Get Started

If you're unfamiliar with 3D software then this should give you a nice introduction. But don't let that put you off - you don't need to learn it all! In fact you just the basics that you need to know to get started are quite simple.

So What's This 3D Art/Modelling Stuff All About Then?

The first thing to do, if you haven't already, is to read my homepage and look at the showcase galleries mentioned there.

'Rosa' by Jésus OrellanoThen take a look at the short animated movie 'Rosa' by Jésus Orellano on vimeo [violence warning - may not be suitable for the squeamish] and read this interview with him. Notice the bit where he says "For the CG, I used a combination of Blender and Daz Studio." Remember 'Blender' and 'DAZ Studio' as you read on about 3D software - Blender and DAZ Studio are absolutely free!

But also note that he says "The rest was a lot of tutorials, time, and hard work. I worked on the short full-time, all day, all year. The first six months were mainly a trial and error process." So don't expect to produce anything like this - it simply shows what is possible with 3D software that's readily available to a hobbyist.

Still interested? Then read on. What follows is simply intended to start you on your journey by pointing you in the right direction.

What Will I Be Able To Do?

The pictures below are ones I created for this website. They're simply intended to show what can be done with just a very basic knowledge of the software. Each picture took a relatively short time to create. For each picture I started with the default setup for the software, added a few items, moved them around, adjusted them, changed their appearance, set up a camera, adjusted the lights, and rendered.

ds4-t.jpg p9-t.jpg

Still interested? Then read on - the next section should help you start your journey.

How Do I Get Started With This 3D Stuff?

There are three things that you'll need to get started.

1) A Computer

A computerYou're very unlikely to be able to use any of the necessary software on your computer at work, or in a public library/internet cafe. So you'll really need a computer at home. Windows, MAC, or Linux shouldn't matter as there's something for all three operating systems. And although the latest, flashiest 3D software really does need a modern, powerful computer, don't forget that 3D software for home computers has been around since at least the mid 1990s. The aim of this 'getting started' part of my site is to help you to find some 3D software suitable for your computer and to give you some pointers to help you make your first teetering steps into the unreal 3D world.

While you're just trying things out any old keyboard, mouse and monitor should do. Although if you use a laptop I'd recommend using a proper mouse, not the built-in mousepad. The mouse and mouse-buttons are used extensively in most 3D software, and a mousepad is just not designed for this sort of use. You can easily get a good, basic wired mouse with left/right buttons and a scroll wheel/centre button for under £10 (personally I'm using a Logitech MK200 (Thai site) USB-cabled keyboard/mouse set that cost me around £10)

2) Some Software

Software diagramAssuming that you have access to a computer then you'll need some software. I've listed a few programs for you to try out on the software page. Most of the free ones you can download straight away. Once downloaded you'll need to install, and in some cases register, the software you decide to try. If you're uncomfortable doing this then get a computer-savvy friend to do it for you. If you try the software and decide it's not for you you can just uninstall it. Please note that some of the downloads can be rather large which may be an issue if you have a slow or pay-per-megabyte internet connection. I'll try to include rough ideas of the size

I'd recommend trying out a couple of the free programs to see if this 3D stuff is something you're going to like. Don't try just one, because they're all very different.

3) Plenty Of Time And Patience

A wristwatchSo you now have a computer in your house with some 3D software installed. Time to try out the software. If you're of the 'younger' generation you'll probably just start clicking and fiddling around to see what it does. If you're of the 'older' generation you're more likely to be looking for the manuals. Either approach works, but using a bit of both works even better!

The first thing you're going have to tackle is the user interface (UI) of your 3D software. How do you put something into your imaginary 3D world? How do you move it around? How do you change its shape? How do you change its colour? How do you look at your imaginary 3D world from different viewpoints? How do you set up the camera? How do you render (i.e. take your virtual photograph and produce the final two-dimensional image)?

You'll find the answers to all these questions in the documentation that came with the software; or on the website you downloaded the software from; or by searching for tutorials online (e.g. type 'vue tutorial', 'daz studio tutorial', etc into your favourite search engine); or by trial-and-error just playing with the software.

When you look at a UI for the first time don't let it scare you, even if you have no documentation or tutorials. Focus on a single, simple task that you want to achieve, such as adding an item to the scene. Then look for anything on the UI that might allow you to achieve what you want. Try it. A bit of trial and error is good - you'll learn something by it.

