3D modeling

In 3D computer graphics, 3D modeling is the process of developing a mathematical representation of any surface of an object (either inanimate or living) in three dimensions via specialized software. The product is called a 3D model. Someone who works with 3D models may be referred to as a 3D artist. It can be displayed as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering or used in a computer simulation of physical phenomena. The model can also be physically created using 3D printing devices.

Models may be created automatically or manually. The manual modeling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting.

3D modeling software is a class of 3D computer graphics software used to produce 3D models. Individual programs of this class are called modeling applications or modelers.


An early concept design of the ERIS instrument
Three-dimensional model of a spectrograph[1]
Low-poly hand-painted 3D house rotating
rotating 3D video-game model
Fantasitron photo booth at Madurodam can scan up to two people at a time IMG 3797 FRD
3D selfie models are generated from 2D pictures taken at the Fantasitron 3D photo booth at Madurodam

Three-dimensional (3D) models represent a physical body using a collection of points in 3D space, connected by various geometric entities such as triangles, lines, curved surfaces, etc. Being a collection of data (points and other information), 3D models can be created by hand, algorithmically (procedural modeling), or scanned. Their surfaces may be further defined with texture mapping.

3D models are widely used anywhere in 3D graphics and CAD. Their use predates the widespread use of 3D graphics on personal computers. Many computer games used pre-rendered images of 3D models as sprites before computers could render them in real-time. The designer can then see the model in various directions and views, this can help the designer see if the object is created as intended to compared to their original vision. Seeing the design this way can help the designer/company figure out changes or improvements needed to the product.[2]

Today, 3D models are used in a wide variety of fields. The medical industry uses detailed models of organs; these may be created with multiple 2-D image slices from an MRI or CT scan. The movie industry uses them as characters and objects for animated and real-life motion pictures. The video game industry uses them as assets for computer and video games. The science sector uses them as highly detailed models of chemical compounds.[3] The architecture industry uses them to demonstrate proposed buildings and landscapes in lieu of traditional, physical architectural models. The engineering community uses them as designs of new devices, vehicles and structures as well as a host of other uses. In recent decades the earth science community has started to construct 3D geological models as a standard practice. 3D models can also be the basis for physical devices that are built with 3D printers or CNC machines.


Utah teapot simple 2
A modern render of the iconic Utah teapot model developed by Martin Newell (1975). The Utah teapot is one of the most common models used in 3D graphics education.

Almost all 3D models can be divided into two categories.

  • Solid – These models define the volume of the object they represent (like a rock). Solid models are mostly used for engineering and medical simulations, and are usually built with constructive solid geometry
  • Shell/boundary – these models represent the surface, e.g. the boundary of the object, not its volume (like an infinitesimally thin eggshell). Almost all visual models used in games and film are shell models.

Solid and shell modeling can create functionally identical objects. Differences between them are mostly variations in the way they are created and edited and conventions of use in various fields and differences in types of approximations between the model and reality.

Shell models must be manifold (having no holes or cracks in the shell) to be meaningful as a real object. Polygonal meshes (and to a lesser extent subdivision surfaces) are by far the most common representation. Level sets are a useful representation for deforming surfaces which undergo many topological changes such as fluids.

The process of transforming representations of objects, such as the middle point coordinate of a sphere and a point on its circumference into a polygon representation of a sphere, is called tessellation. This step is used in polygon-based rendering, where objects are broken down from abstract representations ("primitives") such as spheres, cones etc., to so-called meshes, which are nets of interconnected triangles. Meshes of triangles (instead of e.g. squares) are popular as they have proven to be easy to rasterise (the surface described by each triangle is planar, so the projection is always convex); .[4] Polygon representations are not used in all rendering techniques, and in these cases the tessellation step is not included in the transition from abstract representation to rendered scene.

Modeling process

There are three popular ways to represent a model:

  • Polygonal modeling – Points in 3D space, called vertices, are connected by line segments to form a polygon mesh. The vast majority of 3D models today are built as textured polygonal models, because they are flexible and because computers can render them so quickly. However, polygons are planar and can only approximate curved surfaces using many polygons.
  • Curve modeling – Surfaces are defined by curves, which are influenced by weighted control points. The curve follows (but does not necessarily interpolate) the points. Increasing the weight for a point will pull the curve closer to that point. Curve types include nonuniform rational B-spline (NURBS), splines, patches, and geometric primitives
  • Digital sculpting – Still a fairly new method of modeling, 3D sculpting has become very popular in the few years it has been around. There are currently three types of digital sculpting: Displacement, which is the most widely used among applications at this moment, uses a dense model (often generated by subdivision surfaces of a polygon control mesh) and stores new locations for the vertex positions through use of an image map that stores the adjusted locations. Volumetric, loosely based on voxels, has similar capabilities as displacement but does not suffer from polygon stretching when there are not enough polygons in a region to achieve a deformation. Dynamic tessellation is similar to voxel but divides the surface using triangulation to maintain a smooth surface and allow finer details. These methods allow for very artistic exploration as the model will have a new topology created over it once the models form and possibly details have been sculpted. The new mesh will usually have the original high resolution mesh information transferred into displacement data or normal map data if for a game engine.
Lai4d 3D fantasy fish
A 3D fantasy fish composed of organic surfaces generated using LAI4D.

