Throughout history, all forms of art all forms of art tend to evolve relative to the ever-changing picture of the world. Today’s people are surrounded by digital technology. This contributes to the emergence of more and more opportunities for their full use in the creative process.

The result of the successful combination of the main art principles and digital technology is the emergence of such a direction as 3D digital art. And since we have a direct relationship to it, today we are ready to lay out all the cards on the table. So, make your favorite tea or aromatic coffee and let’s go with us into a three-dimensional digital world full of interesting discoveries.

Introduction to 3D Digital Art: Basic Steps

Digital art is the practice of creating artistic works, which is based on the use of digital technology as the main representation tool. In other words, this is the creation of art, drawings and illustrations using digital equipment and special computer software.

Unlike 2D art, where the artist depicts objects using length and width measurements, 3D art is created by working with polygonal meshes and transforming them into characters, objects and environments. The range of applications for 3D art is huge: advertising, website design, films, and, of course, video games.

Working with 3D digital art is a multi-component painstaking work that can take tens of hours even with a high level of skills. We have gone through thick and thin in working with 3D art, so we can tell you a thing or two about it. In particular, we can highlight several key areas that are at the forefront of 3D art creation.

Modeling

This is the creation of a three-dimensional mesh that can end up being anything from a retro steam locomotive to a graceful wood elf. The result of the work is a model – a three-dimensional digital image of a real or fictional object. Such models are designed on the basis of concept art, drawings, photographs and sketches, and simply using imagination. High-quality 3D models can undergo further texturing and 3D rendering. They can also go to a 3D printer and become a part of real life. It all depends on the purpose of the digital object. Below we will talk in more detail about the types of 3D modeling.

Texturing

Also known as mapping, texturing is the process of applying a texture to a high-poly or low-poly model. A texture is a raster image, with which a model can be given a certain shape, texture, relief and color. The model acquires the required visual properties. Thus, texturing allows:

  1. Demonstrating the material from which the volumetric object is created
  2. Illustrating the physical properties of the object that was modeled
  3. Adding lighting effects to make the object look realistic
  4. Creating a small object on the surface of the 3D model: folds of clothes, small stones, scars and wrinkles on the face, etc.

There are 2 main types of texture mapping: relief mapping and MIP-mapping. The essence of texturing is the procedure for unfolding a mesh – completely flatting it out – and creating the desired colors and reliefs over it in programs like Photoshop. When finished, the resulting texture is wrapped over the mesh again. Depending on the complexity of the model, textures can be created for each part, for example, arms, torso, head, or be the only “wrapper” for the entire model (soccer ball). If there are a lot of textures, it is necessary to achieve a smooth seamless merging of all of them to achieve the maximum realism of the object.

Rendering

Or, in other words, visualization – it is a process during which a photorealistic image is obtained, made from a model or other information, for example, a description of the geometric data of objects, the position of the observer’s point, a description of lighting, etc. All actions are carried out using special computer programs. There are many aspects to creating a good final render of a scene, including camera positioning, lighting that can affect overall mood and shadows, reflections, transparency, and special effects handling.

Animation

This is giving motion to a 3D object. Sometimes this stage is not necessary and the work ends with the creation of a 3D model. But if you have to instill life in it, then the following options come into play:

  1. Animate by keyframes
  2. Animate along a path
  3. Animate in a dynamic environment
  4. Animate using motion capture

Keyframes are one of the most common ways to create 3D character animation. The essence of the method is as follows: on the timeline, several main points are set at which the position or shape of the object changes. The animator sets the required parameters of the model in the specified frames, and the program calculates intermediate states automatically. If the animator succeeds in framing the object into the correct shape at every fixed point in time, the 3D animation will be as natural as possible.

The essence of animation along a path is to set the start point, the object’s trajectory and the finish point. After the character or object is attached to the trajectory, the program itself calculates and creates the movement. If one adds animation to the object itself (flapping wings, flashing lights, opening air gates, extending the landing gear) and diversifies the viewing angles, it is possible to achieve visually attractive and breathtakingly dynamic effects.

