Hard Surface & Organic Modeling

Researching the modeling and animation market, going after tutorials, online courses, and even face-to-face courses, we felt most of the contents never taught the complete (and essential) process of 3D Modeling. It brings several problems for any designer or engineer when working with real projects because the type of work is still too simple or incomplete for the job market. The theory (even the practical exercises) of classes and courses were still a long way from the reality of a 3D modeling production. Therefore the idea of writing this article, where I will speak of 3D Modeling: Hard Surface & Organic Modeling.

So, even if you don’t know anything about this area yet, you already have a complete guide of what to do, step by step, and some examples. If you intend to specialize in 3D Modeling or want to know how this stage of the pipeline works, join me in this great article, which I will explain everything about it, okay? Stay tuned!

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Some review

It may seem apparent that 3D Modeling is the same as a modeling in clay, but in a virtual background using modeling software such as Solidface ZBrushSolidworks, Autodesk, or other, what few people know is that the 3D modeling market is divided into several parts and concepts to organize professionals in areas of interest and affinity. A 3D professional who models a super-powerful creature is different from those who model the city that this creature is going to destroy.

3D Modeling creates a three-dimensional representation of any object, from humans and animals to machines, products, and natural landscapes. Modeling is part of the beginning of a whole process for the production of a 3D animation or 3D manufacturing. The correct execution of this process makes all the difference in the final result.

But even though it requires tremendous artistic skills, 3D Modeling goes through some very important stages (or workflows) so that the models are useful for the next stages of a modeling pipeline. This is where many courses in the area tend to be a little less complete.

3D Modeling Principles

Within 3D Modeling, we work with building models based on the following principles:

Vertex: These are the points that connect an edge.

Edges: It is the line built from two points (vertex).

Faces: It is the result of joining three or more lines (edges).

Polygonal Mesh: It is the connection of several vertices, edges, and faces that define the shape of the 3D object

Despite being more theoretical knowledge, you will always contact one of these principles when doing 3D Modeling.

Modal Sheets and References

Before you get busy, a good practice is to look for references to what you chose to model. In most cases of 3D Modeling for production, you will already have the concept art (the visual concept of the model) or model sheet (the document that standardizes all sides of a model) of what you are going to do. Even so, the use of references is highly suggested. Referrals are relevant for you to have real support for creating what you are going to do. With them, you can understand how specific material works, how certain areas are deformed, and why that edges and faces are the way it is. In other words, only from the references, you are able to observe and apply things from the real world in your creation. As we are talking about 3D Modeling as the construction of an “x,y,z” dimensional object, a good suggestion is to look for references of the model in all possible views: front, side, back, bottom, everything you find.

Hard Surface & Organic Modeling

These are the two main areas of 3D Modeling. You can be a modeler specializing in Hard Surface or Organic Modeling, or the two of them, on a generalist view and study. It depends a lot on your work objective. A large studio, from small to large ones, will seek specialists in each modeling area. A smaller studio that needs a leaner team, however, will seek much more generalists.

Hard Surface

It involves creating objects created by humans, such as cars, machines, houses, electronics, weapons, and anything else that is built or manufactured by man. 

For a better understanding, let’s bring some topics. Do you know about Additive Manufacturing? 

Additive manufacturing is the generic term used to describe the manufacturing process through which various tools operate, such as what became known as the “3D printer”.

It is a mechanical process in which several layers of material are progressively superimposed on each other to form an object, usually based on a digital model.

The manufacture of a part according to the concept of additive manufacturing is similar to a common impression. Only in this case, instead of the printer’s ink, a kind of powder, gel, or some plastic or metal filament is used. During the manufacturing process, the chosen material is added in layers to avoid waste, ensuring that the raw material is used to the maximum. In additive manufacturing, projects are developed from 3D modeling software such as AutoCAD, Sketchup, SolidWorks, SolidFace, , and TinkerCAD.

