Visual Effects for Film

VFX is a tool for your story telling~

3D process 01- where the magic happens but without the magic button

You hear this term “3D” all the time. You also might think that all the films with something impossible is all made in 3D. But what does 3D really mean? The easiest way to understand this is to think of a painting versus a sculpture. If you’re standing right in the front of a painting or a picture, you might think this looks really real. But once you look from the side or from the back, it’s just a flat piece of paper. A sculpture on the other hand, you can observe it from any angle. This is the same in the digital world. A 2D matte painting or projection technique is only good from the chosen angle. But a 3D object can be viewed from everywhere. So if a robot or dinosaur is needed in your film for several shots with different angles, it’s better to approach with 3D. But in the 3D world, there is no magic button to make this happened with one click. Quite the opposite, the artists will have to create every single detail that happens in the real world, such as reflections, shadows, and even the intensity of the shadow or the blurry edge of the shadow. Therefore before jumping in and doing everything with 3D, which needs a lot more time and budget, it’s better to consult with the VFX supervisor to make sure the 3D approach is necessary here. In this post, we are going to talk about a simplified 3D process to give you a rough concept of how 3D works.

The general 3D process includes:
2.Texturing and shading
3.Rigging and animation
6.Final composting


First, you need to build the model. 3D software provides you with some default cubes or spheres with dots(where two lines join) and lines on them. You can move around those dots and lines to form the shape you want. This process is called modeling. Every model in 3D is formed by those dots and lines (together they are called Polygons). To make a creature, a car or a building in 3D requires the artists to keep adding necessary lines and dots to form enough detail for the model. Nowadays with the 3D software improving so much, artists can do this with a more visual way. Instead of moving each dots and lines to form the shape of the model, the model could be done a way more like sculpting but still requires an artist to control each stroke.
2. Texture and shading

After a model is done, such as a human head for example, the artists will have to paint the texture for the model. Skin tone, wrinkle, pore, spot and every detail on a human face have to be painted little by little and using photos of real textures. The artists also has to put the settings in the computer to determine how the texture reacts to the light, such as how strong the texture will reflect the light or absorb the light, or how big or sharp the high light point will be etc..
3. Rigging and animation

picture from

The model is like the flesh and the rigging is like adding bones to this flesh. The artist has to first set up a bone structure, then tell the program which dots or lines on that model are going to follow certain section of the bone. In order to reach detail and realistic movement, some dots or lines have to be set following more than one bone or joint. Just imaging the muscle on your arm will move if you try to move either your elbow or shoulder. In some pose, this muscle will even change shape as rising up or flatten down, so the artist with have to create a muscle system to simulate real life muscle . Those all have to be set up manually by VFX artists. After setting up the bone structure and assigning each dot and line to the related bone or joint, the animator now can animate this model. It takes a lot of experience and the ability to observe the movement subtlety of movement to do great animation. Looking carefully at how a person walks, it’s not just two legs swinging back forward. The knees stretch and bend all the time. The hips go up and down. Even the neck is moving. The animator has to adjust each joint to a position and set a key frame. A simple walking animation will take several key frames on all the different joints and different position to complete.
We’ll talk about the further process about lighting , rendering and compositing in next post. Hope you enjoyed this.

5 responses to “3D process 01- where the magic happens but without the magic button

  1. John 2013/09/17 at 9:46 PM

    Please keep posting, these are great!

  2. josef 2013/11/21 at 1:08 PM

    Very information, please keep posting

    • LightRay FX 2013/11/22 at 2:30 AM

      Thanks Josef, glad that you like it.
      We’ll keep posting for sure.
      And please feel free to let us know if there are some topics you think might be interesting.

  3. Trish 2014/06/15 at 7:25 AM

    Was curious about 3d rendering and texturing. This is cool. thanks for sharing. Since I joined a course a few days ago, I will be visiting this blog often.:-)

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