3D graphic design is like sculpting with digital clay. Instead of shaping clay with your hands, you use special computer software to craft 3D models.
These digital sculptures are the building blocks for making pictures, animations, and cool special effects that you see in movies, games, buildings, products, and ads. It's like being a digital sculptor, bringing your ideas to life in three dimensions on a computer screen.
The 3D graphic design process
The 3D design process typically involves several key stages: conceptualization, where ideas take shape; modelling, where the 3D structure is created; texturing, adding surface details and colors; lighting, to set the mood and ambience; and finally, rendering, which transforms the 3D model into a lifelike image or animation.
Throughout this process, designers and artists use specialized software and tools to bring their visions to life, resulting in stunning 3D visualizations used in various fields, from architecture and gaming to film and product design.
Let’s review the five 3D graphic design stages in more detail.
During the conceptualization stage, designers lay the foundation for their 3D project. This phase is like sketching out a blueprint, where they define the concept, style, and goals of what they intend to create. It's all about visualizing the end result and planning the creative direction.
2. 3D Modelling
3D modelling is the process of using special computer software to create a mathematical representation of a three-dimensional object or surface. This is done by manipulating points, lines, and shapes in a simulated 3D environment.
These models can be crafted manually, generated using algorithms, or created by scanning real objects.
Texturing involves adding visual details to objects. Artists can create textures by hand, use algorithms to help automate texture creation based on the object's geometry, or they can scan real-world materials to replicate textures.
In the lighting stage, artists play with virtual lights to mimic real-world lighting conditions within the 3D scene. It's like setting up a stage with spotlights and ambiance to create the desired atmosphere. This step enhances the realism and mood of the 3D model, making it appear as if it exists in a specific place and time.
Rendering is kind of like taking a photograph of a 3D model. During rendering, your computer takes a snapshot of your 3D model from a specific angle with all the lighting, textures, and effects applied.
Just as a photographer adjusts the camera settings, lighting, and composition to get the perfect shot, the rendering process fine-tunes various aspects of the 3D model to create a lifelike or artistically stylized image.
The final render is like a photograph of your model, showcasing all the hard work and attention to detail you put into the 3D design. It's the final, polished representation of your 3D project, ready to be shared or used for various purposes.
3D graphic design has become a transformative force in several industries, helping creative professionals to craft immersive experiences and visuals. Let's explore some of the industries where 3D graphic design is instrumental:
3D graphic design is extensively used in movies for creating realistic environments, creatures, and visual effects. Examples include the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and Avatar.
3D graphic design is a crucial part of video game development, as it allows for the creation of immersive game worlds and characters. Examples include Fortnite, Call of Duty, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
3D graphic design is used in architecture to create 3D models of buildings and landscapes, which can be used for design and visualization. Examples include the design of skyscrapers, stadiums, and urban planning projects.
3D graphic design is used in product design to create 3D models of products, which can be used for prototyping, testing, and marketing. Examples include consumer products, such as cars, electronics, and furniture.
3D graphic design is used in advertising to create eye-catching and realistic visual content, such as product demonstrations and animated commercials. Examples include the use of 3D graphics in commercials for cars, food, and consumer goods.
3D design and modeling in healthcare allows for customized solutions, like personalized prosthetics and medical implants, simplifying processes such as dental implant design into a single, efficient workflow. It improves patient care by making complex procedures faster and more precise.
3D Graphic Design Software
3D graphic design software is often tailored to specific industries or tasks. For example, some software like AutoCAD is excellent for architectural and engineering design, while Blender is popular for 3D modeling and animation. Choosing the right tool ensures you have the features and capabilities necessary for your project.
Certain industries have established software as the industry standard. For example, Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya are widely used in the entertainment industry for 3D modeling and animation. Using industry-standard software can enhance collaboration and compatibility with other professionals.
If you’re not sure which software is right for you, keep reading. We’ll explain which 3D graphic design software is best for which applications.
