3D Artist vs 3D Modeler: Understanding the Differences

3D artists and 3D modelers are both in demand in the game development market. With the industry growing, there is a strong need for professionals who work with 3D graphics. Today, we want to talk about 3D artist vs 3D modeler to clarify the difference between these two rather similar positions.

3D Artist vs 3D Modeler

The Basics of 3D Modeling

In a nutshell, 3D modeling is the process of creating digital representations of objects and surfaces using special computer software. A 3D model is a system of vertices where each point can be manipulated to change the shape and form a mesh. 3D modelers usually start with some basic shapes — a cube, sphere or whatever is suited — to start molding and refining them into what they desire. 

If you’re new to the video game industry, you probably want to know what skills do you need to be a 3D modeler. It all depends on the field you choose. The 3D industry is diverse and includes everything from character modeling to architecture and engineering. Master the skills related to the area of your choice — like human anatomy or machinery. 3D modelers tend to have strong skills in traditional art and graphic design. Perpetual imagination and spatial intelligence are paramount skills to be a successful 3D modeler.

The Basics of 3D Modeling

Roles in Team: Who is a 3D Artist, and who is a 3D Modeler?

When it comes to roles in teams, it’s important to understand the difference between a 3D artist and a 3D modeler. Typically, a 3D artist is a generalist who can do practically anything and works in several modeling areas: animation, modeling, rendering, and even VFX.

However, most artists choose their specialization like characters, vehicles, 3d environment design and dive deep into it. Speaking of skills, 3D artists have a strong understanding of their field, color theory, and lighting to create compelling visuals.

3D modelers are specialists who create only models and textures. They collaborate with other artists, designers, and programmers to meet the specific requirements of the project.

Roles in team 3D artist 3D modelers

Tools and Computer Software Used by 3D Artists and Modelers

There are dozens of tools built for 3D modelers and graphic designers. Each of them has different intended uses — from 3D character modeling software to animation and rendering software. Many of the packages, like Blender or Maya, are one-stop shops for 3D artists, enabling them to do almost any task. In terms of software knowledge, there’s no difference between a 3D artist vs 3D modeler.

For beginners, we recommend mastering a single package first. As far as you know one of them perfectly, it’s pretty easy to learn any other tool. Here are some examples of popular 3D graphics software: Maya, 3DS Max, Blender, Cinema 4D, ZBrush, V-Ray, Corona Render.

Working with 3D Animation

3D animation can either be done by a 3D generalist who has created a model. Or it can be done by a separate professional who specializes entirely in 3D animation art styles. No matter who does the job, the animation process remains the same — the artist creates a virtual skeleton of a character and then animates it.

An animator moves parts of the characters’ rig — digital joints — and sets the keyframes. The computer interpolates them afterward to create an illusion of movement. Don’t mess up CGI vs animation. CGI is a generic word that comprises all kinds of computer-generated images. Meaning, a CGI artist is basically any artist who works with digital images, while an animator is a more specific position.

Create 3D Animation

Exploring 3D Sculpting Techniques for 3D Artists

Using 3D sculpting techniques is great for crafting organic objects, mostly characters and creatures. It gives a 3D artist more freedom in manipulating objects and adding fine details. The sculpting process is like working with clay, but digitally.

The only difference is you don’t have a real feel of the material, and fixing mistakes is actually much easier than in traditional art. To create a 3D sculpt, artists start with a formless mesh and then pull it in all directions to form the object. This is done using a set of brushes, each of which uniquely manipulates the material.

3D sculptors are working through layers. First, they make a 3D design with some basic shapes and outline the object, while further adding more detail and features. For example, the basic layer of a character may be their body shape, whereas the upper layers include clothing and accessories.

Sculpting Techniques Using 3D

Tips for Achieving Realistic 3D Renders

Give attention to details while modeling. Spending time and effort while working on your models will actually pay off at the rendering stage. We recommend you start working on larger elements and then move on to smaller details. For instance, you can use 3D modeling to create basic shapes of an object, and then switch to sculpting for the fine details. This will help you not to lose focus. 

