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How to Easily Learn 3D Modeling from Scratch in 5 Steps

by | May 31, 2024

Do you want to find out how to learn 3D modeling? Then you’ve come to the right place. 

In this article, we’re going to explore how to learn 3D modeling using 5 simple steps. Ultimately, you don’t need a degree to become a 3D modeler – and in this article, you’ll learn how. 

Ready to start? Let’s go!

You’ll learn: 

What is 3D modeling? 

5 steps to learn 3D modeling

Is it hard to become a 3D modeler? 

 

What is 3D modeling?

3D modeling is the process of creating three-dimensional digital shapes using specialized software. 

3D modelers manipulate lines and points to reach the shapes they need. Then, they add textures to make their models more lifelike.

This type of 3D modeling is used in a wide range of industries, from video games and movies to architectural design and 3D printing. 

It might seem like you’d need to spend years in college to work in 3D modeling, but that’s not the case.

Even though 3D modeling uses relatively complex software, you don’t need a college degree to join the field. After all, I don’t have a degree in 3D lighting or VFX, and I’ve been working in the industry for more than 10 years. 

Another benefit of pursuing 3D modeling is that it’s really well paid, with average salaries over $82K. And you don’t need to invest a ton before starting; you can learn all the necessary skills from online courses. (Which are far more affordable than a four-year college degree.) 

Next, let’s go through the steps you should take to learn 3D modeling.

5 steps for beginners to learn 3D modeling

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of 3D modeling, you’re probably wondering how best to proceed. 

Here are 5 simple steps you can follow to learn 3D modeling:

1. Choose your software 

When it comes to software for 3D modeling, there are tons of options. It’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer number of available programs. However, there are a few that stand out as being both powerful and beginner friendly. 

Here’s a list of the best software options if you’re just starting out: 

Blender

Blender is a favorite among 3D modelers. It’s been used to make a handful of major movies like Frozen and Spider-Man 2, as well as popular TV shows like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Adventure Time. 

But that doesn’t mean that Blender is only for the pros. Beginners also love Blender because it offers all the features you need to practice building 3D models.

With Blender, you can sculpt a character, add textures, and rig your model. It also has tools for animation, lighting, and even video editing. 

Another reason Blender is a favorite among beginners? It’s totally free.

SketchUp

SketchUp is a 3D modeling program known for its intuitive interface and flexible tools. It’s best for simple modeling tasks like architectural plans and basic character designs. 

SketchUp lacks some features necessary for more complex work, but it’s great for those just starting out. And there’s even a free version, which is perfect for anyone who’s hesitant to commit to a subscription. 

Tinkercad

Tinkercad takes a new approach to 3D modeling. It’s a web-based platform with a drag-and-drop interface. 

With this program, you can stack and model pre-made shapes as if you were playing with Legos. It’s intuitive, logical, and fun to use.

Tinkercad is also free. And Udemy even offers a free Tinkercad for Beginners tutorial so you can familiarize yourself with how the software works.

Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya is an industry-standard 3D modeling software used by huge studios and hobby artists alike. It’s immensely powerful, with tons of tools for sculpting, rigging, animation, simulation, and rendering.

Although Maya can be challenging at first, mastering the software will unlock a professional-grade toolset that’s widely used in the 3D modeling world.  

If you’re interested in learning Maya, take a look at this Intro to Maya Workshop. It’s taught by a professional animator who’s worked on several feature films, including two Ice Age movies. 

Nomad Sculpt

Nomad Sculpt allows you to create 3D models from your mobile phone or tablet using intuitive touch controls optimized for your fingers or a stylus, rather than a mouse. 

Since Nomad Sculpt was built to be used on phones and laptops, it doesn’t have all of the traditional features of a 3D modeling software. But if you’re looking to focus on digital sculpting and don’t want to be tied to a desk, this is a great choice.

2. Learn the basics 

Once you’ve picked the software program you’d like to use, it’s time to learn the basics of 3D modeling. Let’s start with the primary phases of any 3D modeling project.

Ideation

The ideation phase is when you outline your idea and the goals you’d like to achieve. 

Think of ideation as in-depth, creative brainstorming. During this phase, you should come up with a production schedule and a storyboard for your project. 

The storyboard is a crucial part of the ideation process. It’s a collection of images that represent important scenes in your story, and it’ll help you get a sense of what the final product will look like. 

Before you start with your own storyboard, check out this breakdown of different types of storyboards with examples. 

Modeling

In the modeling phase, you’ll use your 3D software to make basic drawings of the objects you need for your story. You’ll create shapes, lines, polygons, and edges to form the models. 

Use the storyboard images you created in the ideation phase to guide you, as you shape your model. The details and texture will come later.

Lighting

After you’ve shaped your model the way you want, it’s time to add texture and light it. Most of what makes your model appear realistic happens in this phase.

You might think that texturing and lighting sound like two totally different things, but they’re actually intertwined. Light and texture work together to form highlights and shadows that give your model the impression of a solid surface. 