The modeling stage consists of shaping individual objects that are later used in the scene. There are a number of modeling techniques, including:

Modeling can be performed by means of a dedicated program (e.g., Cinema 4D, Maya, 3ds Max, Blender, LightWave, Modo) or an application component (Shaper, Lofter in 3ds Max) or some scene description language (as in POV-Ray). In some cases, there is no strict distinction between these phases; in such cases modeling is just part of the scene creation process (this is the case, for example, with Caligari trueSpace and Realsoft 3D).

3D models can also be created using the technique of Photogrammetry with dedicated programs such as RealityCapture, Metashape, 3DF Zephyr, and Meshroom, and cleanup applications such as MeshLab, netfabb or MeshMixer. Photogrammetry creates models using algorithms to interpret the shape and texture of real-world objects and environments based on photographs taken from many angles of the subject.

Complex materials such as blowing sand, clouds, and liquid sprays are modeled with particle systems, and are a mass of 3D coordinates which have either points, polygons, texture splats, or sprites assigned to them.

Human models

The first widely available commercial application of human virtual models appeared in 1998 on the Lands' End web site. The human virtual models were created by the company My Virtual Mode Inc. and enabled users to create a model of themselves and try on 3D clothing.[5] There are several modern programs that allow for the creation of virtual human models (Poser being one example).

3D Clothing

Dynamic 3D Digital Clothing Model by CG Elves Purple
Dynamic 3D Clothing Model made in Marvelous Designer

The development of cloth simulation software such as Marvelous Designer, CLO3D and Optitex, has enabled artists and fashion designers to model dynamic 3D clothing on the computer.[6] Dynamic 3D clothing is used for virtual fashion catalogs, as well as for dressing 3D characters for video games, 3D animation movies, for digital doubles in movies[7] as well as for making clothes for avatars in virtual worlds such as SecondLife.

Compared to 2D methods

3D Plus 3DBuilding
A fully textured and lit rendering of a 3D model.

3D photorealistic effects are often achieved without wireframe modeling and are sometimes indistinguishable in the final form. Some graphic art software includes filters that can be applied to 2D vector graphics or 2D raster graphics on transparent layers.

Advantages of wireframe 3D modeling over exclusively 2D methods include:

  • Flexibility, ability to change angles or animate images with quicker rendering of the changes;
  • Ease of rendering, automatic calculation and rendering photorealistic effects rather than mentally visualizing or estimating;
  • Accurate photorealism, less chance of human error in misplacing, overdoing, or forgetting to include a visual effect.

Disadvantages compare to 2D photorealistic rendering may include a software learning curve and difficulty achieving certain photorealistic effects. Some photorealistic effects may be achieved with special rendering filters included in the 3D modeling software. For the best of both worlds, some artists use a combination of 3D modeling followed by editing the 2D computer-rendered images from the 3D model.

3D model market

A large market for 3D models (as well as 3D-related content, such as textures, scripts, etc.) still exists – either for individual models or large collections. Several online marketplaces for 3D content allow individual artists to sell content that they have created, including TurboSquid, CGStudio, CreativeMarket Sketchfab, CGTrader and Cults. Often, the artists' goal is to get additional value out of assets they have previously created for projects. By doing so, artists can earn more money out of their old content, and companies can save money by buying pre-made models instead of paying an employee to create one from scratch. These marketplaces typically split the sale between themselves and the artist that created the asset, artists get 40% to 95% of the sales according to the marketplace. In most cases, the artist retains ownership of the 3d model; the customer only buys the right to use and present the model. Some artists sell their products directly in its own stores offering their products at a lower price by not using intermediaries.

Over the last several years numerous marketplaces specialized in 3D printing models have emerged. Some of the 3D printing marketplaces are combination of models sharing sites, with or without a built in e-com capability. Some of those platforms also offer 3D printing services on demand, software for model rendering and dynamic viewing of items, etc. 3D printing file sharing platforms include Shapeways, Sketchfab, Pinshape, Thingiverse, TurboSquid, CGTrader, Threeding, MyMiniFactory, and GrabCAD.

