The Making of a 3D Picture

Ok, lately I have felt that I need to explain about the process of making a 3D picture.

Typically, 3D art is part of something bigger… the art is made in an animation programme (movie making software). The art you see in my portfolio is like a ‘still’. Not every artist builds their 3D picture with a view to animating, but I thought I would let you know of the software’s capabilities.

Firstly, 3D software is not easy to learn. Its like a big stage on your computer, props, figures, lighting and cameras can be added, just like a movie set. Everything can move around where ever you want it to. The characters can talk if you have the right software. I am not going into the animation side of things, just the still picture.

Many people can contribute to a 3D picture….

the modeller
the morpher
the texture artist
the lighting expert

and naturally …

the artist who brings the above to life…

so its just like a photoshoot or a movie set.

Lets start with the modeller…

A modeller makes the mesh… the bones of the character or prop. A modeller makes a 3D object usings special software, not always the software the picture is created in.

They make a mesh which looks a bit like a wireframe hollow object. It can take months to make a perfect mesh. Some people do this exclusively for a living.

the morpher….

Morph experts create movement for the meshes. Morphs are injected into the mesh so the artist who purchases the mesh can bend, move stretch and alter the mesh any way they like for an individual look. Typically a modeller can also make some pretty decent morphs.

the texture artist…

Most 3d artists can texture themselves to some extent, but many use premade textures. Texture artists make a living from painting or putting together textures and selling them in a market place, just like the modellers and the morphers. Textures are usually made from photorealistic pictures, prepurchased from photographers at the various photo selling sites around the world or taken by the texture artist themselves. It may surprise you to know that most of the ‘skin’ you see on the 3D characters is actually photos of human skin, ‘sewn’ together in a paint programme and wrapped seamlessly around a mesh.

Every modeller, texture artist, morpher and photographer will hold some sort of proof of ownership for their work, which they pass on to the purchasers.

One can even purchase premade poses, lighting and sets for their pictures… these are used mainly by beginners until they find their way.

Sometimes these artists team up and offer a complete package, sometimes they dont and its up to the artist to find something they like to complete their picture. It is rare to find a modeller, morpher, texture artist and picture artist in the one person.

There are also animators, who take all the above work and make it walk and talk, a step on from the rest of it but that isnt what we are discussing here.

A lot of 3d artists ‘postwork’ their pictures in a programme to enhance it… photoshop, paintshop pro etc.

Just as a painter purchases paint or a canvas, so does a 3d artist purchase their tools. They start with a blank stage (canvas) and build it up.

At some point all artists use other peoples tools… canvas, camera equipment, pc, paint programme, animation programme, real live people (we would call them characters or figures), lighting etc.

Hopefully this will give insight into what makes a 3D picture.


  • melynda blosser
    melynda blosserover 6 years ago

    this is great

  • Christina Norwood
    Christina Norwoodover 6 years ago

    Great overview of a very complex process, Rose.

  • Lyndseyh
    Lyndseyhover 6 years ago

    This is great Rose – you provide a sound basis for understanding the process

  • Peter Evans
    Peter Evansover 6 years ago

    Fantastic info Rose.
    You obviously know the subject well due to it being so well written.
    Thank you :-)

  • theyellowfury
    theyellowfuryover 6 years ago

    It really can like you said, take months to get the mesh right. Imagine a Rubik’s cube with a million squares along each side, add a headache and you’re close.

  • hfrymark
    hfrymarkover 6 years ago

    this is a wonderful explaination Rose and I’m glad you put our perspective on it. I’ve been told a few times that the art I create isn’t art it’s cheating. However I believe it is no different that traditional art, the paint and canvas is an extention of the artist ability and mind. The computer and tablet is the same for a 3d artist, it is just a different medium. Personally I feel it is more of a challenge for me, what can I learn next.

  • thanks! im sorry to hear you have had the down side experience of 3d art… there are many people quick to run the art form down. i am pretty sure this is why 3d artists stick to the 3d networks and dont venture out much…. basic lack of understanding does seem to bring on the lynch mobs!

    – Rose Moxon

  • David Knight
    David Knightover 6 years ago
    I gave up cos I couldn’t do it all after 3 or 4 months, I had no idea it was so involved, I thought I was just stupid, and went back to painting
  • hiya david… axe is right, the 3d community is an extremely friendly and helpful one. there are many sites to join where people will go out of their way to help you. it takes great patience to learn 3d art but once you have the basics, the artistic possibilites are incredible so its well worth the struggle to get there.
    personally, i find it a joy to help someone along and to see what they end up creating.

    – Rose Moxon

  • tmlstrsc
    tmlstrscover 6 years ago

    WOW!! Thank you for this Info.. I always have appriciated 3d art but I had nooooo idea that it is this complex.. kudos.. you keep up the GREAT art that you create…

  • AxeSwipe
    AxeSwipeover 6 years ago

    @hfrymark: I see you have fallen victim to the small hoard of “purists” who believe it isn’t art unless you create every model, texture and scene from scratch and render in a multi-thousand dollar renderer.

    Ignore them and continue on. After all, did they create the computer they rendered it on? Did they write the 3D apps they used to create with? Did they build the circuits inside they’re computers?

    To say it isn’t art because you used pre-made content is like telling a traditional artist that they’re work isn’t art because they didn’t create the paints, brushes, canvases etc from scratch themselves.

    @David Knight: Don’t give up so easily. Just don’t try to learn it all on your own. Ours is a community of people who are more than willing to answer questions and help those new to 3D get over the speed bumps. We were all new to it at one point and received lots of help in the learning process.

  • spot on as usual AS!

    – Rose Moxon

  • hfrymark
    hfrymarkover 6 years ago

    thank axeswipe for your intuitive comments. yes the comments did set me back….for about a month and then I realized how crazy it was and how much time and money I have invested in my new hobby.

    I hope to soon create my own models and textures etc. I just love every aspect of creating 3d, it just blows my mind. When I see movies with cgi I tend to forget the plot and I study the models and lighting. I feel like a child with a new toy.

    Yes David don’t give up, I had help from Lyndsey Hayes, she was wonderful help and I learned a lot from view her work and so many others. There are many tutorials on cgi, just start small and work you way up.

    I have been creating 3dart for a year now and there is still alot I need to learn, but I enjoy the whole process of creating and learning.