From Point to Polygon
December 7, 2010 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I want to learn 3d modeling but from a vector standpoint (if possible). Needs to be OSX compatible.

I'm an artist and rather proficient with Adobe Illustrator. There's been many times I wanted to try to model in a 3d environment but it's so far out of my league that I barely know where to begin. I've tried with Cinema 4D and poked around with ZBrush before, but not with much success.

I'd like to be able to model some playful backgrounds (in the key of Pixar's work...not hyper realistic like say Lord of the Rings). Eventually I'd like to model some characters however I know that takes time and practice (I can practice however time has never been my friend).

So what program would be good to try out from a vector arena and would produce some cartoony backgrounds at first, characters later.

I should mention: I hate Bryce and never have liked the results it produces.
posted by Hands of Manos to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Give Sketchup a try. You can get a free version from Google. It doesn't produce the most polished results but its a perfect introduction to 3D for a beginner. Also you can export vectors made in Illustrator as .dwg or .dxf and bring them into Sketchup to play with.
posted by halseyaa at 6:50 AM on December 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

The closest thing to "vector" workflow in 3d that I can think of is either parametric CAD (draw 2d sketches, extrude/loft/etc them), or NURBS modelling (loft surfaces over complex 3d curves). Parametric CAD isn't usually used for artistic purposes, but it's interesting to play with.

For "I want to try 3d" questions, I usually promote Blender, but in this case, it's not your best option -- the NURBs functions are pretty lacking. Rhino, one of the major NURBS modeling packages is currently in beta on the Mac, so you might try that. It's somewhere between Illustrator and AutoCAD, in terms of interface. I'm pretty sure Maya has NURBS too, but I haven't used it in a long time.
posted by Alterscape at 7:43 AM on December 7, 2010

I'm not sure vector vs. raster is a useful distinction in 3D. Apps where you literally "deposit" digital material on a model or a canvas are rare (Zbrush and…?). Sometimes a more general software package has a mode where you drop material and it kind of "congeals." But typically you're editing vertices and edges and polygon faces by adding, moving, and subdividing them. While they may define curved surfaces, there's still not really anything "painterly" about that.
posted by Nomyte at 7:57 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding trying out Sketchup. The results is produces out of its renderer WILL NOT be what you had in mind, but is by far the best app for learning the basic mechanics of how a 3D app works. Best of all, its free, and you can download models from the Google 3D Warehouse, and rip them apart and see how they were made.

IMO, your skills with a vector app like Illustrator won't necessarily prepare you any more or less for any particular 3D app. Building with polygonals or NURBS isn't really the same thing as vector points and bezier curves. With that said, you'll for sure be a step or two ahead of people who've never used a vector-based drawing program before.

I'm a graphic designer with lots of history in Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign that developed an interest in 3D a couple of years ago and found some success with Google Sketchup and Blender.

Blender Is free and open-source, and very powerful. This was made entirely in Blender, and may be similar to the art style you had in mind. It's user interface is pretty intimidating, but if you seek out some tutorials, you'll be cooking in no time.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 9:57 AM on December 7, 2010

Well the vector thing is irrelevant.. any 3D program uses various kinds of digital geometry to generate objects, so it's all infinitely scaleable if that's what you mean. What you need to consider is what kind of digital geometry works for you.

SketchUp is free, and therefore a good place to start. The SketchUp geometry system tends to work best for extrusions and pretty straightforward geometry (which is not to say you can't make very complex models in it - you can, but it's MUCH easier if they are based on extrusions and simple sweeps.) Do NOT use it for anything with significantly complex surface curves. It will make you want to hurt people. You can export scenes from it in various formats, there's a tutorial on that and everything else on the SketchUp website. Sketch Up is certainly cartoon-y, but that was a bad thing where I learned it. Maybe it can work for you.

Rhino is my favorite and works basically like CAD. It's NURBS, so it can handle weird curves and stuff. It was originally developed for ship building, or so I'm told, so make of that what you will. Rhino is very precise and good for architectural type things. Rhino is about $800 for a professional license, about $200 if you have access to an education discount. (This is a very good deal). You can export vector graphics to Illustrator or CAD easily. Rhino works well with a number of renderers if you will be getting into those as well.

Maya is probably what you actually want. Its geometry is based on warping and manipulating euclidian forms (rectangle, oval, whatev) into the shapes you want. You can do very freeform, organic, cool stuff with it, and I believe it's a favorite of the animation industry. It's also very expensive and very hard to use. If you could get access to it somehow, it's def. what you will ultimately want to use if you stick with this.

Overall, learning 3D modeling is really time-consuming and frustrating. Use the tutorials available to you and do every step, even if you think you understand it. Then decide on a reasonably simple project and attempt to execute. Practice by doing is the only way to learn these programs. It's totally do-able though, just stick with it. If you can find others also learning, that would probably be helpful for you.
posted by annie o at 6:09 PM on December 7, 2010

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