5 Important 3D Lessons

June 23, 2020
Miles Hellyer

Some tips to improve your 3D projects - Learned the hard way.

In the past few months, some of you may have noticed more 3d content coming out of Chalk Company. This is no random occurrence. For the past several years we’ve tinkered with adding the 3rd dimension to our work, but 2020 is the year that we are finally ready to offer the service commercially! (I think we can all agree that 2020 has been smooth sailing, making it a perfect time to experiment with the source of your family’s income)

During my experimentation with C4D, Zbrush, Blender, Redshift, Substance, etc, I’ve learned some broad lessons that apply to 3D design, regardless of the tool you’re using.

Lesson 1: Start with an idea

Who would have thought? Not me. In a world filled with daily renders, it’s easy to become a squirrel that dives on new 3D trends to chase a quick post, but it’s worth stopping and thinking about what you’re creating. I’ve been guilty countless times of starting up C4D, dropping a cube into my composition and starting to model without thinking about what I’m creating. Every time I approach a project this way, it turns out pure garbage.

I don’t think you have to draw beautiful 2d sketches before taking an idea into 3d, but I do think it’s worth turning off Instagram, taking a quiet moment to think and jotting down a basic idea before beginning.

Interior tests for upcoming short

Lesson 2: Keep modelling

The problem with designing in 3d is that things look incredibly ugly in the software until they look beautiful in the render engine. This means, you’ll often get half-way through a model, become impatient and start dropping in lights and textures to get a sense of what the final shot will look like. The issue with this is that it takes you out of your 3d modelling flow or causes you to cut corners in the model to push it through to the next stage of production.

In order to combat this, I recommend having a separate lighting rig file with a generic matte material to get a quick look at how your model is progressing. The idea is that you can drop your model into the new file, take a quick look at it in studio lighting and jump right back into modelling without overthinking things. (interior renders are a whole other kettle of fish. So, if you find a solution, let me know)

Lesson 3: Step away from your creation

Your first render is terrible. It might look good to you, but it’s terrible. Over my past few product visualisation jobs, I’ve been able to see how much difference 5 rounds of edits can make to an image. I always think I’ve got the lighting right on the first pass (and never do), I always think the textures are looking perfect (they never are) and I always think I’ve picked the best composition (I haven’t).

If you’re doing a personal project (even for a throw-away Instagram post), I highly recommend that you allow yourself time for a second pass before posting it. A great way to do this, is to have a few projects on the boil at any one time. When you think one is done - save it, close it and look at it the next day. You’ll see it with fresh eyes and have an opportunity to fix the unavoidable mistakes we all make when we’re too close to something.

Minimal studio renders

Lesson 4: Lighting is everything

There are so many beautiful 3d models online that have been presented with terrible lighting. Don’t fall into this trap! There are some fundamentals that photographers use to get the lighting right for different situations (shooting a portrait, product photography, interiors, etc) and it’s well worth doing research into how they solve lighting problems.

If you’re looking for a place to start, and you’re too deep in the 3D world to take a look at photography references, I recommend checking out some of Blender Guru’s videos on lighting. He does a great job talking through lighting basics in the context of 3d software.

Lesson 5: Look at photography

Much of creating 3d art, is trying to fake good photography. So study photography! By looking at plenty of well-taken photos, you’ll train your eye to look at composition, colour and lighting in ways that you wouldn’t if you’re only ever looking at 3d renders.

It’s also worth having reference images any time you start a new project - even if you’re making a sci-fi character. There are details in how objects are made, what materials are used and how products and people are photographed that will add depth to your work. 

Abstract Sculptures

Hope these tips help anyone else who is at the start of their 3D journey! Remember, you don’t have to be Beeple. A render a day is not required to do great work. Look at references, take your time and edit your work before sending it out to the world.

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