Hari's Corner

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Why 3D modelling is so hard

Filed under: Life and Leisure by Hari
Posted on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 14:46 IST (last updated: Thu, Oct 20, 2011 @ 14:46 IST)

Been playing around with blender recently and I suddenly realized why 3D software is so hard to learn or master. While 3D related concepts are a little hard to grasp or master, what really serves as a stumbling block is the graphical interface of these programs. And it goes beyond mere UI concepts. Fundamentally, navigating around a virtual 3D space on a 2 dimensional monitor screen is what makes the process incredibly tedious. No matter how feature rich a 3D software might be, it suffers from the same basic drawback.

Of course, some amateur and most professional 3D artists use a variety of tricks to get around these limitations and even become productive, while top-end studios probably use 3D scanners for modelling real world objects. But for the average computer user, the whole thing remains inacessible for the two reasons I stated - hard to grasp theoritically and hard to implement in practice as well.

Having said that, using a free, open source software like Blender is an incredibly fun and learning experience.

10 comment(s)

  1. Hmm - that's a very interesting perspective but I must say I would have to disagree slightly.

    You see, traditional art stemmed from 3D sculpture and 2D artwork. 2D was a completely different phenomenon to 3D and we couldn't even grasp the concept of adding shading, shadow, or perspective to make a 2D drawing look 3D. So the world of 2D art and physical 3D art was incredibly different.

    Then a bunch of art geniuses figured out how to make 2D look like 3D. Everybody loved it and people tried to make their 2D works look more realistic and even manipulate the laws of the 3D world to their benefit to produce more striking artwork.

    This caused a fundamental shift in how 3D art was designed - it was now very possible and in fact encouraged to design a sculpture via 2D drawing before you even touched the 3D form. It was essentially a new language to "plan" out what a 3D artwork would look like before using expensive materials or making a design that could be rejected later.

    Nowadays - we do the same. You'll find most successful designers and artists start with a fat pencil and paper before and scribble around before they do anything else. I myself have found that any design work - even 2D design such as graphics or webdesign - I start on the computer before doing it traditionally will undoubtedly turn out horrible. There is something about the 2D that is more important than the 3D.

    I myself have asked this question - I find that the 3D is too ... well, "real". An artist isn't concerned with reality. Programmers, scientists and the such are concerned with reality. Artists are more concerned with the perception - irregardless of its real form. They take the rules of the real and distort them into something that makes us think.

    The 2D is a frame - it is a form of perception that we can play around with - small snapshots of what we will perceive. And especially with a pencil and paper - and not on a computer - the medium of the pencil is so closely linked to our brains such that it is essentially an extension of our hand - like cupping our hand over our ears to hear better. We can switch between the real, the perception, and the completely outright abstract when we conceptualise what we want our artwork to communicate. The 2D interface - if anything - I believe is a gift. A feature, not a bug :)

    To play devil's advocate, it would be awesome to have a 3D holographic sculpting tool :D

    Comment by Dion Moult (visitor) on Sat, Oct 22, 2011 @ 18:05 IST #
  2. Thanks, Dion. I get your broader perspective and I agree.

    My issue with 3D software was specifically with reference to the clunky way in which we navigate the 3D space on a computer screen.

    Of course, my larger point, but restricted again to computers, was that the third dimension adds new complexity by way of volume calculations, getting the shapes right in every possible angle, different modelling approaches, ways of texture mapping, lighting, camera etc. which seem to be the stock-in-trade of 3D, whereas with 2d you only worry about the pixel and its colour.

    And yes, with regard to the artistic aspect, I think 2D is about as tough to master (or maybe tougher) than 3D.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Sat, Oct 22, 2011 @ 22:08 IST #
  3. My son has been gobbling gigabytes of YouTube tutorials on Blender. He's been improving every time he sits down to it. I hope that he continues to feed that need. Kudos to you for even trying to use it, hari.

    Comment by MrCorey (visitor) on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 @ 01:17 IST #
  4. Thanks, MrCorey. Yes, some tutorials are nice. Others are just... not so much as instructive as a way to brag about "look what I could do." The pace is too fast or the model is just too complex.

    My approach is to try and learn to basic techniques and then apply it. But even with those, it is hard, tedious work, 3D modelling.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Thu, Oct 27, 2011 @ 08:13 IST #
  5. I can agree that 3d modeling is such a difficult thing to learn let alone master. I have seriously spent like, hundreds of hours sitting in front of a PC trying my best to wrap my mind around the concept that is 3d modeling, and even though I feel fluent as a user of 3d artwork (I use Unity3d to design video games), I am certainly far from understanding getting a object or character from my mind down onto a 3d "canvas" such as blender, or 3ds max, or maya....I've tried it all!....and the learning curve is always the same - huge. But as far as about anything related to the application of these 3d models into a playable game (or in others cases maybe a CGI movie or whatever) I can totally nail and get the hang of very well. Perhaps its just about the way your mind works and the process you use to learn. Best of luck in your 3d work hari.

    Comment by MDR (visitor) on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 @ 02:22 IST #
  6. MDR, thanks for the comment. Yes, the most difficult thing about 3D is visualization in 2D space. And that's why I think the individual software doesn't matter beyond a point.

    Actually your point about 3D games or movies is interesting. The application of 3D in that domain requires a different set of skills from those used in actual 3D modelling.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 @ 07:42 IST #
  7. The problem with most well-known modeling software is that they don't give you a 'simple palette of materials' from which you can simply select something you want and then apply it to the object.
    This is the main problem, i.e the menu systems of most modeling software is far too convoluted...

    Comment by Andrew Jenery (visitor) on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 @ 16:18 IST #
  8. Thanks for the comment, Andrew. Yes, I agree. Menu systems can be improved but I think the underlying interface problem is deeper than that - as I explained.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 @ 17:40 IST #
  9. Recently I tried out Autodesk Mudbox for the 1st time, hoping it is easy. But, all the models end up black and the interface often didn't work or was highly confusing. So basically, I quit it when it got EXTREMELY confusing. Reminds me of the time when I quit Blender because of a similar reason.. :roll:

    Comment by ant32223 (visitor) on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 @ 01:15 IST #
  10. ant32223, regarding models ending up black, maybe you had not set up a lighting source or aligned it properly with the model.

    But yes, the interface on 3d programs are quite intimidating in general to somebody new.

    Comment by Hari (blog owner) on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 @ 09:25 IST #

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