3D can be incredibly technical, and there are multiple paths you can take to achieve almost any specific goal.

You can sit down and jump right in, and maybe you'll eventually succeed. But often this sort of haphazard approach leads to uncertainty and frustration. It's very easy to get lost in the world of 3D computer graphics if you don't approach it with some sort of plan. Following a structured path while learning 3D is incredibly beneficial and can make the process a whole lot smoother.

The rest of this article series won't teach you how to make a 3D model or show you how to become a rock-star animator—that can take months or years of practice and learning. But hopefully, it sets you off on an organized path and points you toward the resources you need to get you where you want to be in the world of 3D.

Which Aspect of 3D Are You Most Interested In?

There is a huge variety of outlets for 3D computer graphics. If you're reading this, there's a good chance you've got one of the following in mind:

  • Animation: “I'd like to try computer animation like I've seen in 'Toy Story,' 'Shrek,' 'Wall-E,' etc.”
  • 3D Modeling: “I'd like to try making 3D models like I've seen in video games and films like 'Transformers.'”
  • Visual Effects: “I want to make things explode like they do in the movies."
  • Product Design: “I'm interested in product design and would like to explore 3D design tools."
  • Graphic/Commercial Design: “I'm a graphic/motion designer interested in adding 3D skills to my design tool-set."
  • Architecture/Engineering: “I'm interested in architecture, engineering, or automotive design, and would like to try 3D pre-visualization for those industries.”
  • Stereoscopic: “I'm a traditional filmmaker, but I'm interested in using stereoscopic 3D for my films."

Although these are some of the common end-goals for learning 3D, we really only covered a relatively narrow aspect of the entire computer graphics pipeline. We made no mention of surfacing, 3D lighting, technical direction, nor any reference to the research (computer science) aspect of the field.

In the end, your specific interests will drastically affect what direction you take through the learning process. The path of someone who eventually specializes in animation is entirely different than someone who wants to make 3D CAD models for the automotive industry. It helps tremendously to know what your interests are ahead of time so you can choose your software and learning resources more effectively.​