3D printing

3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down or build from successive layers of material.

3D printing is a great way to create objects because you can create objects that you couldn't make otherwise without having complex expensive molds created or by having the objects made with multiple parts. A 3D printed part can be edited by simply editing the 3D model. That avoids having to do any additional tooling which can save time and money. 3D printing is great for testing out an idea without having to go through the production process which is great for getting a physical form of the person/company's idea[8]

In recent years, there has been an upsurge in the number of companies offering personalized 3D printed models of objects that have been scanned, designed in CAD software, and then printed to the customer's requirements. As previously mentioned, 3D models can be purchased from online marketplaces and printed by individuals or companies using commercially available 3D printers, enabling the home-production of objects such as spare parts,[9] mathematical models,[10] and even medical equipment.[11]


Steps of forensic facial reconstruction - Virtual Mummy - cogitas3d
Steps of forensic facial reconstruction of a mummy made in Blender by the Brazilian 3D designer Cícero Moraes.

3D modeling is used in various industries like films, animation and gaming, interior designing and architecture. They are also used in the medical industry for the interactive representations of anatomy. A wide number of 3D software are also used in constructing digital representation of mechanical models or parts before they are actually manufactured. CAD/CAM related software are used in such fields, and with these software, not only can you construct the parts, but also assemble them, and observe their functionality.

3D modelling is also used in the field of Industrial Design, wherein products are 3D modeled before representing them to the clients. In Media and Event industries, 3D modelling is used in Stage/Set Design.

The OWL 2 translation of the vocabulary of X3D can be used to provide semantic descriptions for 3D models, which is suitable for indexing and retrieval of 3D models by features such as geometry, dimensions, material, texture, diffuse reflection, transmission spectra, transparency, reflectivity, opalescence, glazes, varnishes, and enamels (as opposed to unstructured textual descriptions or 2.5D virtual museums and exhibitions using Google Street View on Google Arts & Culture, for example).[12] The RDF representation of 3D models can be used in reasoning, which enables intelligent 3D applications which, for example, can automatically compare two 3D models by volume.[13]

Testing a 3D Solid Model

3D Solid models can be tested in different ways depending on what is needed by using simulation, mechanism design, and analysis. If a motor is designed and assembled correctly (this can be done differently depending on what 3D modeling program is being used), using the mechanism tool the user should be able to tell if the motor or machine is assembled correctly by how it operates. Different design will need to be tested in different ways. For example; a pool pump would need a simulation ran of the water running through the pump to see how the water flows through the pump. These test verify if a product is developed correctly or if it needs to me modified to meet its requirements.

See also

External links

Media related to 3D modeling at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ "ERIS Project Starts". ESO Announcement. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  2. ^ "What is Solid Modeling? 3D CAD Software. Applications of Solid Modeling". Brighthub Engineering. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  3. ^ "3D Scanning Advancements in Medical Science". Konica Minolta. Archived from the original on 2011-09-07. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  4. ^ Jon Radoff, Anatomy of an MMORPG Archived 2009-12-13 at the Wayback Machine, August 22, 2008
  5. ^ "Lands' End First With New 'My Virtual Model' Technology: Takes Guesswork Out of Web Shopping for Clothes That Fit". PRNewswire. Lands' End. February 12, 2004. Retrieved 2013-11-24.
  6. ^ "All About Virtual Fashion and the Creation of 3D Clothing". CGElves. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  7. ^ "3D Clothes made for The Hobbit using Marvelous Designer". 3DArtist. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  8. ^ "What is 3D Printing? The definitive guide". 3D Hubs. Retrieved 2017-11-18.
  9. ^ "3D Printing Toys". Business Insider. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Printout3D—Wolfram Language Documentation". reference.wolfram.com. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  11. ^ "New Trends in 3D Printing – Customized Medical Devices". Envisiontec. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  12. ^ Sikos, L. F. (2016). Rich Semantics for Interactive 3D Models of Cultural Artifacts. Communications in Computer and Information Science. 672. Springer International Publishing. pp. 169–180. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-49157-8_14.
  13. ^ Yu, D.; Hunter, J. (2014). "X3D Fragment Identifiers—Extending the Open Annotation Model to Support Semantic Annotation of 3D Cultural Heritage Objects over the Web". International Journal of Heritage in the Digital Era. 3 (3): 579–596. doi:10.1260/2047-4970.3.3.579.
3D computer graphics

3D computer graphics or three-dimensional computer graphics (in contrast to 2D computer graphics), are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data (often Cartesian) that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering 2D images. Such images may be stored for viewing later or displayed in real-time.

