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Students: How to Get Started With 3D Modelling

How Can Students Build Their 3D Modelling Skills?

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The world of digital design is not an easy one to get into.

As an architect or engineer, you will need to understand 3D modelling software to get ahead. The ideas you have won’t go far without the right tools.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having a great idea that you can’t turn into a model. That’s how you lose potential clients.

We’ve all been there. Your early days in architecture are a proving ground. If you don’t have 3D modelling skills you will struggle.

Your 3D models engage your clients. They help them understand what they will get for the money they pay.

It stands to reason that bad models will see you lose business.

That’s why you need to learn as much as you can about 3D modelling software and you need to learn it fast.

Think of it like this. Who would you prefer to buy services from? Somebody who can only tell you what they have in mind or somebody who can show you.

I bet you chose the latter. That’s how most of your clients will feel as well.

So, you need to understand 3D modelling. But where do you start? I hope to help you with these five steps.


Step #1 – Know the Traits You Need



So what do you need to be a good 3D modeller? Before you worry about the software and learning to use it, what traits should you have?

The most obvious one is spatial awareness. I can’t imagine anybody having much success with 3D modelling if they can’t visualise 3D objects.

Try thinking of a 3D object now. Spin it around in your mind. Think about every curve or corner and how it applies to the rest of the object in the 3D space. If you managed that, you’re making a good start.

What else? Well, you need to know your computers. Basic computer literacy is a good start.

That’s only the base, though. I found that a lot of 3D modelling software can get quite complex as you dig deeper in. If you don’t have an aptitude for computers you need to develop one. If you aren’t willing to learn more, you won’t do well with digital design software.

That brings me to my last point. You have to want to learn. Your first steps into modelling will contain a fair amount of mistakes. If you get discouraged by these you won’t develop your skills.

A desire to learn is the key personality trait you’ll need to get better at 3D modelling.


Step #2 – Pick a Software

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The second step is the first practical one. It’s also one of the biggest. You need to pick a digital design software that suits your needs.

There are loads available. From SketchUp to 3DS Max to AutoCAD software, each offers something a little different. That’s before we even get into rendering software.

So let’s start with the simplest software around. SketchUp is the modelling software of choice for students and those new to 3D modelling alike. The reasons are simple. SketchUp helps you create simple geometric shapes quickly. It comes with a 3D Warehouse loaded with pre-built models. It’s also extremely user-friendly. If you’re just making a start, it gives you an easy way in.




3DS Max and AutoCAD software offer bigger barriers to entry. The same is true of Rhino 3D and most other digital design software.

Getting past those barriers is tough. It’s a bigger challenge but it comes with greater rewards.

I recommend starting with SketchUp. You may not go on to use it professionally. What it will do is help you understand the basic concepts of creating 3D models on a 2D monitor. You can move onto something more complex after that.

Complexity isn’t the only issue. You also need to know what each software offers. For example, 3DS Max offers plenty of tools but isn’t geared specifically towards architecture. The same goes for Maya.

Other digital designsoftware are. Lumion 7 is a great example. That software focuses specifically on architecture. It also integrates with some other software.




Ask yourself this. How flexible should the software be? If you will only work with architectural structures, go for a specialised software. If you want more flexibility, go for the likes of Maya or 3DS Max.

A final thought. Check your hardware before buying any software. If you don’t have the right machine, you’ll waste your money.

Your computer needs to meet the minimum specifications, at the very least. Ideally, it will be a touch more powerful.

Some software manufacturers certify machines for use with their software. For example, AutoDesk maintains a database of recommended hardware to help you pick the right bits of kit.


Step #3 – Pick a Rendering Software

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“What is rendering?” I hear you ask. Rendering makes your 3D models look pretty.

A lot of digital design software comes with an in-built rendering engine. Activate it and the software smooths all the rough edges and presents your model in its best form.

So, why do you need to pick one? It all comes down to your purpose.

If you just want to mess around with 3D modelling, an in-built rendering engine will suit your purposes. If you’re looking to present models professionally, you’ll need something that offers quality.

I recommend V-Ray. It just can be beaten on realism. That’s why it’s used to create so much CGI for movies and videogames.

V-Ray integrates into a bunch of digital designsoftware, including SketchUp and 3DS Max. It costs a pretty penny, but you’ll have the best renderer around.

You won’t need it when you’re just starting out, though. You can get away with using an in-built renderer or plug-in when you’re getting to grips with 3D modelling. However, you will need something meatier once you make the switch to creating professional models.


Step #4 – Start Learning the Basics



So you’ve got your digital design software. Now, it’s time to get your hands dirty.

