3D Research

What is 3D modelling?

3D modelling involves using software such as Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, ZBrush and Blender to create 3D art which can then be animated and used in video games, films and other media.

3D modelling involves using polygons (2D shapes with 3 or more sides) in a virtual/ 3D space.

What is 3D modelling used for?

3D modelling can be used to create characters, environments and props in video games, with different roles in games studios being dedicated to character artists , Environment Artists and Prop Artists.

However, 3D modelling is not restricted to the games industry, as it is also used in the VFX industry, with blockbuster films like ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ using CGI to create explosions and enabling characters to appear as though they are performing dangerous stunts which would not be able to be performed in reality.

Other uses of 3D modelling include:

  • A number of uses in modern science, including simulations for both earthquakes and hospital surgeries to be created.
  • Marketing as architects and engineers, can convey  ideas both to colleagues and clients.
  • The ability to create models which can then be 3D printed both small and large scale


Deadpool VFX 2
CGI featured in ‘Deadpool’ (2016). (Image from cgrecord.net)


The use of 3D Modelling in Games

3D modelling can be used to create video game characters, environments and props, which can then be animated.

When making a game, designers must consider whether their game will be 2D or 3D (or both as is seen in ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ (1992) and ‘Doom’ (1993)). As mentioned previously, 3D modelling involves using polygons in a virtual space. The way the 3D models are created in the game can contribute to the art style of the game, and designers should consider whether the game will use a low or high poly count.

  • Low poly models – feature fewer polygons in the model and are not very smooth
  • High poly models feature more polygons in the model, making the final outcome smoother.

While early 3D games in the 1990s used a low poly count as a result of technological limitations at the time, games have now progressed to a point whereby designers can choose which style they wish for their game to be, with large budget triple A games typically using smooth, high poly models and indie games using fewer polygons per model to save time and money.

It is worth noting that even triple A games that feature a high poly count will not make every 3D model have a high poly count, as it would mean spending time (and money) on providing detail which the player is unlikely to notice, as well as using vertices which would have been used on a more important aspect of the game such as a character.

Moreover, some games may choose to use a low poly count to create an art direction that evokes a sense of nostalgia among older players.


Limitations/ Constraints

When making a game, it is important to be aware of the constraints that will be faced during production. These typically include:

  • Time/ money – any studio, whether a small indie studio or a big triple A studio will want to produce the game as efficiently as possible, as the longer it takes to make a game, the more money that is spent on it. Money can also have an impact on what the designers choose to feature in the game. For example, Character Artist for ‘The Last of Us’ (2013) Adam Scott revealed in a Game Character Creation Panel held in 2015 that a variation of the ‘Bloater’ enemy (pictured below) designed by himself and Jaehoon Kim did not appear in the final game as the studio were unable to afford the memory required for it.
Last of Us Bloater Variation
Bloater Variation designed by Adam Scott and Jaehoon Kim
  • Poly count – if a game uses too many vertices, or too high a poly count, this can result in a lower frame rate as the game will take longer to render all the details and the game will also require more space, which will cost the studio money. In order to combat this, a studio may decide to ‘bake’ a texture onto a model with a lower polygon count, hence having the appearance of a highly detailed model.
  • Hardware/ platform – On next-gen consoles, all players will play the game at the same graphics settings, whereas on PC, the hardware each player has varies, and so there are multiple graphics settings. While PC gamers can play with other players online for free, Xbox One and Playstation 4 players will need to purchase an additional pass to enable them to be able to access multiplayer features of the game.  Finally, some indie games such as ‘Cuphead’ (2017) can be offered a deal with studios like Microsoft which can involve making the game an Xbox exclusive, which has the potential to somewhat restrict the audience of a game. Additionally, mobile games will not have the hardware to run games in the same way a high end PC or next generation console would, and so this limits the designers as to what they can include in their game.
  • Performance Optimisation – developers will attempt to get a game to run as well as it can whilst using minimal hardware resources. Optimisation can refer to the graphics and scripts within a game.


3D Pipeline

The 3D Pipeline refers to the process in which 3D models are created.

Firstly, the Game Designer and Concept Artists will typically produce ideas and concept art which will result in a final concept. In the example below, we see just a few iterations that concept artist Claire Hummel produced for Elizabeth in ‘Bioshock Infinite’ (2013), whereby she explores different hairstyles and clothing for the character.

Initial Concepts for Elizabeth in ‘Bioshock Infinite’ by Claire Hummel

Before the 3D Artist spends any time creating a 3D model, the studio will decide on a final concept for the model having explored multiple concepts.

Claire Hummel’s final concept for Elizabeth

With the final concept having been produced, the 3D Artist will then create a 3D model, using the final concept as a reference.  In order for the model to be able to move, a rig must be created. Depending on the studio, the 3D Artist or Animator may be in charge of creating the rig. Many triple A games also use Motion Capture technology to record an actor’s movement, hence enabling them to replicate realistic movement in the game.

The images featured below reveal both the Motion Capture and rigging process for Elizabeth’s movement in ‘Bioshock Infinite’, revealed by Animation Director Shawn Robertson during his Game Developer’s Conference in 2014. It is significant that we should see a vertices count to the left of Elizabeth in the rig screenshot, as this highlights how it is essential when creating a game to maintain a knowledge of the number of vertices used (see limitations/ constraints).

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A texture can then be be created and made and applied to the 3D model, typically after the rigging process, eventually providing us with a finished model which we see in game, as exemplified by the final render of Elizabeth below:

Final render of Elizabeth



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