3D computer graphics rely on many of the same algorithms as 2D computer vector graphics in the wire-frame model and 2D computer raster graphics in the final rendered display. In computer graphics software, 2D applications may use 3D techniques to achieve effects such as lighting, and 3D may use 2D rendering techniques.

3D computer graphics are often referred to as 3D models. Apart from the rendered graphic, the model is contained within the graphical data file. However, there are differences: a 3D model is the mathematical representation of any three-dimensional object. A model is not technically a graphic until it is displayed. A model can be displayed visually as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering or used in non-graphical computer simulations and calculations. With 3D printing, 3D models are similarly rendered into a 3D physical representation of the model, with limitations to how accurate the rendering can match the virtual model.

Algorithms-Aided Design (AAD)

Algorithms-Aided Design (AAD) is the use of specific algorithms-editors to assist in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. The algorithms-editors are usually integrated with 3D modeling packages and read several programming languages, both scripted or visual (RhinoScript®, Grasshopper®, MEL®, C#, Python®). The Algorithms-Aided Design allows designers to overcome the limitations of traditional CAD software and 3D computer graphics software, reaching a level of complexity which is beyond the human possibility to interact with digital objects. The acronym appears for the first time in the book AAD Algorithms-Aided Design, Parametric Strategies using Grasshopper, published by Arturo Tedeschi in 2014.

Animation department

Animation departments (or animation production departments) are the teams within a film studio that work on various aspects of animation such as storyboarding or 3D modeling. It can refer to a single department that handles animation as a whole or to multiple departments that handle specific tasks. It can also refer to a college department.

AutoQ3D Community

AutoQ3D Community is a cross-platform CAD software, suited for 3D modeling and texturing. The main objective of this software development is to take away the hassle and complexity for sketching and drawing in 3D. AutoQ3D Community is not a professional CAD program and it is targeted at beginners who want to make rapid 3D designs. It offers plenty of features but is relatively simple to learn and use.

AutoQ3D Community is written in C++ using the Qt application framework and supports the OpenGL API.

Autodesk Mudbox

Mudbox is a proprietary computer-based 3D sculpting and painting tool. Currently developed by Autodesk, Mudbox was created by Skymatter, founded by Tibor Madjar, David Cardwell and Andrew Camenisch, former artists of Weta Digital, where it was first used to produce the 2005 Peter Jackson remake of King Kong. Mudbox's primary application is high-resolution digital sculpting, texture painting, and displacement and normal map creation, although it is also used as a design tool.

Computer graphics

Computer graphics are pictures and films created using computers. Usually, the term refers to computer-generated image data created with the help of specialized graphical hardware and software. It is a vast and recently developed area of computer science. The phrase was coined in 1960, by computer graphics researchers Verne Hudson and William Fetter of Boeing. It is often abbreviated as CG, though sometimes erroneously referred to as computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Some topics in computer graphics include user interface design, sprite graphics, vector graphics, 3D modeling, shaders, GPU design, implicit surface visualization with ray tracing, and computer vision, among others. The overall methodology depends heavily on the underlying sciences of geometry, optics, and physics.

Computer graphics is responsible for displaying art and image data effectively and meaningfully to the consumer. It is also used for processing image data received from the physical world. Computer graphics development has had a significant impact on many types of media and has revolutionized animation, movies, advertising, video games, and graphic design in general.


In geometry, a cuboid is a convex polyhedron bounded by six quadrilateral faces, whose polyhedral graph is the same as that of a cube. While mathematical literature refers to any such polyhedron as a cuboid, other sources use "cuboid" to refer to a shape of this type in which each of the faces is a rectangle (and so each pair of adjacent faces meets in a right angle); this more restrictive type of cuboid is also known as a rectangular cuboid, right cuboid, rectangular box, rectangular hexahedron, right rectangular prism, or rectangular parallelepiped.

Cyber Studio

Cyber Studio CAD-3D (or just CAD-3D) is a 3D modeling and animation package developed by Tom Hudson for the Atari ST computer and published by Antic Software. The package is a precursor to 3D Studio Max.CAD-3D is a basic polygonal 3D modeling and rendering program. An operator can assemble a scene out of geometric primitives or custom extruded or lathed objects. Various view ports are available to adjust lighting and camera positioning. The limited rendering functionality allows for flat shading in 16 shades. Rendered images can be exported in Degas Elite or NeoChrome format.

By making changes between rendering separate cels, CAD-3D can be used for simple animations. Without its scripting extension Cyber Control changes have to be made by hand.