Autodesk 3ds Max
Autodesk 3ds Max, once known as 3D Studio and 3D Studio Max, is a powerful software for creating 3D animations, models, game assets, and images. It's designed by Autodesk Media and Entertainment and works exclusively on Microsoft Windows.
This tool is popular among video game developers, TV commercial studios, and architectural visualization firms. It's also used for special effects in movies and preliminary movie design. 3ds Max offers various features like special visual effects, realistic lighting, dynamic simulations, customizable user interface, and scripting capabilities.
Best for: professionals in 3D animation, game development, architecture, and visual effects, who need a versatile tool for creating 3D content.
Maya is a powerful 3D software that's commonly used to create 3D content for movies, TV shows, video games, and advertisements. It is especially powerful when it comes to rigging characters.
Maya is well-known in the movie industry and has been used in famous films like Dinosaur, The Lord of the Rings, and Spider-Man. It even won an Academy Award for its technical contributions. Today, you can take 3D models created in Maya and use them in game engines like Unreal Engine and Unity.
Best for: Artists that need to animate characters for video games, animated films, and television shows.
Blender is a free and open-source 3D creation suite that can be used for modelling, animation, rendering, and video editing. It has a user-friendly interface and offers features such as sculpting, simulation, and a powerful node-based material editor.
Best for: Artists seeking an all-in-one solution for modeling, animation, and rendering with a user-friendly interface and powerful sculpting capabilities.
Cinema 4D is a 3D modeling, animation, and rendering software used in film, television, and advertising. It offers a user-friendly interface and features such as parametric modeling, procedural animation, and advanced rendering capabilities.
Cinema 4D is developed by Maxon, the software company that makes Forger, Red Giant, Redshift, Universe, and ZBrush. Together, these products are a powerful suite of tools for VFX for TV and movie animation.
Best for: Creatives in film, television, and advertising, with a user-friendly interface and powerful features like parametric modeling and procedural animation.
SketchUp is a 3D modelling software used in architecture, interior design, and construction. It offers an intuitive interface and features such as 2D drawing tools, parametric modelling, and support for plugins.
Best for: Architects and designers who prefer an intuitive tool with 2D drawing capabilities, parametric modeling, and plugin support.
ZBrush is a digital sculpting software used in film, video game development, and product design. It offers powerful sculpting tools and features such as dynamic tessellation, 3D painting, and support for high-resolution models.
ZBrush is also developed by Maxon, the software company that makes Cinema 4D. This makes it easy to bundle ZBrush with other software in the Maxon ecosystem of products.
Best for: Digital sculptors in film and game development, offering powerful sculpting tools and high-resolution model support.
Houdini is a sophisticated 3D animation software developed by SideFX, and it's widely used in the film and television industry for creating complex and realistic visual effects. It stands out because it doesn't just let you create 3D scenes manually; it's really good at generating complex things automatically.
Best for: More advanced designers that want to to push the boundaries of 3D with highly detailed animations, simulations, and visual effects with a procedural approach.
3D Graphic Design Courses
Each 3D modeling software has its unique features, tools, and workflows, so we recommend taking a software-specific course. This way, you’ll gain in-depth knowledge of that particular tool, allowing you to work efficiently and make the most of its capabilities.
If you’re looking for an in-depth, well-curated 3D graphic design course, below are some of the ones we recommend from Udemy. Please note, we are not sponsored or affiliated with Udemy in any way.
These paid courses are well-structed and provide an organized learning path. All of the courses below come with a certificate of completion, which can be a major asset for your resume.
We should also note that there are many free resources and videos on YouTube for people that are willing to take a less-structured approach to learning. Although, if you go this route, you will need to create your own learning path, decide where to start, and what to prioritize.
Description: This course provides a comprehensive introduction to 3ds Max, covering the basics of 3D modeling and animation. It's suitable for beginners looking to get started with 3ds Max.
