What Is 3D Modeling?

3D modeling software produces three-dimensional digital effects

Worker with CAD drawing in office Credit: Monty Rakusen
Monty Rakusen/ GettyImages

3D modeling is the process of creating a 3D representation of any surface or object by manipulating polygons, edges, and vertices in simulated 3D space. 3D modeling can be achieved manually with specialized 3D production software that lets an artist create and deform polygonal surfaces, or by scanning real-world objects into a set of data points that can be used to represent the object digitally.

How 3D Modeling Is Used

3D modeling is used in a wide range of fields, including engineering, entertainment, film, visual effects, game development, and commercial advertising.

The most common popular example would be the modern resurgence of 3D technology in major motion pictures where this technology is used, which began with the success of the film Avatar, the 2009 blockbuster from director James Cameron. The film helped to transform the 3D industry and used many of the concepts of 3D modeling.

3D Modeling Software

3D modeling software allow you to design basic 3D models of characters or objects. Full-featured programs provide the tools you need to flesh out your designs with realistic details. There are many 3D modeling software programs on the market, but among the highest rated are:

  • AutoCAD was doing 3D long before it was popular. This professional commercial software has been around since 1982 and is considered the gold standard by many designers. Available for Windows and macOS operating systems.
  • ZBrush from Pixologic incorporates clay sculpting techniques into its professional-level software. The process takes many hours to master, so it isn't recommended for beginners in 3D design. The same developers produce Sculptris, which is a similar, but simpler, free 3D modeling application that beginning 3D designers might try first.
  • 3DS Max from Autodesk is popular with video game developers and visual effects artists. Although the software can handle animation and engineering, those features require extensive training to master. Works with Windows.
  • SketchUp is a 3D program for designers with some experience in 3D modeling. SketchUp specializes in architectural structures is frequently used for visualizing architecture, interior design, urban planning, engineering, and construction. Available for Windows and macOS operating systems.
  • Blender is free open-source 3D modeling software suitable for creating animated films, visual effects, art, interactive apps and video games. Operates on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.