You Can Create Anything

As a university professor I see students admiring the work of professional artists and learning as much as they can about 3D to get where their heroes are. Part of their awe focuses on the amazing skill needed to create something at a high level and the rest of their focus is on the creative idea. They dream about the epic project that they themselves will create as soon as their skills are strong enough. It is always enjoyable to teach students who dream; everything is exciting to them. 

When the time finally comes to create anything they want, no restrictions or limitations, many students freeze. They sketch out idea after idea but they become indecisive and claim every idea is not good enough. There can be a lot of pressure behind creating your own project, especially when you have the skills to achieve anything you want. So what do you do?

Just One of Many
Pressure and indecision can sometimes stem from thinking that this project is the one project that will rule them all. When in reality this is just one of many and it is likely that your future projects will be more refined and more creative than whatever you are currently planning. The more you create the more you grow as an artist. 

Add Restrictions
Creative freedom can be terrifying and easily turns your list of ideas into a list of none. There are many ways to introduce boundaries into a project and what this does is transform creative decisions into problem solving. Instead of spinning in circles and spending hours running through all the possible options, write yourself a project outline that describes the requirements.

Don't Edit Yourself
My favorite solution is to simply resist the urge to edit your idea. Don't worry about whether or not it is a good idea, instead follow your instincts and create something; it doesn't have to make sense.

Whatever it is you choose to create, be sure it is something you are excited about and invested in. 3D takes a long time and you need to be dedicated. It is completely normal to keep multiple projects going at the same time and bounce between them.

When you truly can create anything, why not make it all?

 

Maya Hotkeys

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Most commonly used and essential hotkeys - bookmark this post!

Navigation
Mouse scroll wheel  = zoom
Alt + left mouse  =  tumble / rotate camera
Alt + middle mouse  =  pan camera
Alt + right mouse  =  zoom
Square brackets [ ]  =  undo / redo camera position
Spacebar (tap it)  =  switch viewports

Tools
W  = move tool
E  =  rotate tool
R  =  scale tool
Q  =  select tool / hide manipulator
+  =  increase manipulator size
-  =  decrease manipulator size

Actions
Ctrl + Z  =  undo
Ctrl + S  =  save
Ctrl + Q  =  quit
Ctrl + A  =  attribute editor
Ctrl + G  =  group
P  =  parent
Shift + P  =  unparent
X  =  snap to grid
V  =  snap to points / vertices
D  =  change pivot location
Ctrl + D  =  duplicate
G  =  repeat last action
S = set key on selected
Shift + W  =  key only translation
Shift + E  =  key only rotation
Shift + R  =  key only scale

Display
1  =  standard form, as is
2  =  smooth preview with wireframe standard form
3  =  smooth preview only
4  =  wireframe
5  =  shaded
6  =  textured
7  =  lighting on in viewport


 

Pinterest for Art

Visual research and reference collection are two important phases of ideation that take quite a long time. I used to flip through pages and pages of image search results hunting for the perfect profile view of a human face that matched my characters' proportions to use a reference. Generally I save my references while a project is active but once all is said-and-done the reference images rarely make the cut when it comes to archiving my work. If you found it online once you can find it online again later, right? Yes, but apparently it is easy forget exactly how long it took to find in the first place. 

Pinterest is a popular platform for DIY projects, home decor, recipes and the like which has stereotyped the site. It is an efficient way to curate images found online, and until recently, I did not realize that this is the solution to all my reference collection problems.

The main benefit for me has been the ability to save images that catch my eye as being potentially useful for future projects without actually downloading to my hard-drive. I am essentially building my own custom image library that is easy to organize and maintain. Pinterest uses the word board to refer to the different categories or topics you create. Here are some of the boards I have and how I apply them to 3D projects. 


Artfully 3D is not endorsed, sponsered by, or affiliated with Pinterest.

References: The Atlantic, 2012 Social Media Demographics, Pinterest and Gender

 

How to Get Maya

The 3D application Maya was acquired in 2005 by Autodesk, Inc. and is widely used in animation and game industries. Maya offers tools to handle every step of the 3D pipeline from modeling to animation to visual effects. There is a free 30-day trial available. When you sign up it will ask for credit card information as it is designed to automatically upgrade to the paid subscription plan in order to continue using the software; there is the option to not renew.

If you are a student or an instructor then Autodesk, Inc. has a long-term educational version available for a 13 month term, renewable each year that you are eligible. People often ask if the educational version is limited in any way. The software is fully-featured when using an educational license, but commercial and for-profit usage is forbidden. The details of the licensing can be found in the usage agreement

Here are some examples that use Maya
The Peanuts Movie
Kung Fu Panda 2
South Park
Tomb Raider the Game


Artfully 3D is independent of Autodesk, Inc., and is not authorized by, endorsed by, sponsored by, affiliated with, or otherwise approved by Autodesk, Inc.

Autodesk, the Autodesk logo, and Autodesk Maya, are registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries.