Animation in a dynamic environment is the movement of a character or object taking into account environmental factors: gusts of wind, raindrops, light from lanterns, and so on. Therefore, this is a complex computational work with a deep immersion in the physical characteristics of objects. It is a necessary stage for creating a complete picture of what is happening: without all this, even the most detailed 3D modeling with the elaboration of textures will not make the character livelier.

We have already considered the technology of motion capture in more detail when studying the types of 3D animation. Its meaning lies in the use of the work of actors, to which special sensors are attached, recording movements and transmitting information about them to the program. It creates a moving skeleton with a set of keyframes. In the end, this skeleton turns into a real character using 3D modeling. As a result, the hero’s actions are realistic and convincing.

Types of 3D Modeling: Initial Dive

Today creating 3D models has become an extremely common area and many people do not even realize how closely their life is connected with 3D content. And certainly, few people think about how many types of 3D modeling exist. But this is a very interesting topic not only for 3D modelers. So, head on to new knowledge. By the way, all of the following types of modeling can be used both separately and in a complex manner.

Polygonal Modeling

This is one of the most popular ways to create a 3D model. The bottom line is to create and edit a mesh of polygons, which consist of vertices and edges. Most polygons are triangular or quadrangular. Each polygon can have its texture and color, and by combining several polygons, you can get a model of any object. In order for the edges of the model not to have a faceted appearance, it is necessary that the polygons are small, and the surface of the object consists of small planes.

3D animation - Statue

If a detailed development of an object aka high-poly modeling or further enlargement of its image is expected, then it is necessary to build a model with a large number of polygons. If it is supposed to look at the model from a distance without zooming in, a small number of polygons aka low poly modeling will be enough. Such models will be referred to as high poly and low poly respectively.

Despite the fact that polygonal modeling is used quite often, especially in the creation of three-dimensional computer games in real time, recently there has been a transition from modeling polygons to working with splines (spline or curve modeling).

NURBS and Curve Modeling

Non-uniform rational basis spline is a technology for drawing and representing curves and surface geometry. NURBS modeling is a special case of spline modeling and is often identified with it. The main difference between this method and polygonal modeling is smoothness. A NURBS model does not consist of polygons, but curves (splines). However, when rendered, it is still converted to polygons, although inside the modeling system it remains in curves.

Curve Modeling - What You Need to Know About 3D Art [And the Harsh Truth About Taxonomy of 3D Game Art Styles]

The spline lines are defined by a three-dimensional set of control points in space, which determine the smoothness of the curve. All splines are reduced to a spline skeleton, on the basis of which an envelope three-dimensional geometric surface will be created. Curve modeling is used to create fluid organic shapes and patterns. There are other more complex spline objects in the various programs that allow working with splines. The advantage of spline objects is that they have flexible settings and one can always return to changing their shape.

Digital Sculpting

Digital sculpting is a type of disruptive technology that has greatly advanced the 3D modeling process. Modelers are no longer limited to topography or edge flow. This allows them to create 3D models similar to the process of sculpting digital clay.

Meshing here is an organic process. It is best to use a graphics tablet. Artists completely immerse themselves in creativity and sculpt without thinking about polygons, the number of which can reach millions. The process becomes much faster and much more efficient. Digital sculpting is the number one technology when it comes to creating photorealistic objects.

Digital Sculpting - What You Need to Know About 3D Art [And the Harsh Truth About Taxonomy of 3D Game Art Styles]

Most digital sculpture modeling tools use deformation of the surface of the polygonal model, making it possible to make it convex or concave. Other tools work on the principle of voxel geometry, the volume of which depends on the pixel image used. In digital sculpture, as in working with clay, the artist can build up the surface by adding new layers, or vice versa, remove the excess by erasing the layers. All tools deform the geometry of the model in different ways, which makes the modeling process easier and richer.

