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Good 3D modeling programs?

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SBibb

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While I normally use photomanipulation to create book covers, there's a few things (spaceships, airships, etc) that I've wondered if using a 3D modeling program would be useful in creating a base to work from.

Do you have any recommendations? Anything that might be a good starting point, and either free or inexpensive? (Though I suspect that a good program will probably cost something).

Do you usually create everything from scratch, or are there starting models you use to create more complex models, but still use in commercial illustrations?

Thanks for any suggestions.
 

alleycat

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For what you need, you might try Blender and/or Inkscape.

I believe Autocad may have a free simplified 3D download. I used to use Autocad Revit and Bentley Microstation, but those are professional and expensive programs for engineering projects.
 

SBibb

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Ah, thank you. I think I'll give Blender a try, and I'll keep those others in mind, if that doesn't work. Thanks! :)
 

alleycat

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There are tutorials for both Blender and Inkscape on YouTube.
 

chompers

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I use AutoCAD. Their 3D capability is very difficult to use. It's like layered, so you have to really understand what you're drawing. But if you do, it's very precise and gives you good results.
 

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Consider having a peek at Daz 3D or SketchUp.

Quickie examples made in SketchUp, maybe not clever enough for what you're wanting, but things like this aren't hard to throw together:




I keep meaning to get into Daz 3D but haven't had the time yet, the software is free and you can make your own models, but there's a huge library of models to choose from, most of which cost money but may save you a long learning curve.

-Derek
 
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robjvargas

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Feel like being a programmer? One method of 3D image generation is called Ray Tracing.

It's amazing when you get it right. But it takes A LOT of work. One application that creates 3D images with ray tracing is POV-Ray, calling itself a "Persistence of Vision Ray Tracing" application.

Basically, you use a text file to describe shapes, textures, and lightsources, and the location of the point of view. The program reads that text file to place everything in a kind of virtual environment, then it proceeds to "trace" lines from the light sources to the POV point.

This is not a rapid process. The text files are super-powerful, in that you can combine shapes into hugely intricate patterns.

Here's an example created entirely in POVRay. You can use models created in other applications, too. But, like I said:
[It] took 4.5 days to render on an Athlon 5600+.

This example image should give you a feel for how "science-fictiony" it can be.

I spent a whole summer working on a basic flying saucer. Not even any surface detail. Just shiny steel. I got it to work. But that's when I realized that I was never going to be a digital artist.
 

Amadan

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I use Poser, which has gotten much better with the last few versions.

It still takes a lot of work and patience to do it well, and some good Photoshop post-work to avoid the Uncanny Valley look.
 

SBibb

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Feel like being a programmer? One method of 3D image generation is called Ray Tracing....

Eeeps. O_O Looks like it has some really nice outcomes, but might be a little complex for me right now. Might have to look into it later, though. :)

I remember hearing about Poser, though I'd forgotten about that. I'll have to take a look at it. :)

Thanks, everyone! :)
 

benbradley

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Feel like being a programmer? One method of 3D image generation is called Ray Tracing.
I recall that ray tracing is part of both the 3D rendering tools in Autocad (EXPENSIVE) and Blender (free), but both of these applications have learning curves almost as steep as the POV-Ray you described, even though they're graphical instead of using text input. These programs tend to have similar problems to Photoshop and Gimp for first-time learners - there are so many menus and options that it's hard to even figure out where the "basic commands" are and what they do.

I've heard Autocad is not often used for 3D because of how exceptionally hard it is to learn and use, as opposed to using Autocad in 2D, which has only a "moderate" learning curve. I did some Autocad and LISP programming for it a couple decades ago, and have since regularly used an older version of Cadopia Intellicad (now rather expensive), an Autocad-compatible program, for 2D CAD drawing.

I've had little experience with 3D drawing programs - the one I've done the most with is Openscad (free/FOSS), which uses a text-input programming-like interface much like the description of POV-Ray. I tend not to recommend it unless you're interested in programming.

Sketchup (ISTR there's a free version - I used it a little when it was still owned by Google) is one of the better and easier-to-use recommendations for 3d drawing apps, though though I never quite got the hang of it myself.

You may be better off sticking to traditional "2d" drawing tools such as Photoshop (expensive) or Gimp (free) for bitmap pics and Illustrator (expensive) or Inkscape (free) for vector drawings, and just draw your 3d object in them using the same old perspective and whatnot tools drawers and painters have used for centuries.

Perhaps the biggest "problem" with making your own covers and wanting to be at least semi-professional looking is you're taking your time learning to be a graphic artist rather than being a writer.
 

Amadan

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Yeah, like I said, you need to have some Photoshop skillz to make Poser art look professional. Just using Poser's rendering engine by itself (which is what was obviously done for those book covers) gets you that plastic doll look.