References: Autodesk Maya FeaturesAWN Animation World News, Digital Tutors Blog Tomb Raider 

 

How to Get Blender

Blender is the go-to 3D program when other commercial tools are outside of the budget. It is open-source under a GNU GPL license, which means that it is completely free to use, including for commercial, for-profit purposes. Visit their site and download here: www.blender.org. Blender was founded in 2002 and has grown substantially ever since. It is capable of tackling the entire 3D pipeline along with offering a game engine and a compositor. While it can be a steep learning curve for anyone switching over from other 3D programs, it is a valuable asset and is worth taking the time to learn.

Here is a short list of projects created using this software:
Sintel
Cosmos Laundromat
Big Bug Bunny
Glass Half
Elephants Dream


Artfully 3D is not an official Blender website, publication or product.

References: Blender Software LicenseBlender Logo Usage Guidelines

 

Terminology 101

We have arrived at square one. As with most subjects, 3D comes with its own set of terminology and understanding how to speak the language is crucial to sifting through all of the information available to you. This list outlines general 3D terms that will appear all over Artfully 3D.

Modeling is a crucial skill to learn regardless of the area you want to pursue within 3D. This is the process of digitally constructing an object whether it is an organic form such as a character or a hard-surface form such as vehicle. The most common type of 3D modeling is known as polygonal modeling. This is when an object is made up of many, if not thousands, of individual polygons. A polygon is a flat surface composed of components called vertices and edges that surround a single face, or plane. Generally, 3D modelers aim to create 3 sided polygons called triangles or 4 sided polygons called quads and avoid polygons with more than 4 sides which are called ngons.

Sculpting, while closely related to modeling, uses a different skill set. This is still the process of digitally constructing an object except instead of building a model piece by piece the form is realized by adding and subtracting volume as one would do with clay. Part of the learning process is understanding which modeling approach is best suited for the object you are creating. Modeling and sculpting are interchangeable but they have their strengths and limits.

Shading is how a model of a car tire looks and feels like rubber. It adds surface qualities such as reflectivity, shine, transparency, and translucency to objects through the creation of materials. This is not to be confused with texturing, which is when visual details are added such as a logo printed on the tire. Texturing is more often than not the catch-all term for adding both materials and textures. 

Rigging is an interesting part of the 3D pipeline, it is where joints and bones are added into a model in order to make it animatable. It is highly technical and can become exponentially complicated when rigging something such as a character. Once joints are in place a control rig must be built, which is essentially a collection of handles that an animator will use to move different parts.

Animating is perhaps the most familiar term in this post as it is not unique to 3D. In fact, regardless of the tools being used the principles of animation remain constant. It is giving life or adding movement to something that cannot move on its own. Animation can be something plain such as a door opening or something expressive such as someone laughing. 

Lighting is a simple concept that it is difficult to master. Just as in the physical world, lights are added to a scene to communicate the time of day and to set a mood. In most 3D applications you can find three universal types of lights: the point light, spot light, and directional light. A point light is a single source that emits light in all directions much like a light bulb. A spot light is shaped as a cone and has a distinct beam of light; think flashlight. And finally a directional light is an infinite wall of light that comes from a particular direction or angle and is usually used to simulate sunlight.

Rendering transforms the 3D information that you see on screen into a 2D image. It is necessary to render your scene in order to fully see how materials and textures react to the lighting. High quality render settings accompanied by excellent lighting and interesting materials can all work together to make a poor model look great.

These explanations are only a small glimpse into understanding the world of 3D. 


 

Suddenly, It Appeared

Here it is, the first post on Artfully 3D! Let’s kick things off with a brainstorming session because it may take a while to get settled in. The motivation behind starting Artfully 3D is to create a reliable resource. A place to visit when you want to learn or be inspired. There are three primary pillars to the site that all revolve around digital 3D artwork creation: tutorials, the blog, and the gallery. 

Tutorials are the core of Artfully 3D. Through a combination of video walk-throughs and written guides the tutorials will cover the basics and progress up through advanced topics; everything from modeling, texturing, and lighting, to rigging and animation. Instruction will be split between software-independent skill building and program specific workflows. The initial software focus will be Autodesk Maya as the industry standard and Blender as the open-source alternative. 

The blog is here to assist the tutorials. Providing you with additional technical research, troubleshooting advice, and resources. We will mix it up once in a while and drop in an animation or game review, offer project planning tips, and maybe even a few philosophical thoughts on being a digital 3D artist.

If the blog isn’t enough inspiration on its own, then there is also the gallery. A collection of artwork from various artists curated to show you what is possible. With a focus on learning, it is important to us that each finished piece is accompanied with behind-the-scenes content. The process is just as important as the outcome.

There is a lot of content coming and starting from zero is hard. Looking behind the curtain of Artfully 3D, I am just one person. Which is why an important component to keeping the site fresh is inviting each of you to participate. Add your point of view to the blog with an interesting post, or work with me to organize a tutorial on a cool technique you use, and of course offer your own artwork to be part of the gallery. 

All of these things are just the beginning, there are so many ways to share with you. Just to throw out a few tag-along ideas: speed modeling demos, live work sessions, visual effects, portfolio building, environment design, story development, and compositing. I like to consider myself a generalist as I enjoy all sides of 3D, but then again I suppose technically I am an animator. But we can talk more about that later. 

The first post is the scary part right? At least we survived that!