Balance light and dark areas. This tip is fundamental for both traditional and digital artists. Observe and consider light in your references, photographs and real life. It will help you reproduce natural and artificial light with more realism.

Find the right angle. The wrong field of view can compromise all the work you have done so far. Trying different angles with the right perspective and field of view can be the key to a top-notch render. Search for the works of famous photographers to inspire. Creating and rendering realistic 3D characters and 3D game models require strong skills and lots of experience. To save time, you can use 3D character modeling services.

Different Angles 3D Modeling

Preparing 3D Assets For Game Engines

Make sure all the elements of your model, child and parent parts, have clear and convenient naming. It will help you navigate through the model, especially if you will return to it after a while. Convert all NURBS, NURMS, and subdivide surfaces to polygons either by triangulation or quadrangulation. 

Apply all transforms and modificators, and recalculate normals if needed. Bake deformers onto the models in your application. For example, if you want to export a complex rig, you can bake the deformation onto skin weights before exporting.

Export your model to .fbx format. It is supported by most 3D editing software. Create surfaces and textures and export them to the image format. Export textures separately — do not embed them into the .fbx. Engines extract the textures before use, embedding them enlarges your project and slows the import process.

Note each setting in the export dialog of your 3D modeling application so that you can match up the import settings in the game engine. With technology evolving, it became much easier to start developing your own game, especially a mobile one. If you are an aspiring mobile game developer, check out the best 3D game engines for android.

Preparing 3D Assets For 3D Modeling

Techniques For Creating Realistic Textures And Materials

If you want three-dimensional models to look natural and attractive, texturing is the key. Based on our experience, using these techniques will help you create nice and believable textures:

Use physical-based texturing (PBR). If you’re looking for realism, physics is important. For example, if you’re making a plastic surface, the amount of metallic should be zero. Increase metallic only if you want to make metal material. Do not use it as a replacement for gloss. 

Take time to find the right references. Search for references at free stock photo websites, or simply look for similar textures in the world around you. You can’t find references better than reality. 

Fine-tune the UV grid. Set the texel density to focus the most attention on the UV of important islands.

Details for last. To avoid wasting time, start your texture at a distance and then move closer to bring up the details. Keep in mind that not all objects need to be close-up, so save your time.

Techniques for creating three dimensional models

Tips For Optimizing 3D Models For Gaming Applications

Optimizing 3D models helps to reduce the file size and improve the performance, while also providing the best possible visuals. Common techniques used in three-dimensional graphics optimization include mesh simplification, texture compression, and asset reuse. All this helps to decrease the size and loading time of game models and improve the overall performance of the video game. Using alternative approaches also helps to ensure good performance. For instance, switching to isometric video game graphics is popular in mobile game development. 

With these optimization tips, you will learn how to become a better 3D modeler:

Use level of detail (LOD). Adjust LOD as objects move into the distance — switch to simpler meshes with simpler materials to refine GPU performance.

Reduce the size of textures that require less detail. Selectively reduce the texture size to reduce bandwidth, and check to see if any visuals have been degraded afterward.

Bake details. Elements such as small specular highlights and ambient occlusion can be baked in and added to the texture. With this approach, you don’t have to rely too much on computationally expensive shaders.

Use RGB channels to pack several textures into one. You can get three grayscale maps into one texture if you assign each of them to one of the channels — red, green, and blue. This means fewer texture samplers to process.

How to become a better 3D modeler

3D Artists and 3D Modelers in Outsourcing Studios

We know that 3D game art is a vital part of the game’s full development cycle. Working with a 3D game art outsourcing studio allows you to put the project in the hands of management and get access to a team of proven specialists.

No matter what kind of 3D artist you want to hire, you can find dozens of relevant, high-skilled professionals at RetroStyle Games. We will neatly take care of everything, from discussing your idea to the project release.