Time to Complete: 15.5 hours
Course Review: “This is one of, if not THE best course to learn 3ds Max for modelling. Even for experienced students - such as myself - it is well worth the cost. Since the Tutor goes in-depth into every part of 3ds Max that you need to know and every method.” –Paul S.
Description: This course is designed for artists and beginners who want to learn 3D modeling, animation, and rendering using Blender. It covers the essential skills to get started.
Time to Complete: 13 hours
Course Review: “Great and fun course! Grant is a great instructor; most lessons were clear and beginner-friendly. I like that "Pause the video now and have a go with that" is built-in in the course, although I had to pause for much more times to catch everything (but hey, that's the good part of learning online). It covers most of the basics any beginner needs to know, but I definitely need more practice to get to the expert level. –Tamar R.
Description: This course offers a comprehensive introduction to Maya and 3D animation. Learn everything you need for 3D animation in Autodesk Maya: Modeling, Texturing, Lighting, Rigging, Animation, Dynamics.
Time to Complete: 26.5 hours
Course Review: “As everyone knows, Maya interface looks like an interface straight out of an encyclopedia, it looks really intimidating. This intro actually gives you a confidence boost as he went over on how it just "looks" like one, and it's not as intimidating as it seems. He explained why it's so, in a clear and concise manner. Spectacular start for this course in in my opinion! Excited to learn more! – Christian M.
Description: This training course has been prepared to take you from knowing nothing, or just a little about Cinema 4D and teach you all the fundamental skills so you can start working on your own. It explains how to create a 3D project from scratch, and go through the entire process of a 3D workflow, including modelling, lighting, texturing, animating and rendering.
Time to Complete: 7 hours 45 minutes
Course Review: “This class is fantastic! Ozgur's lessons are not only informative but easy to follow, from basic objects all the way to particles and motion tracking. I went into this course not knowing anything and after a few hours, I was blown away with what I was able to learn. I can't recommend this course enough for anyone who has an interest in 3D modeling and animation in Cinema 4D.” –Graham P.
Description: An easy to follow SketchUp course that teaches good 3d modeling habits to master. You will learn to design and enhance 3D interior models in SketchUp, incorporating furniture, materials, and textures. Additionally, you'll discover how to generate renderings and animations and export to LayOut for comprehensive presentation documents, complete with dimensions and notes.
Time to Complete: 7.5 hours
Course Review: “I have taken several SketchUp coarses and quit them because they were confusing. This course's instructor is articulate and presents the content in a manner that makes it very understandable.” –Penny T.
Description: Learn the basics of ZBrush with instructor and studio owner, Milivoj Popovic. This course comes with access to a student Facebook group for questions and guidance with over 5,000 members.
Time to Complete: 32.5 hours
Course Review: “I am absolutely amazed with what I was able to create by using this course. I couldn't belive that it was me who made such amazing things. And I really crave that feeling. So many good things about this course to say but if you are absolute beginner then you wont go wrong going with this course.” –Kalpesh P.
Description: This is a hand so you will learn Houdini by creating effects!. If you're new to Houdini and want to learn its capabilities in visual effects, this course is a great starting point. It's tailored for beginners.
Time to Complete: 18 hours
Course Review: “Great course perfect for someone who is completely new to Houdini. Starts out with absolute barebone basics such as controls and interface and navigation then moves into more complex things. This course builds off each step quite well and teaches you some great fundamentals that get put into practice within the course to make some fun and cool effects! Learning a lot from this course! I came here after picking up a different course by another instructor but found this one to be much more accessible.” –Zach S.
Certificate of Completion: Yes
3D Graphic Design Companies
Outlier Creative is 3D graphic design company based in Europe. We’ve worked with some of the world’s leading companies to create engaging 3D experiences. From ad campaigns to immersive product experiences, we have the expertise to make brands stand out from the norm.
If you’re in need of 3D graphic design services, feel free to contact us. We’ll take the time to understand your project, give you a no-frills estimate, and outline exactly what you can expect.