Start 3D: An introduction to key 3D concepts

If you’re a designer looking to expand your skillset, Adobe’s series of introductory videos sets out the main things you need to know before starting to explore 3D for yourself.

From illustration to animation, from product mock-ups to motion graphics, 3D is becoming an essential part of every designer’s toolset. But if you’ve never used 3D software before, it can be hard to know where to start. Other people’s 3D images can look impossibly difficult to recreate, and even beginners’ tutorials are often full of unfamiliar technical terms and off-putting jargon.

Enter Start 3D. Adobe’s new set of free training videos is designed specifically for 2D artists who want to add an extra dimension to their work, introducing key 3D design concepts to jump-start the learning process. Although these videos are software agnostic, the information they contain can easily be applied to your Adobe 3D design workflow: Medium, for sculpting in VR, the Substance suite for texturing, and Adobe Dimension for staging.

You can find all nine of the videos below, along with a brief summary of what each one covers. Watching them should give you an overview of the 3D production process, and introduce you to some of its principal workflows. After watching this series, you will have the foundational information you need to start exploring 3D for yourself.

Video 1: The 3D creative process

Producing a 3D image is usually a more linear process than creating a 2D illustration. To get from your initial concept to the final image, you need to go through a series of steps, each of which is generally completed before the next can begin. In the first video, we will look at the stages of a typical 3D workflow. We will explore each one in more detail in the videos that follow.

What you will learn:

Video 2: Geometry

Geometry is the foundation of a 3D image: it’s what makes the surfaces of the 3D objects you see. But what does 3D geometry consist of? In the second video, we will explore how your computer represents objects in 3D space, examine the structure of the polygonal models used in 3D illustration, motion graphics, product visualization and animation, and discuss how they differ from CAD models used to manufacture products.

What you will learn:

Video 3: Modeling

The third video introduces the techniques used to create 3D models: polygon modeling for objects with hard surfaces, digital sculpting for organic forms, and CAD modeling for objects that will be manufactured. We will also look at two alternatives to creating 3D models by hand: scanning real objects, and using procedural simulation for tricky-to-recreate objects like cloth.

What you will learn:

Shortcut: Adobe Stock has a collection of readymade 3D models you can use in your images.

Video 4: Materials and shaders

A 3D model is more than just geometry. In the fourth video, we will explore how 3D software recreates the look of real-world materials like metal, plastic, skin, and glass, using numerical values or 2D images to represent their surface properties. Along the way, we will learn some common terminology like PBR, or Physically Based Rendering.

What you will learn:

Shortcut: Substance Source has a collection of 3D materials to get you started creating.

Video 5: UV unwrapping

To use a 2D image to control the properties of a 3D material, you need to map it onto the surface of your 3D model. In the fifth video, we will look at UV unwrapping: the process of unfolding a 3D model into a flattened surface to which you can apply a 2D texture. As well as exploring how UV mapping works, we will look at some of the common pitfalls to avoid while doing so.

What you will learn:

Video 6: Baking

As well as mapping an existing 2D image to the surface of a 3D model, your 3D software can generate 2D images directly from its 3D geometry. In the sixth video, we will look at the process of texture baking, and how the resulting baked texture maps can be used for anything from mimicking surface wear to making a low-polygon model look more detailed than it really is.

What you will learn:

Video 7: Texturing

In the seventh video, we will look at the common ways to generate textures: painting them by hand, letting your 3D software generate them procedurally, and using photographs or scans of real objects. We will also look at how textures can be repeated across the surface of a model, and how they can be packed into a 3D material.

What you will learn:

Shortcut: Substance Painter and Substance Alchemist can be used to paint textures in 3D and to create materials from 2D images or scans.

Video 8: Rigging and animating

In the eighth video, we’ll look at how to make 3D models move. You can do this by hand – a process similar to creating 2D animations in software like After Effects – or by applying pre-recorded motion-capture data. To make it easier to animate complex models like characters, you may need to rig them first, by setting up a simplified internal armature to control the model.

What you will learn:

Shortcut: You can download readymade character animations from Adobe’s Mixamo website.

Video 9: Staging and rendering

Once you have created and animated all of your 3D models, it’s time to turn the data on your computer into a still image or a video that other people can see. In the final video, we will look at how to bring everything together, by laying out a 3D scene, setting up lights and virtual camera positions, then rendering and adjusting the finished images.

What you will learn:

Shortcut: Adobe Dimension has a set of clever tools for easy yet professional 3D layout, lighting, and rendering.

To view the entire Start 3D video series, head over to the Start 3D playlist on YouTube. To learn more about how and what you can design in 3D, visit our 3D & AR page.