Future of 3D modeling looks organic – why care about polygons?

Future of 3D modeling looks organic, image
3D Modeling programs and devices advance in leaps and bounds. New tools make sculpting accessible and ever more organic. Can artist skip learning the ‘oldschool’ skills and just embrace the new?

3D Tools of the Future are here

Coming up is Motion-based creation with a new device, Leap Motion, think Kinect on stereoids. The developers say it was originally developed with 3D modeling in mind. See some collected videos on the tube:

Playstation 4 developers are showcasing motion-based solution offering freedom for modeling, amongst other applications. See here from 1:50.

Another new device takes the user in to 3D, Virtual Reality that is. Oculus Rift is a revolution in VR-headset-space and built with games in mind. While not meant for 3D modeling I can’t help thinking how it would be to work in a blank, Tron-esque virtual space that you could populate with whatever references or other stuff you need. Combine that with a motion sensor like Leap Motion and wow.

3D scanners are also coming to home users, in time. Surely there would be no approach more organic than the original, clay? Gnomon School blog speculates on those possibilities.
And you don’t have to wait for the dedicated scanners. You can scan objects with Kinect controller.

All in all technology barrier is getting lower and lower. Which is great.

So if sculpting gets so easy and fun..

Why care about polygons or polygon modeling anymore?

If you do sculpture then you don’t need to.
But otherwise the issues areas are:

  1. Scanned/Sculpted Model is not readily usable for anything else than a sculpture.
  2. Many types of 3D models are best realized with polygon modeling tools.


1. Sculpture or scanned model is good for a sculpture only – unless you apply modeling skills

sculpt detail
A scanned or sculpted 3D model, by default, does not have construction that makes sense for anything other that what it is – a sculpture. For animation, game or any other practical use the sculpture is too dense and has no useful topology aka directed polygon surface flow. (One COULD pose a sculpted figure in a sculpting program, and sculpt to fix the issues in the new pose, or do all same steps in real clay and scan each pose in to 3D, and then render those poses for stop motion-like animation, but that would be painstaking.)

Too dense model consist of too many polygons and is simply too heavy for game or animation use. Fortunately there are tools to slim it down like Zbrush’s Decimation Master. However it does not fix the topology.

No uv-map means the model is not mapped for texturing. Software like Zbrush allow texturing without an uv-map but it works only in the said software. Zbrush also has great auto-uv-mapping but it is not the same as a map planned and made by a person. Games in particular can demand very creative tricks in this area. And the hook here it is that a person can’t reasonably uv-map something that doesn’t have a decent topology.

It comes down to (good) topology – without it a model..

  1. deforms badly in animation or posing
  2. shades oddly
  3. displaces less well
  4. can’t be sensibly uv-mapped
  5. and is pretty much in every way more difficult to read and work with

For more on some of the above points, please see Why Surface Flow Matters, Modeling For Animation and Testing Models for Animation.

To make good topology one has to understand polygon modeling. And if it is characters than required is some knowledge of anatomy. It is also beneficial to understand how models are rigged and what happens when they animate.

What about automatic topology?
Ideal would be fully automatic and perfect topology creation tool so that artist could focus only on the fun parts, shaping and painting.

There are tools that help a lot. 3D Coat and Zbrush for example offer auto-topology-tools. This 3D Coat video shows the idea well:
However the video sticks to larger elements for a reason. In areas of detail like the face the tools need a lot more guidelines to produce something usable. Again the user needs to understand polygon modeling. Also the ‘automatic’ tools are by definition not as precise as modeling tools (after all the idea is Not to work with polygons). Hence polygon or two out of place may become a pain to remove. Well, until the retopology-tools advance to a level resembling artificial intelligence.

2. Many 3D model purposes and styles are best realized with polygon modeling

Second major defence for polygon modeling is that many platforms require low-polygon models which are impossible or too much work to do with the organic future tools. Sculpting can’t compete in low-poly with polygon modeling simply because that is what polygon modeling tools were made for (in the beginning all modeling was low-poly).

Low-poly modeling is also a skill and style(s) of its own and is used in great variety of platforms and media, including many types of games, multimedia, web and visualization to name a few.

Future of 3D is bright

CGmascot head sculpted
While I want to remind people that new tools don’t change modeling altogether, I am still excited by them. The progress is wonderful and very welcome! The work becomes ever more fun. I for one can’t wait to play and create with some of these tools.

BTW I didn’t mention alternatives to polygons in this article, like voxels, as I don’t think they are yet solid enough to compete with polygons in everyday use.

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