Poser can do ray-tracing, although I'm sure it's not as good as Autocad's.
 

SBibb

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Yeah, I suspect a lot of the 3D images I don't tend to like are more of the unedited Poser-style images. But it might work as a base.

Perhaps the biggest "problem" with making your own covers and wanting to be at least semi-professional looking is you're taking your time learning to be a graphic artist rather than being a writer.

My focus in college was actually photography, with a minor in creative writing. I tailored that toward photomanipulation and cover design, so I'm working on improving my cover design techniques for professional use. I already do cover work for a couple small presses, but I'm trying to add more tools to the toolbox so I can move up to larger publishers. I'm thinking that having 3D modeling schools to wrap textures around would help improve what I can do with covers. It just so happens that I'd like to use it for my own writings, too. :)
 

JohnnyGottaKeyboard

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RE: 3-D modeling generally and its use in lousy covers like those Allesandra pointed out: There are simply some things that look better when rendered from 3-D models. I think photorealistic people are just too much for anyone but high end modelers and renders. Spaceships on the other hand, can look fabulous...As do reptiles.

Also, while those covers do look lousy, Poser--even poser alone with no postwork--can work fine for cartoony fun images and comicbook style art. One of my fav erotic artists uses poser to fun effect: Lucky Stallion over at Barbaric Brawn. He tends to use too much ambient lighting for my tastes. But you can also check out The Manly Art of JagoBC--I know the images there are all poser with the only postwork being the occasional dialogue balloon. The animations have no postwork at all.

(I didn't link those because they are quite X-rated--Barbaric Brawn more than the front page of JagoBC--but anyone interested can do an easy google search.)

ETA: I doublechecked, and I think Lucky Stallion may use Daz Studio, but the programs are very similar.

ETA2: I made my avatar in Poser 5 and I believe they are up to version 10 now.
 
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Laer Carroll

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Re: LOUSY COVERS: 3D modelers like any tool take creativity & skill & work to turn out good results. Those are always in short supply. But the 3D modelers I’ve used (as a Boeing engineer who creates, recommends commercial products, and teaches the use of 3D tools) can render an image so well even an expert like myself might have a hard time telling if it’s painted or a photo.

I use DAZ3D. Here’s an example book cover.

front-cover-2-low-res-266x400.jpg

The software is free, but they make their money off their models created by independent artists.

For instance, you buy a human figure, Genesis, and give it specific looks by buying another model. You buy the figure once for perhaps $40, then maybe for $15 buy an elf, or a Japanese warrior, or a Chinese fashion model. Along with the specific look comes parameters which you can use to change his/her sex or age or both, make them more or less muscular, make her tits bigger or smaller, more or less pendulous, the nipples more or less prominent, etc.

Then for $10 you might buy a safari outfit, or a red-carpet evening gown, or SCUBA outfit etc. Then for $15 a Maserati sports car or space ship for them to ride in. You can also buy for $20 an environment: forest glade, mansion, aircraft hangar, etc. I no longer do that & content myself with a ballet studio with a floor and a barre on one side as a reference guide.

Once you have the person looking the way you want, clothe them, and place them somewhere you then pose them. You can do this by moving each limb down to finger joints individually, but this gets expensive in time and patience. So you can buy a set of body poses for maybe $15 such as special ops, sword fighter, fashion shoot, disco dance. Often the poses can be further parameterized, so you can get a very specific look.

You can then light the scene with free lights, including ambient, spots, pinpoints, etc. That done you’re ready to render it. A simple scene might take 15 seconds, a complex one two minutes or so. That done, you write it to a JPG file.

So the costs can add up, but if you’re frugal or your needs small the total cost over several months may be small also.

I then import that to Photoshop Elements, an inexpensive consumer version with most of the important parts of full Ps. I then add a background from my photos or public domain pics. Add text atop the result, save the final to JPG, and I’m done.
 

Laer Carroll

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Once you have a posed, clothed, and lit your model in DAZ3D you can export the model as an .OBJ file along with its matching .MTL file. You can ZIP them into one file & upload it to an online viewing program where others can look at it from all angles.

I did this with three images. One is a spaceplane and one is Katy Perry as superhero Snow White (bikini-like costume and all!) flying through the Chinese theater here in L. A.

https://sketchfab.com/models/6fb10c2413f6448c9760488a4513d0de

https://sketchfab.com/models/fbeddde8a9404e9cb259d687069a466d
 

Polenth

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This may not be the best way, but it answers what I personally use when playing with 3D stuff. I've made models in Blender and Wings 3D (sometimes passing the model back and forth, as they have different strengths). If I'm rendering a picture with them, I use Bryce. I like the way Bryce handles sky, water and shiny things. No idea on price, as mine is an old version I got cheap on some offer or other. I think they give it away free sometimes.
 

