3D - what will you find in the studios?

Posted by in on August 22, 2013 . .

If you read the workshop insider and started wondering what sort of computer programs are being used to create miniatures that's the article for you. I'd like to share some info about apps that are common in the design studios - so you can expect rather expensive pieces of code here.
In short you can divide those apps into 2 groups: nurbs and polygon modellers. Not delving into details nurbs software tends more towards mechanical and engineering related stuff ("manufacturable items") while polygons allow much easier creation of freeform, organic shapes (monsters - YAY! ;) ).
Nurbs can work with extremely tight tolerances and allow you to scale models without loss of quality - 1mm or 10 meters the model still looks right. When working with them you usually start by drawing curves and gradually you use them to define surfaces and solids.
On the other side of the spectrum polygons shine thanks to their simplicity - they are easy to define and manipulate. As you may have guessed they are easy for computers to handle thus they're commonly used in computer games (the downside is that most of the polygon based programs have features hardly suited for manufacturing).
In 2D world polygon modeling would be Photoshop, while nurbs would be Ilustrator.
So to sum it up - if you need perfectly round holes in your models and you're tech kind of guy you'll propably have to stick with nurbs. If "looks round" is sufficient for you polygons may be way to go.

First app I'd like to describe here (as that's the one I use the most often ;) ) is Rhino. It's among the most popular nurbs surface modeling apps out there ("surface" means that in Rhino you approach building models like you'd make them from a sort of flexible sheets of paper - you build surfaces). A funny side note is that many of the miniature making companies have it at hand. But of course that's not the main group of users. Its flexibility made it popular among industrial designers and architects. They usually use it to visualize the ideas and to start their work. Even car manufacturers often use it.
Let the first look don't confound you - even though its interface looks a tad oldschool and cluttered it is surprisingly easy to use and it is possible to learn it rather quickly, you'll see improvements in no time.

It is propably the most amazing tool when it comes to freeform sculpting. In fact alongside Rhino it is the main tool of choice in our studio. It may not look like anything you came across before, but it is insanely powerful workhorse - even though you have to get used to it. If you came across some amazing 3D CG art there's huge chance Zbrush has been used at least partially in the workflow.
It makes the whole process like working in clay - a virtual one, but still :) . But mind that as it is polygon software built with CG in mind, not manufacturing, learning howto make models with it that can be made real will require a bit of extra effort. And that on top of learning its unique user interface (which can be frustrating in the beggining)! But IMO it is totally worth it.

It's one of the favourite tools among engineers. If you're fan of Mythbusters you might have seen them use it in at least one episode. It's another breed of nurbs software - parametric solid modelling. It means you build complex object by creating relations between simpler ones - it's like working on an algorithm for the final shape.
It may seem daunting task at first but there are cases where it really pays off. For example if at the end of the project you decide to increase size of the conecting plug on part of larger assembly the program will automatically adjust all the other parts.
On top of that you have access to variety of simulation tools no engineer can live without ;) .
Mind it is rather expensive piece of software. Above Solid Works grade programs there are only "top of the tops" apps like Catia or NX. So make sure you really need such complex tool, with all those parametric features. If you simply want to build beautiful models you can get away with something much more affordable. My guess is that unless you're involved in working on injection moulds or some other complex mechanical piece that should work (engine for example) you won't need it.
Score: RECOMMENDED - but make sure you need it

- is yet another polygon app. But one that is really fun to use - and the one that recently become one of my favourites.
Even though it was created for making "purdy pictures" (well , at least I think so, pun intended ;) ) it has extremely powerful set of modelling tools and I found it really user friendly. You can combine and tweak built-in tools to create propably any shape you can think of and the program does not force you to do things the one and only "proper" way.
What's even better you can take your basic smooth model to the next level by using built-in sculpting tools. Something like in Zbrush / 3D Coat - but you have to bear that it is not main strenght of Modo and it propably won't replace those sculpting apps. Its main focus lies in "traditional" polygon and sub-d modelling (which is something between polygon and nurbs modelling). But that makes it awesome all-rounder :) .
Great rendering features and the way that Luxology tries to link Modo with industrial design software make an icing on this delicious cake :) .
Score: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (especially if you're involved in video games / rendering part of the industry)

3D Studio
If you ever have had anything to do with 3D graphics you simply had to come across it. For years it has been a flagshipp app of the video games industry. It has propably all the modelling options available natively or by array of plugins, be it sub-d, nurbs, voxels....
But it has its price - I think that through the years it became a bloated and cluttered behemoth. Minutes after launch I felt it is not for me.
Don't get me wrong - I don't want to say it is a bad app. I simply think it is not good for miniature modelmakers. Personally I prefer much more straightforward bunch of modelling tools - especially if complexity brings also hefty price tag with it.
Score: NOT RECOMMENDED (but may find its fans, especially among those not interested in miniature modelling)

- is one of the youngest nurbs apps on the market. It has been built from the ground up with sharing data through cloud in mind.
Also its makers tried to make it more user friendly than the competitors. And in some areas I think they succeeded. I haven't enjoyed it as much as some of the other choices but it seems rather solid one. And damn, it displays models in a beutiful way.
The ease of use comes in huge part by incorporating T-splines into it (something that people using those as a Rhino plugin will appreciate). It makes creating more complex organic shapes inside nurbs modeller possible, in a manner similar to sub-d.
Autodesk is doing its best to promote it. At the moment of writing you can get it free for 90 days , with some really sweat monthly subscription deals afterwards.

That's all for now. By no means this review is a complete one but should give you a brief insight if you wonder what's being used in the studios. I know some tricky terms apeared in the article, but they are rather hard to avoid.
Mind that IMO programs as those above shoud be treated as tools and it is down to its user skill and experience when it comes to getting great models. Even the most expensive tool won't create those for you.
Thus for a start I think you can get away with a much cheaper tools. You might appreciate extra options found in those "pro" ones later on. Thus I plan a follow up article, this time focusing on 3d modelling on a budget. Let me know what do you think. Cheers!

Tags: 3d, modelling Last update: December 13, 2013
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