3D Animation and Product Design

How to Get Started with 3D…

The world of 3D is huge. The sheer number of industries, software and tools that are involved in learning 3D can be daunting. Before you ever drop the money for the best 3D software, you need to know exactly what it is you want to learn how to do. In this article you’ll get a crash course of some of the most popular fields related to 3D and the steps within the pipeline. That way you can find out exactly what interests you most, what programs you’ll need as well as some great first steps to starting out on the right path towards learning 3D. What do you want to do?


Modeling in Cinema 4D
Anything that exists or could exist in the real world can be built virtually. A 3D modeler can create anything from a character for a movie to a gun in a video game. For example, the Hulk in The Avengers was built in 3D by modelers.
Even though modeling for movies and modeling for games may seem like the same task, they actually differ quite a bit in the process. A 3D modeler’s job in film is typically only to create the models and the textures will be handled by a texture artist. The limitations that are set for a modeler in film are far less than that of a game modeler. Instead, modeling for movies is more about production speed and how high the quality of the final model needs to be.

With game modeling the 3D model has the potential to be interacted with, and seen from every possible angle. A 3D modeler in games is limited by the game engine, and the console it is being played on. They are given a very tight polygonal budget that they cannot pass.

Creating 3D models for product design is a different approach than creating models for games or movies. Often times a product designer must work with blue prints, and create the model to fit within specific specifications. All of the above fields require a 3D modeler somewhere within the production pipeline. But each one differs in the process

3D Animation Foundation Courses
There are many different software packages to learn 3D modeling. Some of the most utilized ones are Maya, 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, and Softimage. Which one you use doesn’t really matter as they are all capable of creating great models. Remember you can check out some of the tutorials online for each of these software programs to see what interface and workflow you think you’ll like the best. Then, try downloading demos or you can get a copy of the software that you like to try it out yourself.

If product design interests you, a 3D application like Maya, CINEMA 4D or 3ds Max can certainly be used, but a more specialized program may be better. For example, Inventor and SolidWorks will let you be a lot more precise with dimensions than 3D applications that are primarily used for media and entertainment like Maya, CINEMA 4D or 3ds Max.
If you’re a hobbiest or you just don’t have the budget for an industry-standard 3D program like those listed above, consider Blender; it is a completely free 3D application that you can use to get started.
Once you’ve picked out the program that you want to use, follow along with the appropriate courses below to get familiar with modeling in that software:

Quick Start to Modeling in Maya
Quick Start to Modeling in 3ds Max
Modeling in CINEMA 4D
Modeling in Softimage
Getting Started in Inventor
Getting Started in SolidWorks


Once a 3D model is built, the computer doesn’t know what sort of surface is being created so it is created with a single, flat color. For example, should the wall on a house have wallpaper on it or is it painted? These sort of things are done in the texturing step.

Texturing is required in all of the fields mentioned above. In the film industry often times a texture artist is a specific job within the pipeline. With the game industry often times a 3D modeler will be required to create textures for the models they create. Just like modeling, Maya, 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, and Softimage are some great applications that you can use to get started with texturing in 3D.

Ironically enough, though, jumping into a 3D application really isn’t the best first step for an aspiring texture artist. Before jumping into a 3D application it is incredibly important for you to be familiar with an image editing application like Photoshop. The reason for this is simply because a lot of textures start off from a photograph or at least a photographic reference. To get up to speed in Photoshop, follow along with this learning path.

If you’re already familiar with Photoshop, you can jump ahead and start learning how to texture in your favorite 3D application:
Texturing in Cinema 4D
Texturing in Maya
Texturing in 3ds Max
Texturing in Softimage


In the film and game industry there are artists who are responsible for creating the skeletons for the character. These skeletons are called the rig. In order for an animator to be able to bend and deform a 3D asset, a rigging artist, or technical director as they are often referred to, will first need to set up a rig. This is done by creating all of the control points on the 3D model that will be needed so that an animator can bend and deform the model to create the animations.

In the film industry a character rig will most likely have hundreds of controls for an animator to be able to manipulate. These rigs can take weeks to finish and a lot of technical prowess is required for this.
The same process is required for video games, but depending on the complexity of the animations that will need to be done will determine how complex the rig needs to be.  For example, a character in a game may never need to speak so there would be no need to create a facial control rig.

To get started with rigging, the first step is to determine which software you want to use. Software such as Maya, 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, and Softimage are all capable of creating powerful rigs. Check out their interfaces and workflows in some of online tutorials to get an idea of which one may interest you the most. Then grab a demo and start to dig in!

Depending on which software program you like the best, here are some tutorials to get you started off on the right path:
Quick Start to Rigging in Maya
Quick Start to Rigging in 3ds Max
Rigging in CINEMA 4D
Rigging in Softimage


The animator’s job is to make the required 3D assets move in a believable way. For example, when a character in a 3D animated movie is moving, every movement was created by an animator. Take a look at how the characters in Toy Story move. Every movement that character did had to be created by an animator. Animation is heavily utilized in most of the above fields, especially in movies and video games. Each one differs a bit from the other.

For example, when working on a 3D animated movie like Tangled, the animators typically create three to four seconds of finished animation every week. With animation in video games, an animator might be tasked to create 20 seconds of animation in a single day.

Animation in a live-action film is similar to animation for fully animated feature, except that typically when animating for live-action the characters must be animated in a very realistic way, because they are interacting with real-life actors.

Animation in product design differs largely from that of movies or games. Instead of creating character performance animation like you would see in a movie, animating for product design might mean animating how the case of a phone might come off or some other type of movement to help show off the product.

The most widely used application for 3D animation is Maya. This doesn’t mean that other software can’t be used, though. When it comes to animation knowing the right software is not as important.

Besides Maya, other popular animation tools include 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, and Softimage. Watch some of online tutorials for these different software programs just to get a feel for how the interface looks and how the workflow is. Then try downloading demos for the software that you think you’d like the most to try it out yourself. Once you’ve picked a software, check out some of the learning paths to get started:
Animation in Maya
Animation in 3ds Max
Animation in CINEMA 4D
Animation in Softimage


Rendering is most commonly done toward the end of the production. The same way that a 2D artist would render their drawings by adding lighting and shading into their paintings or drawings, 3D rendering allows the 3D artist to incorporate shading and lighting into the 3D scenes.

Rendering in a 3D movie can be a lengthy process. For example, a single frame from Monster University took 29 hours to complete.
Texturing and Rendering in a game must be done in real-time. This means it can’t take a single frame hours to render. It is up to the console’s (or computer’s) graphics card to produce the render and must be done while the viewer is playing. The reason why movies typically look much better graphically is because each frame is pre-rendered and can be devoted as much time needed to get the final quality.

Like many of the other steps in the pipeline, to get started with learning how to create beautiful renders, the first step is to determine which software you want to use. Software such as Maya, 3ds Max, CINEMA 4D, and Softimage are all capable of creating beautiful renders. A great way to figure out which one you think you’re interested in is to start by simply checking out the interfaces and workflows in some of our tutorials.  This will let you see how to move around in the application to get an idea of which one may interest you the most. Then grab a demo of the one(s) that peeks your interest and dig in!

Depending on which software program you like the best, here are some tutorials to get you started off on the right path:

Rendering in Maya
Rendering in 3ds Max
Rendering in CINEMA 4D
Rendering in Softimage

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