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What is 3D Modeling? How to Use 3D Modeling

by | Feb 15, 2024

What is 3D modeling? 

Today, you’ll learn… 

  • What 3D modeling is
  • How it’s used
  • The best 3D modeling techniques 
  • How to learn 3D modeling

…And so much more. 

Want to learn more? Read on! 


What is 3D modeling? 

In animation, 3D modeling is the process of creating a digital representation of an object in three dimensions using 3D modeling software. Compare it to building something digitally instead of physically. This includes backgrounds, props, and characters. 

Each model starts as a static image, which animators bring to life using polygons, edges, and lines to make it move in a lifelike way. This is also when a model’s size, shape, and texture can all be adjusted.

You can build the model in different ways, for example by starting with basic shapes and refining them. Or, you can use existing scans or mathematical data. 

The model is connected to a skeleton (rigging), which is animated to fit a specific purpose, and rendered to create the illusion of motion.

I’ll tell you what 3D models are used for next, so keep reading!

What is 3D modeling used for? 

3D modeling is used in countless industries. 

Let’s talk about a few of them.

Entertainment and media

In the entertainment and media industries, 3D modeling is used in movies, TV shows, commercials, and anything that incorporates VFX.

3D modeling makes it possible to create realistic environments, elements, and actions that would be difficult to capture with live-action filming. 

In fact, most genres of TV and film use 3D modeling, especially for anything animated or superhero- or fantasy-themed. 

Another area it’s frequently used in is video game production. Game developers such as Rockstar Games utilize 3D models to create characters and immersive worlds.

Product design and manufacturing 

3D modeling is used in product design, too.  

When the product is ready for testing, designers can use 3D modeling to efficiently prototype, visualize, and refine product ideas before finalization. 

When the product is finalized, 3D models can be used to show the product to investors at a 360-degree angle.

Designers and manufacturers also use 3D printing in their processes, which is part of 3D modeling. With 3D printers, virtual ideas can quickly become tangible objects.

Architecture and real estate 

Instead of hand-drawn plans, architects, designers, and real estate agents now use 3D modeling to make planning more effective and communicate their vision to clients. 

Architects use 3D models to better illustrate their designs, quickly make any necessary changes, and avoid miscalculations. They can also use them to create more effective virtual tours and a better understanding of the space for clients. 

Interior designers use 3D models to create realistic representations of their plans for clients. They can outfit a model with everything from furniture and paint to ceilings, floors, and texture, which allows clients to picture the results more clearly.

Finally, real estate agents use 3D modeling to better showcase properties. Buyers can now explore properties without having to leave their homes, which allows them to expand their client base and increases the chances of a sale.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

VR and AR are all about infusing the real world with digital 3D elements through a screen. To do it, animators create, manipulate, and animate each 3D model to be part of an immersive, realistic environment.

3D models for VR and AR can be used across a variety of industries, including video games, design, healthcare, education, healthcare, and even hospitality.

Medical and healthcare 

Medical professionals in several sectors now rely on 3D models to better treat patients and make progress in the industry.  

3D models can aid doctors in communicating more effectively with patients and allow for a  comprehensive view of their bodies to identify any problems and plan their surgery if needed.

Models also make it possible to simulate more complex surgeries to determine the best plan of action and reduce any risk.

Health professionals also use 3D printing to create custom prosthetics and implants. With this sort of precision, functionality as well as patient outcomes are improved. 

Medical 3D models are also used for research, drug development, and medical education.

Education and training

3D modeling technology provides a powerful tool for educators to transform a typical classroom or training environment with an immersive, interactive learning experience. 

In schools, 3D models can be used for almost any subject or topic, from biology (virtual frog dissection) to geography (map creation) to history (artifact creation), just to name a few. 

In a training setting, 3D modeling allows instructors to create a safe environment where students can learn without fearing consequences or errors. A great example of this is flight simulators for pilots who are training.

Now that we’ve covered how 3D modeling can be used, let’s look at how the 3D modeling process works.

Overview of the 3D modeling process

The basic 3D modeling process is pretty straightforward.

However, your workflow might differ depending on the task at hand. It all depends on software, art preferences, and project-specific requirements. 

Let’s dive in.


Ideation is always the first step in any creative process, and 3D modeling is no exception.

In the ideation phase, you can flesh out your idea and outline your story.  

Not only will you brainstorm with other teams on character and background, but you’ll also edit the script and come up with a production schedule.

Another key part of the ideation stage is crafting your storyboard. The storyboard is a series of images that act as a step-by-step story outline and give you an idea of what the end product will look like.

It will also highlight how different elements of each scene will move, which will guide your modeling.  

You’ll also spend part of this phase deciding which shapes and software you want to work with.


This is when your ideas begin to take form.

In the modeling phase, you’ll use a software of your choice to create the first 3D drawing of each object.  