You can add texture in many different ways, including with procedural generation, a picture, or paint. You can also add bumps, lines, and colors at this stage. 

Check out our video for a lot more information on lighting 3D models: 

Rendering

Once you’ve shaped and textured your 3D model, it’s time to render it in 2D. Think of rendering as taking a photo of your model, complete with textures, lights, and shadows. 

Rendering your model isn’t about flattening it – it’s about making it easier to work with. Once your 3D model has been rendered, the resulting image can be used and displayed very easily, just like a photo could. 

At its core, rendering is all about taking the depth and detail of a 3D model and turning it into a usable image.

3. Sign up for online courses and tutorials

Even though there’s a ton of great information on YouTube and in blog posts, it can be tough to find free, high-quality content that walks you through the process of 3D modeling. 

Sifting through endless search results to find the answer to a specific problem takes ages, and it can be very frustrating. 

But using online courses that condense the information in a clear, step-by-step format will save you lots of time and energy. 

Luckily, there are expert-taught online courses that you can take from anywhere and complete at your own pace. 

For example, I founded The Academy of Animated Art (AAA) to help students learn the skills that will get them hired. 

AAA offers a selection of online courses.. A few of our courses include the Lighting For Animation Course, Katana Workshop, and Nuke Technical Workshop.

Using  courses taught by 3D professionals will help you learn faster and more thoroughly than trying to figure everything out on your own. 

4. Practice regularly     

As with any skill, it’s not enough to simply learn how 3D modeling works. You need to practice regularly to maintain your skills and keep up with a fast-moving industry. 

When you’re just starting out, stick to modeling relatively simple objects. Trying to make complex 3D models before you’re ready can leave you frustrated and sap your motivation. Slowly increasing the difficulty of your projects as your skills grow is the best way to progress in 3D modeling. 

Online courses will help you maintain a steady pace as you’re getting started. Later on, you can develop your own ideas for projects you want to tackle. 

But remember, no matter where you are on your 3D modeling journey, practice is the key. Without it, the skills you learned will fade over time. 

Many 3D artists make it a daily habit to work on personal projects. Even if it’s just half an hour a day, regular practice will sharpen your skills and keep you focused.  

5. Learn from online communities

One of the great things about 3D modeling is that there’s a huge, active community of artists who teach, support, and inspire each other. 

There are plenty of online communities and forums dedicated to 3D modeling that can help you grow and form connections as an artist. Many of them are focused on a specific modeling software, which can be super helpful if you need advice. 

Here are a couple of forums you can use to ask general questions and interact with the 3D community: Polycount Forum and 3D Forum

And here are some software-specific groups: Blender Artists, 3ds Max Forum, and SketchUp Community

So if you encounter a problem or are struggling with a project, don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Chances are someone has encountered the same issue before. 

You can also share projects you’re working on with the online community. Other modelers will share valuable feedback and help you identify areas for improvement. 

Overall, online communities are a great resource to connect with like-minded people, share your passion, and stay motivated.

For example, we have an online Discord community here

Next, let’s look at some additional resources that can help you learn 3D modeling online.

Useful resources to learn 3D modeling online

There are loads of helpful online resources that can help you on your journey to mastering 3D modeling. 

As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of excellent modeling courses available. For example, AAA’s Lighting Bundle builds your skills so you can become a lighting artist. And if you’re planning to use Maya, this Intro to Maya Workshop will teach you all of the relevant foundational skills. 

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for inspiration or want to buy 3D models to use in your projects, Sketchfab.com is a great site to visit. It also has modeling challenges that can be a fun way to test and strengthen the skills you’ve learned. 

YouTube also has tutorials on all kinds of 3D modeling software that can help you learn new techniques. Here are a few videos from YouTube that I recommend checking out: 

Maya tutorial: 

Blender tutorial: 

SketchUp tutorial: 

And here are some of our own blog posts about 3D modeling: 

Even though there’s a lot you can learn from free resources online, it’s a good idea to start taking in-depth courses if you’re serious about making 3D modeling your career. 

But before you take the plunge, how hard is it to learn 3D modeling? We’ll discuss that next.  

Is it hard to learn 3D modeling?

3D modeling seems like an awesome career. You get flexibility, good pay, and creative projects to work on. 

But is the learning curve too steep? 

3D modeling does require some in-depth knowledge of complicated software. But don’t let that scare you away. 

Although learning 3D modeling can be a challenge, it’s certainly achievable if you enroll in courses by people who are active in the industry. Teachers with years of experience working in 3D modeling can guide you through each step of the process. 

Next steps 

So there you have it! Now you know how to learn 3D modeling from scratch.

The next step you should take is to look at some top-of-the-line online courses so that you can build your skills and gain in-depth knowledge. 

That’s how you build your skills toward a  creative and rewarding career in 3D modeling.  

Learn more:

What is a 3D Modeling Artist? 

How to Build a 3D Modeling Career

 

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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