SBibb

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Thanks for the information. That does shed a bit more light on the different programs. I was wondering how Daz worked.

Thanks again for the info. Now I just need to find time to experiment with it!
 

robjvargas

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I got a hold of something called 3D Studio Max a ways back. I liked it, but all I ever did was fiddle with spheres and pyramid shapes. Maybe a cone or two.

It's as expensive as anything else Autodesk sells, but it does have a student version that you can use to try it out. Requires online registration, which eventually expires. But you download the latest version and start over.

Of course, it prohibits use for commercial purposes, but you *can* use the results as a portfolio (I think).
 

Alessandra Kelley

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Re: LOUSY COVERS: 3D modelers like any tool take creativity & skill & work to turn out good results. Those are always in short supply. But the 3D modelers I’ve used (as a Boeing engineer who creates, recommends commercial products, and teaches the use of 3D tools) can render an image so well even an expert like myself might have a hard time telling if it’s painted or a photo. ...

I did this with three images. One is a spaceplane and one is Katy Perry as superhero Snow White (bikini-like costume and all!) flying through the Chinese theater here in L. A.

https://sketchfab.com/models/6fb10c2413f6448c9760488a4513d0de

https://sketchfab.com/models/fbeddde8a9404e9cb259d687069a466d

I'm sorry, Laer, none of those look like photos to me.

A little training in anatomy and life drawing make the deficiencies of 3D human models painfully obvious.

Most attempts to render human forms in 3D are awkward and offputting, and I really can't recommend people spend money on them. The level of skill needed to produce something really convincing is extremely high; indeed, I have yet to see a book cover that does it really well.

3D modeling is exceptionally useful for engineering design, machines and architecture. But at the level most of us can afford, it is not so good at the human form.
 

jennontheisland

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SolidWorks is what I used at school. There are a ton of tutorial videos online. Not sure of the cost though.

At work, all 3D is done in the free version of Sketch Up.
 

Polenth

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I think 3D usually looks best when people aren't trying to re-create photos. It tends to look very clean and precise, which works for things that aren't natural. I wouldn't use it to replace a human, but if I wanted a shiny cyborg figure, that's just the right sort of feel.

It's a bit like how you don't always hide the brush marks in painted art. Sometimes rolling with how something looks is better than trying to make it something else and failing.
 

SBibb

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Interesting points. Yeah, I'd love to be able to create 3D human models (or humanoids, really), but I'm guessing they'd wind up looking.... not right. But for spaceships and such, it might be worth a shot.
 

Laer Carroll

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…none of those look like photos to me.

I must have expressed myself poorly. Those images I displayed were never intended to look photorealistic.
A little training in anatomy and life drawing make the deficiencies of 3D human models painfully obvious.

That’s too broad a statement. Have you studied ALL the 3D modeling systems?
Most attempts to render human forms in 3D are awkward and offputting, and I really can't recommend people spend money on them. The level of skill needed to produce something really convincing is extremely high; indeed, I have yet to see a book cover that does it really well.

Again, you’re making broad sweeping statements only supported by your personal opinion.
3D modeling is exceptionally useful for engineering design, machines and architecture. But at the level most of us can afford, it is not so good at the human form.

I consider DAZ3D fairly inexpensive but their human modeling backbone is moderately good. The subject is one in which much research has been done with good results. For instance, on how far can a joint can bend and in which directions before pain and injury. Those empirical studies have been incorporated in most new 3D modelers.
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In the end (if you follow the journals on commercial art) you’ll find that most pro artists use a mix of tools for different purposes, including digital tools and mechanical ones such as pencil, charcoal, acrylics & oil-based paints.

A typical scenario is that a paying customer at a lunch will tell an artist a vague description of what they want. S/he will grab a pencil & the nearest sheet of paper (napkins are terrible but the back of a printed menu isn’t too bad if not laminated). Thirty minutes later the restaurant owner will tactfully suggest they have run out of extra menus. By that time the customers has picked three out of thirty ideas and the two part. (The artist often assuming the customer will pick up the bill.)

Back in her studio she’ll grab some crayons or acrylics or an iPad and play with color schemes, mostly blobs and sweeps of colors. If an animal is involved, including humans, she might then quickly render a few scenes with a 3D modeler where the subjects do something, maybe from different viewpoints. Later she might output the figures into Photoshop & add various backgrounds. In the end she’ll print out about three possibilities, go to the customer.

And then the cycle begins again, customer and artist coming closer to an end image. The cycle might have several turns of the wheel before that happy end.

If you think creating quality art too expensive in your time & money, you'd best leave it to some pro, perhaps some talented art student eager to pick up a few bucks. Because creativity in any form is never cheap.
 
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