3D technology renders itself useful

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Introduction

3D software first became commercially available in the 1960s, and since the late 1990s modelling and animation programs have been widely used by studios and hobbyists.

But what direction is the industry currently moving towards, and what have been the recent trends in this evolving sector?

Tablets

One recent and significant development has been the ability to use a tablet and digital pencil to sculpt 3D models.

Apps such as Forger and Nomad Sculpt allow you to use the pencil to digitally create in a very direct, fun and intuitive way. Previously you would have needed a very expensive Wacom Cintiq tablet to be able to sculpt in this kind of direct way using a digital pencil.

Although tablet apps are not as fully featured as a full software program such as ZBrush on a PC, they are able to handle a surprisingly large amount of functionality. And with the costs of the apps in the region of £15, it makes them very accessible.

Rendering

3D rendering has also seen significant advances, with software such as Redshift and Octane harnessing the power of the GPU to create renders in a fraction of the time required using the CPU.

One computer with multiple high-end graphics cards can achieve a result which would have required a whole render farm of CPUs to accomplish. Advancements in GPU technology have only made this possible relatively recently, as previously GPUs did not have the memory to be able to accomplish this.

3D scanning

Another recent and exciting change has been the increasing availability of affordable 3D scanners, and the use of photogrammetry to create realistic models and textures from real world objects.

These days, with just a regular camera or phone you can take a series of photos of an object or person, moving 360 degrees around it in increments, it’s even possible to use a drone when capturing a larger area. With the data digitally captured, a software package such as Autodesk Recap or similar can generate a point cloud, a set of data points which represent the object, which can then be converted into a 3D model. Extremely realistic models can be created in this way very quickly.

Printing

3D printing has taken some huge leaps forward, and has also become much more accessible to the general public.

The technology first emerged in the 1980s in Japan, France and the USA, building up multiple layers of resin or powder. In 2006 the first commercially available SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printer was released, but it was not until the 2010s that prices began to decline.

Today a low budget 3D printer can be purchased for £100-200, making it easily affordable for hobbyists at home.

3D printing has become extensively used in healthcare, engineering, car manufacturing and architecture, and is even starting to make headways into the fashion industry. Watch this space for some big leaps forward in the world of 3D printing.

Affordability

The way that 3D software is commercialised has brought about positive changes for both the studio and hobbyist, with the market being considerably disrupted by subscription pricing models. Whereas originally a software license would be paid for outright (at a considerable cost) along with a maintenance plan for updates, now, companies such as Autodesk and Maxon have switched over to a subscription model, offering monthly and yearly subscriptions, allowing users to commit to as little or as much as they like.

With so much technology becoming accessible and affordable for the first time, it’s an exciting time to be involved in 3D content creation.

Article written by Ed Suckling, Creative Team Lead, Reuzer. 

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