This involves combining and manipulating simple and complex polygons, edges, and lines in a 3D space until the model starts to look realistic.

These models don’t have to be detailed – since you’ll animate them later, you can keep it simple.


Once you’ve figured out your model’s shape, it’s time to texturize it.

Simply put, texturizing calls for stylizing the model and adding texture to its surface to make it seem more lifelike. 

Texture is created by applying a 2D image to the 3D model’s surface using paint, procedural generation, or a photo.  

To give it an even more realistic appearance, you may also choose to add small surface details such as bumps, reflections, and lines. 

Texturing adds a kind of depth and detail that elevates the overall visual quality of a model.


After a 3D model has been modeled, textured, and attached to a skeleton for movement, it gets rendered back to 2D animation.

Rendering a model doesn’t mean that it stays 2D – it just makes it easier for other artists to incorporate elements like lighting.  

Once rendering is complete, your 3D model will be put into a sequence alongside the other models you’ve already created, textured, and lit to create the illusion of movement. 

What kind of techniques can you expect to use in 3D modeling? That’s up next.

Most common 3D modeling techniques

Several techniques are used in animation and 3D modeling, but for now, let’s just focus on some of the most common.

  • Polygonal modeling: Polygonal modeling uses polygons (usually triangles or quadrilaterals) to create a 3D model. Each polygon is connected to another along its edge to establish the mesh that becomes the object’s surface. It’s the most common form of 3D modeling.
  • Subdivision surface modeling: This is when each of the model’s polygons is cut into smaller polygons while keeping the overall shape. This is often done to create finer details or make the surface appear smoother. 
  • NURBS modeling: Short for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines Modeling, NURBS is all about using mathematical formulas to define curves and surfaces in a way that creates a more polished shape than you would get with traditional polygonal modeling.
  • Digital sculpting: Digital sculpting software allows the animator to manipulate a model the same way a sculptor would work with clay – by pushing, pulling, smoothing, grabbing, and pinching. It allows for more intricate details, curves, and textures.
  • Procedural modeling: Procedural modeling increases efficiency because it involves algorithms that automatically generate each model. Modelers can also edit or change existing models without having to create new ones. It’s good for complex models like skylines.

I know this doesn’t seem very easy, but learning to be a 3D modeler isn’t out of reach.

If you want to find out how to learn 3D modeling, keep reading!

How to learn 3D modeling

3D modeling is an in-demand and rewarding career. It’s expected to grow 5% between 2018 and 2028.

But remember, demand can vary based on industry – for instance, 3D modelers for things like film and video games are always in demand. Overall, though, many industries using 3D modeling are growing fast, including VR/AR and 3D printing.

If you want to break into the 3D modeling space, there are a couple of skills that you need.

First and foremost, you need visual imagining knowledge and computer skills. An artist’s eye is also a plus, although it’s not mandatory.

You’ll also need firsthand knowledge of 3D modeling. Who better to learn from than industry experts?

Online courses are a great way to do precisely that, and for less money and time than you’d spend on a college degree. 

Here are the 20 best online 3D animation schools

For example, the Academy of Animated Art has several courses on 3D modeling software, including Intro to Maya. But after you’ve learned the basics, how do you actually land a 3D modeling job? 

By starting as an intern. Don’t worry – I’ll show you how to get your first internship in this guide.

You’ll also need to create a great demo reel that shows off your skills and capabilities as a modeler.

And, if you want to jump right into finding a studio to work for, we’ve put together a list of the top animation studios in the world.

Are you ready to learn about the software you’ll use as a 3D modeler? Then read on!

Most popular 3D modeling software

Not sure where to start when it comes to 3D modeling software?

Here’s a list of the most popular options to get you started:

  • Blender: Blender is a free, open-source 3D graphic design and animation software that can be used for modeling, animation, rendering, and more. Key features include motion tracking, animation tools, GPU rendering, and advanced lighting. It’s compatible with most systems, including MAC OS, Windows, and Linux.
  • Autodesk Maya: You can use Maya for modeling, rendering, simulation, texturing, and more. Features include physically accurate simulations, interactive workflows for model creation, and real-time scene visualization using the integrated Arnold renderer. To see a list of the best Maya courses, check out this guide.
  • AutoCAD: AutoCAD is primarily used by students, designers, engineers, real estate professionals, architects, and construction professionals to create 3D models, designs, and drawings. It can also be used for design documentation, analysis, and collaboration. Plans start at $245 per month.

Next steps

There you have it! 

You’ve learned everything you need to know when it comes to 3D modeling, including how it works and what type of software you’ll be using.

With those things in mind, you can start learning, practicing, and building an amazing demo reel.

If you want to learn the secrets of making a great portfolio, check out our free step-by-step guide: 


Read more:

How to Become a 3D Modeler

What is a 3D Modeling Artist? 

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

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