Procedural Modeling

It’s more about designs that are created automatically under the control of an artist. Thus, one can create objects, environments and entire locations by setting certain user parameters and significantly reduce the time of work. Various modeling packages such as Bryce or Terragen include a large number of presets for buildings, natural elements and animals to quickly design the desired environment. Also, modelers can change the parameters of precipitation, foliage density, range of heights and much more in a variety of natural locations such as the sea coast, forests, deserts, mountains, and so on.

There are many different tools for procedural modeling. SpeedTree, for example, allows generating an infinite number of trees and vegetation, each of which will look unique. There are options for changing the height of trees, the number of branches and leaves, corners and curls, etc.

Box Modeling

Also known as the subdivision method, this type is close to polygon modeling. Its essence lies in reshaping an initial elementary object such as a cube or a sphere in order to achieve the desired shape. After the intended shape has been achieved, the modeler then subdivides the mesh, smoothens out sharp corners and adds detail. These procedures are repeated until the model gets the desired look.

Contour Modeling

Some call it edge modeling. It also refers to the polygonal type of 3D object creation. Its difference from the subdivision method is that here the artist creates a model step by step based on the initial outline and gradually adds polygon loops along the already created polygons. The gaps between them are filled in the process.

This method is used when it is difficult to clearly work out the meshes using box modeling. For example, a human face requires a more comprehensive approach than just elementary reshaping. Each part of the face is more conveniently formed by creating initial outlines for the nose, mouth and eyes, and only then filling them in from the inside.

Image-Based Modeling

It is an algorithmic way to transform 2D images into a 3D environment. It is most often used when a modeler is faced with serious time or budget constraints that prevent creating 3D models from scratch using any of the above methods. Requiring relatively low costs, this method only needs high-quality images of the desired object from all sides in order to ultimately be able to get a whole picture.

Image-based modeling is commonly used in the film and entertainment industries..

How to Choose a Perfect Art Style for Your 3D Game

When it comes to art styles, even Google throws up its hands (or whatever it can throw up).

The harsh truth we have promised is … There is no taxonomy of art styles for games as such. At least there is no standardized official version that is used by everyone.

Unlike fine art, the approach to creating game art is somewhat more dynamic. Many different styles are often combined here and the line between them is so blurred that there is no point in trying to classify them. In addition to game design, there is a gameplay, mechanics, and history, which also affect perception.

To get a rough idea of which game style is best for you, try to answer the following questions. At first glance, they seem to have little to do with the concept of style, but in the end, if you have clear answers, the desired style will be determined by itself.

  1. What resources do you have?
    Perhaps you want to create a game on your own or in conjunction with your friend. Maybe you’ve already gathered a team of artists, some of whom even have experience. Or maybe you’ve pulled out a lucky ticket and has a staff of super-specialists ready to work on a AAA game. The fewer resources you have, the easier the style to choose. Otherwise, you will definitely face a discrepancy between what you want and what is real.
  2. What is the essence of your future game?
    Is it a game about cyber technology, nature, animals, detective investigations, or is it a classic puzzle game? The style will be selected based on what you want to convey to the player. Often a list of adjectives is selected that can describe the game: perky, sad, mysterious, cheerful, gloomy, and so on.
  3. What is the age category of your players and what gender is the game more focused on?
    It’s impossible to say for sure, but quite often men prefer more sever color palettes, weapons and laconic landscapes, while women want something brighter and less brutal.
  4. Are you considering focusing on design or gameplay?
    How much time are you willing to spend creating art? It is important to understand how important the visual component is to you and whether you are going to draw the smallest details. It will also have a great effect on your style choices.
  5. What platform are you targeting?
    Once you’ve decided on this, it will be easier to immediately brush aside styles that are definitely not suitable for your game. For example, high-poly 3D games are hardly a good option for smartphones, but just right for PCs.

Final Thoughts

We’ve talked about a lot of aspects related to 3D art. This direction is actively developing right in front of our eyes and it would be unforgivable negligence to overlook the curious and bright path of its evolution. At this point, we, the creators and storytellers of 3D art, finish for today. And you can always admire our 3D art portfolio and consult with us about your 3D art project.