Functional design

Functional Design is a paradigm used to simplify the design of hardware and software devices such as computer software and increasingly, 3D models. A functional design assures that each modular part of a device has only one responsibility and performs that responsibility with the minimum of side effects on other parts. Functionally designed modules tend to have low coupling.

GigaMesh Software Framework

The GigaMesh Software Framework is a modular software for display, editing and visualization of 3D-data typically acquired with structured light or structure from motion.

It provides numerous functions for analysis of archaeological objects like cuneiform tablets, ceramics or converted LiDAR data. Typically applications are unwrappings (or rollouts), profile cuts (or cross sections) as well as visualizations of distances and curvature, which can be exported as raster graphics or vector graphics.

The retrieval of text in 3D like damaged cuneiform tablets or weathered medieval headstones using Multi Scale Integral Invariant (MSII) filtering is a core function of the software. Furthermore small or faint surface details like fingerprints can be visualized. The polygonal meshes of the 3D-models can be inspected, cleaned and repaired to provide optimal filtering results. The repaired datasets are suitable for 3D printing and for digital publishing in a dataverse.

Imagine (3D modeling software)

Imagine was the name of a cutting-edge 3D modeling and ray tracing program, originally for the Amiga computer and later also for MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows. It was created by Impulse, Inc. It used the .iob extension for its objects. Imagine was a derivative of the software TurboSilver, which was also for the Amiga and written by Impulse. CAD-Technologies continued the distribution of the Amiga version. Starting with version 5.1, new updates were available for free for current customers as part of the Amiga Constant Upgrade Program (ACUP) up until presumed Imagine 6.0 release.

List of 3D modeling software

Following is a list of notable 3D modeling software, computer programs used for developing a mathematical representation of any three-dimensional surface of objects, also called 3D modeling.

List of 3D rendering software

This page provides a list of 3D rendering software. This is not the same as 3D modeling software, which involves the creation of 3D models, for which the software listed below can produce realistic rendered visualisations. Also not included are general-purpose packages which can have their own built-in rendering capabilities; these can be found in the List of 3D computer graphics software and List of 3D animation software. See 3D computer graphics software for more discussion about the distinctions.

List of protein structure prediction software

This list of protein structure prediction software summarizes commonly used software tools in protein structure prediction, including homology modeling, protein threading, ab initio methods, secondary structure prediction, and transmembrane helix and signal peptide prediction.


Makehuman is a free and open source 3D computer graphics software middleware designed for the prototyping of photo realistic humanoids. It is developed by a community of programmers, artists, and academics interested in 3D modeling of characters.

Paint 3D

Paint 3D, a refresh of Microsoft Paint, is one of several applications introduced with the Windows 10 Creators Update and one of several 3D modeling applications introduced or improved with the Windows 10 Creators Update, along with View 3D, Windows Mixed Reality, Holograms, and 3D Builder. Developed by Microsoft's Lift London studio, Paint 3D incorporates features of the Microsoft Paint and 3D Builder applications to combine a lightweight hybrid 2D-3D editing experience that allows users to pull in a variety of shapes from the app, their personal computer, and Microsoft's Remix 3D service.

Silo (software)

Silo is a polygon/subdivision surfaces 3D modeling application created by Nevercenter. It has a focus on quick editing, a customizable interface (all mouse buttons and keyboard shortcuts can be assigned to any function), and a flexible workflow. Silo 2, released in August 2007, added a high-polygon sculpting mode for creating normal maps and displacement maps, as well as improved texture mapping tools and scene management tools. Version 2.1 was released on August 13, 2008.

Strata 3D

Strata Design 3D CX is a commercial 3D modeling, rendering and animation program developed in St. George, Utah by Corastar, Inc. dba Strata Software. Strata is a pioneer and developer of 3D design software.Strata Design 3D CX 8 is the latest incarnation of a program that was originally named StrataVision 3D. It is best known as an all-purpose 3D modeling application with photo-real rendering ability, ease of use and tight integration with Adobe Photoshop. Strata 3D is targeted at the illustration/multimedia market rather than at the movie/games market.

Strata 3D software in its various iterations has received awards and praise from many sources including MacUser UK, Digit Magazine, Layers Magazine, DigitalArts, MacWorld, and Photoshop User.

Wings 3D

Wings 3D is a free and open-source subdivision modeler inspired by Nendo and Mirai from Izware. Wings 3D is named after the winged-edge data structure it uses internally to store coordinate and adjacency data, and is commonly referred to by its users simply as Wings.Wings 3D is available for most platforms, including Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, using the Erlang environment.

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