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.