Tips or tricks for 3d n00bs?
August 18, 2009 8:10 AM   Subscribe

When you started working with 3D modeling and animation (à la Maya, 3ds Max, or Cinema 4d), what do you wish someone would have told you?

I am not really looking for tips for specific applications or anything discouraging (like "I wish someone would have told me it sux0rs!1!1").

I am looking for general tips that you discovered later that you wished you someone could have just told you months or years earlier. Or something that you learned early on that you see really helped you.

I know it's hard to separate tips from the applications. I guess an example would be to refrain from using pure white light as it's not very realistic. I am sure someone will come in here and tell me I am wrong on that point, but that's the sort of thing I am looking for.

I am also very interested in any advice, books or online resources that will help me better understand lighting and camera work. I have learned the basics for lighting a scene like a photographer, but I am pretty lost when it comes to the technique of switching cameras. Where can I learn the basic terminology and practices of stuff like that?

posted by milarepa to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I am a skilled Maya modeler, competent renderer, and also work with Rhino, various CAD apps, the RADIANCE renderer, etc.

I figured this out pretty quickly, but I wish someone had told me about the insane wealth of knowledge out there for purchase.

For your specific case, you need to choose a single application. I recommend Maya. Then get the Gnomon beginners DVDs. Watch them. Then get the Advanced DVDs, which are chock full of the kinds of tips you're looking for.

The Maya Killer Tips book by E. Hanson is actually designed to consist of only the most amazing shit anyone has done with Maya, and weird, helpful ideas to boot.

Hollywood Camerawork
is the industry standard for learning how to set up scenes. It is probably the most comprehensive thing like it.

For whatever reason, most beginners do not want to sit through this stuff, they just want to start "telling stories" or some other bullshit. Take the time to go through 30 minutes of this stuff every day, and then apply it to your own ideas for another 30 minutes. Learn every keyboard shortcut you can, and commit them to muscle memory.

Another thing beginners can't really understand is how much the tools influence your work. There's a reason many 3D models look unrealistic or are styled the way they are -- it's because bezier or NURBS curves behave in particular ways. Never forget that your tools run you down a certain path. For that reason, it is best to learn as many tools as possible with as much depth as possible.

Finally, reflecting on that last point, the most important thing you will learn (as a modeler anyway) is that any good 3D app will give you at least ten ways to do any given task. If your current way sucks somehow, takes too long, etc -- it is not the application. Go searching for a better solution instead of getting mad or wasting hours.
posted by fake at 8:25 AM on August 18, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm mostly focused on character animation and I would have saved myself a lot of frustration if I had discovered Jason Ryan's Flipbook/Maya tutorials earlier. He uses a voice/screen capture app to walk you through the process of creating a short animation in Flipbook. Then he imports the animation into Maya and uses the frames to pose out the character. Having film reference right inside your 3D program means keysframes don't wander around and propagate throughout the scene. Basically, it boils down to pose your character -select and keyframe all the controls, go to the next golden pose and repeat. Then attack your breakdown poses in the same manner and finally, finesse the inbetweens. Makes the 3D process like paper animation and much more manageable.

His tutorials are available in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

If you're learning about blocking, then don't limit yourself to 3D. There are a ton of resources out there for storyboard artists. Warren Leonhardt has a great blog (a talented guy who's always building on his knowledge and skillset) where you'll find a bunch of links to other pros and educational resources that you can explore.

The basic rule for blocking is to decide what your main action is in a sequence (two people talking for instance) and keep your camera this side of it. Everybody who's on the right should stay on the right of any subsequent shots unless we see them move to a new position. But I think Brad Bird can put it better. (pdf's via
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:12 AM on August 18, 2009

As someone who has worked at Digital Domain and various other studios...First ask yourself what you want out of 3d. Are you looking to get work, or is this a hobby? My suggestions are tailored to my experience, which is someone who has worked as a VFX professional - animating, modeling, rendering in a variety of packages: Maya, MAX, Modo and Lightwave.

- Think of EVERYTHING YOU DO in terms of PRODUCTION VIABILITY, in other JUST ENOUGH of what you need to do in order for something to look right in the context for which it is being used. If you never see the underside of that car...don't model it. If you never see the rear rocket booster...delete it.

-Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Take shortcuts. Too many newbies I have had working under me will model the F*CK out of something to prove they can model well. Instead, concentrate on keeping things just detailed enough to look real and not bog down resources. Practical modeling is very different than modeling to show off in a forum. When modeling, ALWAYS be considering the weight of your model. Ask yourself...could I do this detail with LESS polygons? Always keep "pretty" poly flow and mind edge loops when working on characters.

-Learn how to get the most from the render settings so that you don't simply tick GI and crank every setting to the max. With rendering you don't just want "the best" want a trade off of "good looking, FAST." Compositors will take your blah blah renders and make them into the ill sickness...

-As far as lighting...what are you going for? If its photorealism...then start with an HDRI and maybe add a key light. Area lights and soft light sources are the hotness. If you're using a sample-based renderer...don't crank your light samples...let some sort of adaptive threshold in the global render settings work the noise out.

-For reflective items such as cars or glass...don't concentrate on lighting with lights....light with REFLECTION. Use white "bounce cards" to pull shape out of the item. Make a bunch of different types of light cards...keep them in a folder. Ones with soft edges, ones with hard edges, ones that are long, ones that are short. You get the idea. Better if they are HDR or EXR so you can really control how bright they reflect.

-Work in LINEAR COLORSPACE (2.2 gamma). You should not be texturing or lighting in sRGB space. This is the most important point I've made thus it. Learn a linear workflow in your package of choice. Working linearly is SUPER EASY in MAX...and super annoying in MAYA. They REALLY need to fix that in maya. Linear. Workflow. Get this down.

-If you want to model...if you want to work AS A MODELER...then FORGET maya. Please please please. Forget it. Learn modo for modeling. I have worked at several exclusive maya houses and have never had a problem if I want to model in Modo instead. I get my modeling done way faster than the Maya modelers. The toolset for modeling is superior in Modo...really...people will argue this...but they are wrong. If you want to model, MODO is the tool for you. Maya for everything else (although I actually like MAX the best for rendering, animation etc...such a well designed program)

-For modeling concentrate on SUB-D one uses nurbs anymore for production.

-CrazyBump is the rock-sauce. Normal map everything.

Finally...even though you asked for no negativity...

I really wish someone had told me to be a Flame operator instead of a 3d artist when I first started. More money, face time with clients, and not constantly having to keep up with tech advances...
posted by jnnla at 12:44 PM on August 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

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