Getting Started in 3D Modeling and Animation

Which Aspect of 3D Should You Learn?

Realistic 3d model of glasses, an ashtray and a pitcher
By 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 bring such amazingly complex concepts to the silver screen.

One thing you do know, is you'd love to give it a try

Well, look no further.

In this series, we'll 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 put forth. Whether you'd like to one day make a career out of 3D animation, become a modder for your favorite video game, or just want to try your hand at a new creative medium, there are a great deal of ways to begin making 3D.

"Just installed Maya—what the heck do I do now?"

That's the exact text of a message I recently received from  a friend of mine, and I think it's 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, however, 3D can be incredibly technical, and there are multiple paths you can take to achieve almost any specific goal.

You could sit down and jump right in, and maybe you'd eventually succeed with 3D.

But often, this sort of haphazard approach will lead to uncertainty and frustration. It can be 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 toward learning 3D can be 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 will take months or years of practice and learning. But hopefully it'll set you off on an organized path and will point you toward the resources to eventually get you to where you want to be in the world of 3D.

I know our first step seems incredibly obvious, but considering this question ahead of time can make all the difference in the world:

Which aspect of 3D are you most interested in?

As I said, there are a huge variety of outlets for 3D computer graphics. If you're reading this, I'd wager there's a good chance you've got one of the following ideas 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."

And this doesn't even cover the full gamut.

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. In the previous list, we made no mention of surfacing, 3D lighting, technical direction, nor any reference to the research (computer science) aspect of the field.

The reason we ask you to carefully consider which aspect of 3D you're most interested in is because, in the end, your specific interests will drastically affect what direction you take through the process of learning 3d.

The learning 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 that you can choose your software and learning resources more effectively.

Think you've got an idea of where you'd like to go with 3D?

Great! Then you're ready to move on to Step 2.