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3D Modeling Basics

This chapter is from the book

Digging In

All right! It's time to think about building something.

Because this book doesn't focus on a single 3D product, the tutorials that follow provide general instructions rather than details about the specific tools you must use for each step. (Note, however, that this new edition of the book has product-specific tutorials for Max, Maya, and LightWave located on the included CD-ROM.) For example, the steps will tell you to "make a rectangle and extrude it" rather than "press Ctrl-R to make a rectangle and Ctrl-E to extrude it." I've made every effort to ensure that the operations presented are available in most programs or that you will be able to use alternative methods for tools or techniques your package doesn't offer.


If you are learning a NURBS-based package, such as Maya or the Rhino modeler, the steps will probably vary quite a bit from this generic tutorial, which is based primarily on polygonal modeling techniques. Users of these types of packages should use the Maya-specific tutorial located on the CD-ROM, but should take a look at the other tutorials to see how the process works for polygonal modeling. By the same token, I recommend that users who follow the generic, max, or LightWave tutorials take a look at the Maya tutorials to get an idea of the advantages and disadvantages of NURBS modeling. Having a good handle on different modeling approaches helps you to select the best approach for constructing a given object.

If you've already spent some time with 3D programs, you may be able to plunge right in and use the reference guide section of your manuals to get over any rough spots. If you are totally new to this or are using a brand-new package, you'll need to learn how a given tool or operation is implemented in your software. In this case, you may be better off going through sections of the user's guide in your manuals, and perhaps do the basic tutorials as well. After doing the software manual's tutorials and learning the necessary commands, try the ones in this chapter. Think of them as an addendum to your manual or as tests to make sure you thoroughly understand the tools.

Note that most manuals take a very piecemeal approach to their tutorials, giving you a basic task to perform that demonstrates an idea, and then discarding that work when you move on to the next tool. The result is a collection of unusable micro-projects, leaving you to start from scratch to make something presentable. With this book, the tutorials are interrelated and build on each other toward producing a finished portfolio piece.

The tutorial subject is an advertising blimp, inspired by Ridley Scott's futuristic film noir masterpiece, Blade Runner (see Figure 3.39). Due to copyright restrictions, I couldn't use the film's exact blimp design, but this version offers more of an opportunity to try out the tools in more or less the order in which they were presented in the text. In addition, this project should be challenging enough for most of you just starting out, and you are highly encouraged to customize and enhance it with additional details anyway.

Figure 3.39FIGURE 3.39 The Blade Runner-esque advertising blimp, which you can construct with the help of the tutorials. By customizing and adding additional details and mapping, you can turn it into a real portfolio piece.

The blimp is ideal for a tutorial of this type because it is a subject that encompasses just about every tool and technique presented, from basic 3D shapes to deform modifiers. More importantly, it can be customized easily, so you can modify it to your own taste and showcase your creative strengths and style, not to mention your new-found 3D skills. For example, you could give it a 1950s or Victorian look, or make it totally Alien. You could incorporate it into your demo reel and plaster the sides with "billboards" of your contact information or the reel's credits. (If you decide to alter the blimp, you may want to first read the section on concept and design, "The Reel," in Chapter 11.)

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