I've tried to include some superficial, generic guides within the individual software sections to help you take your first steps with the software. The key, I think, is just that... it's the way you think! Understanding, for example, that ANY software for creating landscapes usually has simple ways to create (a) terrains, (b) bodies of water, (c) skies, clouds and fog, and (d) sunlight will let you get to grips with most landscape generating software quite quickly. So that's the approach I've taken with my guides. When you use most 3D software all you do is add, move, adjust, and delete things and then render. If you can work out how to do that (and also how to save your work and reload it!) then you have the basics. Unfortunately there's no universal rule saying that a particular mouse action or keypress has a particular effect: it varies with the software, and it's just something you have to learn. But here are a few general pointers for how the mouse is sometimes used:

A good first step with any 3D software is to think of a simple scene and then try to use the software to create a picture of it. If you can manage this within a few hours of installing your software, then you're more likely to want to explore further. If you've started looking for documentation then it's likely that you've already found some beginners tutorials or quick-start guides. The rest is up to you.

If you want more detail for a specific program then there's plenty of documentation and tutorials online. And of course there are the 3D online communities (see below), many of whom are very understanding of, and helpful to beginners. Some of them even have specific beginners forums!

What Next?

Let's assume you've successfully downloaded and installed some free 3D software. You've found that it runs okay on your computer, possibly rather sluggishly if you've got an older computer, but not so slowly that you've been put off. You've had a look at the documentation and had a bit of a play around with the software. With luck you've managed to follow a quick start guide to set up an imaginary 3D scene inside the software/computer, and ended up with a more-or-less photo-realistic 2D image. Maybe it's been a long, hard struggle to get this far, or maybe you sailed through it in a short time.

So here's the big question - are you beginning to enjoy this? No? Maybe you need to try some different software - for many people some software just doesn't, well, 'click'. Don't give up yet, try a few different programs. If you've already tried three or four but you're not still getting a happy feeling, then this 3D thing probably isn't for you. Well, at least you gave it a try!

But let's assume that you're actually having fun, and want to go further. There's so much good, free 3D software available that you could spend the rest of your life just learning how to use it all! Luckily most people end up using just one preferred piece of 3D software most of the time... or maybe two or three. It's different for different people - some people love Poser, others love DAZ Studio, others think Blender's the best, other's think that Vue's the bee's knees, etc. It's entirely personal. But once you have your 3D software of choice don't just scratch the surface, dig deeper. There's plenty of documentation, tutorials and videos online to help you get the most out of whatever software you use. And if you run into problems there's always the 3D online communities...

3D Online Communities

Need help? Want to find out what people think of the pictures you're making? There are many sites with large, friendly, helpful user communities. You need to sign up (free) with the websites in order to post messages and upload pictures, but with most sites (Renderosity appears to be the exception) you can look at the galleries and read the forums without signing up.

Additional 3D Content

If you've decided to take the 'toy-box' software route you'll probably find you want new toys - '3D content' as it's known! Many sites sell 3D content, but you can also find a lot of 3D content for free. I've listed a few places where you find free (and legal) 3D content. You can also make your own 3D content using modelling software.

Spending Real Money

Sometimes it's worth paying for things, even if you're a 3D cheapskate like me! There may come a point where you'll be asking yourself "shall I spend some money?". Only you can decide whether and when to ask this question. But if you're going to spend money on 3D software, you may want to consider upgrading your computer. Check the minimum/recommended system specifications of the software you're considering. Also consider the monitor, keyboard and mouse.

As far as buying software (or content) is concerned, it's amazing how often a lot of it goes on sale. 70-90% discounts occasionally appear, for very short periods. So if you're not in a rush get yourself on some mailing lists and check your email regularly. It's also worth checking out the member's clubs at various 3D sites - some of them can save you more than the membership price (providing you were going to buy the stuff anyway of course!). Many of the best offers are only available for very short periods. I bought Poser 6 and Poser 9 when they were heavily discounted, I bought Poser 8 from an online company at a greatly reduced price, and I bought many items at members-only discounts from various 3D sites.


Unreal Imperfect, the 3D art/modelling website of Pete Williams (a.k.a. 3D Cheapskate), Copyright © 2013-2014 Pete Williams