Open up your software of choice.

Look’s terrifying, right?

That’s how I felt when I first started with 3D modelling. I went in with these grand ambitions of creating stunning models and was instantly scared of the toolbar. There are so many options, even with a user-friendly package.

Where on Earth do you start?

The answer is always to start with the basics. After I had my little wobble, I got to work answering some questions.

How do I build a shape?

How do I change its colour?

What textures can I use?

How do I save?

All pretty simple, right? Maybe so, but getting to grips with the basics builds your confidence. With a little help from the resources the software provides, you will start to find your way around the software.

You should start looking into building your skills once you feel comfortable with the basics. Look online for tutorials on how to build basic models. ArchiStar Academy’s website offers plenty of resources.

Think of it like following a recipe. Go through step-by-step and consider every action a tutorial tells you to take. Figure out why you’re doing everything you’re doing. With a bit of work, you’ll have your first model in front of you.

Feels good, doesn’t it?

That’s how I felt when I first built a basic door. I’d actually accomplished something in the software. Now I wanted to do more.

So, where do you go from there? First, keep practicing your skills. Find new tutorials. Go over the ones you’ve already done. Every minute you spend in your digital design software helps you get better at 3D modelling.

Secondly, look to the professionals.


Step #5 – Start Taking Proper Courses

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Most professional courses will have introductory sessions that help you get to grips with your digital design software.

Even so, I recommend you doing that yourself before you take a course. It just helps with your confidence. You can start a course knowing that you know a little. That foundation will help you learn a lot.

There are two things you should consider when picking a professional course.

The first is what you want to learn.

Architects will want to understand how to apply their theoretical knowledge in a digital design software. Videogame developers will likely want to learn other things. The key is finding a course that suits your intended learning outcomes.

Secondly, who will you buy the course from?

This will take a little research on your part. You can go to a traditional learning institution or find a course online. Each comes with its advantages.

What’s most important is that you know the course has a good reputation before you invest in it.


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I may be biased....but I like what ArchiStar Academy has to offer. They offer courses for loads of different 3D modelling software. You’ll learn the basics, the key concepts of 3D modelling, and the more advanced techniques.

They can even help you with buying software. Anybody struggling with Steps 2 or 3 should check them out.

Starting a course is only the first step. You need to commit. Turn up to every lesson and keep working on your skills in your spare time.


A Few Other Tips

So, there are my five steps for how to get started with 3D modelling. Follow them and you’ll be making models in no time at all.

Before I go, I’m going to offer a few smaller tips to help you along.

Don’t be afraid of the blank slate

  • You won’t always have something specific in mind when you want to build a 3D model. That’s okay. Working from a blank slate is perfectly fine. I won’t say that some of my best work has come from starting with a blank slate. That would be a lie. What I can say is that I learned more every time I sat down and just started working with no idea of where I wanted to go. I experimented with tools and tried new things because I wasn’t working to a structure.

Don’t stop working.

  • I’ve already mentioned that every minute you spend working has value. It’s true. Try to boot up your digital design software every day. If you don’t feel like creating, try exploring. Find a new tool and figure out what it does. Read a manual. Just mess around. Every little helps you become more familiar with the software.

Make mistakes

  • This is a big one. I’ve made tons of mistakes in my efforts to learn how to make models in 3D. It’s part and parcel of the process. You will mess up. You’ll create objects out of scale or one of your object’s faces will deform. Maybe you’ll put a texture on the wrong side of a face. It’s okay. I learned from those mistakes and so will you.

Engage the community

  • There’s always help available. Pretty much every digital design software has a community built around it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look at what other people are doing. Again, it all comes down to learning more. Engross yourself in the community and you’ll find the rewards make up for the time you spend.

Know yourself

  • You know how you learn better than anybody else. If you prefer to get stuck in, do that. If you’d rather learn the theory first, do that instead. There’s no set way to learn so don’t feel you have to conform to anything that isn’t working for you.


The Final Word

You don’t need to be great with computers from the off.

You don’t even need to have used 3D modelling software before.

All you need is a desire to learn as much as you can.

That’s how you learn about 3D modelling. Look at every small step you take as a victory. That first door or window shows you’re getting better. Soon enough, that’ll become second nature. Your first building. Your first outdoor scene. As your skills develop, so too will the complexity of your models.

The possibilities are endless.

If you want some help I recommend ArchiStar Academy. You can purchase the software at discounted prices and also get started on the lessons. Start with these steps and contact ArchiStar Academy to take things to the next level.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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