What Is the Definition of 3D Modeling?

by Daniel Ketchum

3D modeling is the process by which computer modelers create the figures, props and scenes that movie makers use for both animated movies and CGI special effects in live action movies. The process of 3D modeling involves five interrelated concepts.


Before 3D modeling process can get started, the modeler needs to create a series of concept sketches for the project. To do this, the modeler needs to consult with his customer or employer as to exactly what is required for the project. For instance, if a director wants a creature for a movie, the modeler will need to take a look at the script and the storyboard to know what is expected of the model.

Reference Images

The modeler will now take the sketches and scan them into his computer. The images are then imported into a modeling program and placed in the program as references. This can be done in one of two ways. Either the modeler will apply the images to flat planes as textures, which can then be positioned in the scene or, as in a program like Hexagon, he will apply the images to the pre-existing grids made for that purpose.

Initial Modeling

With the reference images in place, the 3D modeler begins modeling. There are several techniques used in 3D modeling. One of the most popular is known as box modeling. In this process, a single cube (box) is created on the screen. Then, using various modeling tools such as "Extrude," "Tessellate" and "Bevel," the modeler gradually expands the various faces (polygons) of the cube into whatever basic shape is required.

Refinement of the Model

Once the basic shape is created, the modeler can start refining it. This means adjusting points and edges so that they work well when the figure needs to move. For instance, it is usually necessary to use the "Line" tessellation tool to add extra lines of polygons around sections of organic models (people, cows, fish) that are going to have to bend.


Another important part of the process for creating an 3D model, called "smoothing," relates to making organic models. Virtually all 3D modelers now have this function, though it may have a different name. When smoothing is applied to a model, the program ramps up the number of polygons in the model and creates a smoother, more natural-looking version. This makes it much easier to make organic 3D models.

About the Author

Daniel Ketchum holds a Bachelor of Arts from East Carolina University where he also attended graduate school. Later, he taught history and humanities. Ketchum is experienced in 2D and 3D graphic programs, including Photoshop, Poser and Hexagon and primarily writes on these topics. He is a contributor to sites like Renderosity and Animotions.