What is 3D Modeling?

3D modeling is a process that lets you create a three-dimensional representation of any object or space using polygons, vertices, and edges in a 3D space. This process is often used in a range of fields of filmmaking, animation, engineering, architecture, special effects, commercial advertising, and game development.

3D modeling is done using 3D computer software that allows you to manipulate polygonal surfaces or by scanning real-world objects to represent the said object in a digital space. Avatar, Gravity, Beowulf, How to Train Your Dragon are just a few of the many films that used different concepts of 3D modeling.

3D modeling
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Most Popular 3D Modeling Software

3D modeling software programs are aplenty but these are some of the most widely used in the industry:


The gold standard in 3D modeling, AutoCAD (computer-aided design) is a professional commercial application that’s available for Windows and MAC OS. The first release features basic 3D elements such as polygons, circles, lines, arcs, and text. The newest version of AutoCAD comes with a full set of tools for 3D and solid modeling. This application has been on the market since the 80s and it remains as one of the top applications to get for 3D modeling.


ZBrush by Pixologic is a professional 3D sculpting program that lets you sculpt 3D designs using digital clay. This application mimics the process of working a ball of clay by hand. You are given more creative freedom using ZBrush because the tools let you create organic, incredibly detailed high-resolution 3D models. Some of the tools you could find in ZBrush are: push, squash, scrape, and pull. Essentially, all the many ways to manipulate a ball of clay in real life can be done digitally via ZBrush.

3DS Max

3DS Max by Autodesk is a 3D modeling and rendering software used in visual effects, animations, and video games development. This software comes with a robust toolset for 3D artists, including character modeling.

Apart from modeling, 3DS Max could also handle different stages of the production pipeline, including pre-visualization, rigging, VFX, lighting, and rendering. It’s a favorite among designers and artists because the program covers a vast array of industries, including entertainment, advertising, real estate, and architectural industries. Because 3DS Max comes with extensive tools and effects, it will take serious training to master all of its key features.


SketchUp is a 3D modeling software that lets you create 2D and 3D models using the Push and Pull method. Essentially, the push and pull method lets you extrude any flat surface into a 3D shape by clicking the said object and pulling it in the desired shape. SketchUp is a versatile program that could work in many projects, including video game creation, interior design, urban planning, engineering, construction, and furniture building.


Blender is an open-source 3D computer graphics software used in an array of projects such as animated films, visual effects, art, 3D printed models, interactive 3D applications, and video games. Apart from 3D modeling, Blender’s main features are: UV unwrapping, texturing, raster graphics editing, rigging and skinning, fluid and smoke simulation, particle simulation, soft body simulation, sculpting, animating, match moving, rendering, motion graphics, video editing, and compositing.


Maya by Autodesk is a modeling, 3D animation, and rendering software that comes with a full suite of powerful tools for character creation, animation, motion graphics, and VR. This award-winning modeling software is preferred by most professional studios so if you’d like to break into the industry, you need to learn how to use Maya. But with all those features and tools, the learning curve is steep. That’s why it pays to get the proper training to make the most out of this software program.


Much user-friendly than Maya, Cinema4D by MAXON is an open-source modeling program that’s capable of procedural and polygonal/subd modeling. This program is also used for lighting, texturing, and rendering. Cinema4D is an industry-standard and has been used in many blockbusters including The Polar Express, Chronicles of Narnia, and Inception.

If you’re a newbie, we highly recommend starting with open-source 3D modeling tools. These tools offer an array of 3D modeling features at no cost to you. If you’d like to invest in an advanced program, choose a software that 1) has all the tools you need to create realistic details and 2) you are most comfortable working with!

3D modeling
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Common Modeling Techniques

Box Modeling

This 3D modeling technique involves extruding, scaling or rotating the faces and edges of a low-res geometric primitive, typically a sphere or a cube. The shape of the geometric primitive is refined repeatedly until the mesh has enough polygonal detail to achieve the desired appearance. This technique is the most widely used form of polygonal modeling and is often used in conjunction with contour modeling.

Contour Modeling

Also known as edge modeling, contour modeling involves building the model piece by piece using loops of polygonal faces near the prominent contours and them filling the gaps in between. This technique is more complicated than box modeling but the details are more precise because certain meshes are hard to complete through box modeling alone.

Spline Modeling or NURBS

Spline modeling features a NURBS mesh with no vertices, faces or edges. The models feature smooth surfaces created by lofting a mesh between two or more splines or Bezier curves. To model a NURBS surface, you have to set the curves along the prominent contours. The software you’re using will then interpolate the space in between automatically. Spline modeling is often used in industrial and automotive modeling.

Digital Sculpting

Digital sculpting features organically created meshes that could be molded into the desired shape the same way that a sculptor would use rake brushes on a chunk of clay. Of all 3D modeling techniques, digital sculpting is the fastest, most efficient process because it frees the artist from the constraints of topology and edge flow. The result? You could create models with incredible surface details and a more natural aesthetic.

Procedural Modeling

This process involves creating objects or scenes based on user-definable rules or parameters. Instead of creating the models by hand, the graphics are built algorithmically. This technique is often used for generating organic constructs such as foliage, shrubbery, and trees. The features of the constructs could be adjusted – such as the trunk size, foliage density, branch density, etc. – via the settings.

Image-Based Modeling

This process in which 3D objects are algorithmically derived from 2D images. Because image-based modeling is fast and affordable, it’s often used in situations when there is not enough time or budget to generate full 3D assets manually.

3D Scanning

This technique is used for creating hyper-realistic 3D images. 3D scanning involves digitizing real-world objects using a special scanner that analyzes the raw data to generate an accurate NURBS or polygonal mesh. This method is often used for special effects, gaming, film, TV and web applications.

3D Modeling Basics

Take Your Time

Modeling should never be rushed. This is a complex method so it will require hard work and persistence to achieve the desired results. If you are rushing, it will show on the poor results. Give yourself time to find the best approach when working on a project and don’t give up too easily if you hit a brick wall.

Get the Right Training

Some artists tend to overestimate their own abilities and so they end up frustrating themselves in the middle of the project. Eventually, they give up out of frustration and disappointment. Patience and preparedness are key to producing beautiful results. Build valuable and specialized skills by getting the right training. Even the most experienced 3D modelers have faced difficulties at some point so study up before taking on a big project.

Start Slow

Because 3D modeling is a process, you have to model objects in steps. Start modeling simple objects then work your way to more difficult tasks only when you have mastered the basics. By starting slow, you’ll find the quickest and most comfortable approach for you, you will build the necessary skills to produce better work.

Convert in Printable File Formats

Be sure that the files are printable so you could share your work on various platforms. There are different 3D printable file formats to choose from but the most widely used are STL and OBJ. After converting the model into a file format, check for errors and correct them accordingly.

3D modeling is one of the most important parts of a production that’s why it’s critical to master the basics and find the approach that’s most ideal to you.

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