Hard Surface Examples

3D printed cars: With the title of the first electric car printed in 3D, the Strati carries the beginning of a new era of manufacturing, making digital car manufacturing real. The model from Local Motors could not be more impressive for technology enthusiasts. As already mentioned above, the car was manufactured in 44 hours and had fewer parts than a conventional model, making its assembly more agile and more resilient.

If you want to know more examples about 3D Printed cars, click the link button!

3D Printed Weapons:  Cody Wilson, the founder of Defense Distributed, presents The Liberator, the first weapon produced via a complete and functional 3D printer. Liberator is made up of 16 pieces, 15 of which are printed on ABS plastic. The only exception is the trigger, a common screw, in addition to the 9 mm caliber bullet.

3D printed houses: The first set of 3D printed houses for the homeless is already under construction in a remote rural area in Mexico. The large-scale 3D printing system is being used in Mexico to address homelessness and provide safe shelter and decent housing for the homeless in the country.

New Story, a philanthropic organization founded five years ago, aims to build housing for homeless people and people in extreme poverty. To date, New Story has delivered 2,700 homes, serving more than 15,000 people in countries like Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico. For the construction of houses in areas in remote areas, New Story has been using traditional building systems and, over the past two years, has started exploring innovative solutions to make this process faster and more efficient, adapting to the constant changes in the sector of civil construction to meet the growing demand for housing. In its most recent project, developed in partnership with ICON, a technology and construction company, New Story developed a 3D printed house prototype for the construction of a homeless community in Tabasco, Mexico. Two houses have already been completed using a 3D printer called Vulcan II. They are being tested for the development of the entire community, which will have a total of 50 units, including a community master plan for the area.

If you want to know more about 3D printed houses, click here.

3D Printed Electronics: American startup Voxel8, located on the outskirts of Boston, focused on making the technique more encouraging by developing a machine that can print highly conductive inks for circuits, along with plastic. Its silver inks are recognized to be up to 5,000 times more conductive than those currently available on the market, not oxidizing after printing.

In this way, it is possible to print circuit boards, alternate with plastic materials, and form an electronic prototype. The company works with the sale of this ink and a 3D desktop printer but has plans to design equipment for industrial manufacturing.

The possibility of parallel printing of different materials generates a new purpose for the market, which currently invests in research to solidify this possibility and expand its access.

3D Printed Foods:  Foodini is a 3D printer that focuses on healthy eating by allowing the consumer to use fresh food as a raw material. According to the manufacturer Nature Machines, the goal is to reduce the consumption of processed products and make a way of making food easier. It is necessary to prepare the ingredients in advance and then insert them into the machine to shape. “Just load the dough and fill the Foodini, and Foodini will print individual ravioli for you,” explains the company. According to the manufacturer, it is possible to print different pasta, meat or vegetarian hamburgers, nuggets, quiche, pizzas, cookies, brownies, and more. Cool, isn’t it?

3D printed robots:  Researchers at Harvard University have developed a robot inspired by a frog capable of jumping and moving in tight spaces that are dangerous to humans. The device was printed in 3D and had nine layers, including one made of rubber. At the top of the robot’s body is a rigid core that houses the necessary components for its operation, including a battery and an air compressor. Below are his three legs, responsible for the jumps and landings.

To jump, the robot stretches one leg to tilt its body in a certain direction. A combination of butane and oxygen housed at the top of his body ignites and inflates it, causing it to jump. The great technical novelty is that the device survives the jumps and absorbs the shock of landing, keeping itself upright.

Organic Modeling

It involves creating everything that is natural, organic. People, animals, plants, rivers, and anything created out of nature are part of organic Modeling.

Organic Modeling Examples

It is very common for people to associate the idea of ​​3D modeling with the old clay manipulation technique, but there is a big difference between the two: the virtual universe. The technique consists in the construction of objects in 3 dimensions within a software environment specially designed for this task. Then, the creations are animated to compose the movements within the films or games. In practice, the professionals’ performance ends up divided into areas of affinity and interest, that is, those who model creatures and people are not usually the same ones who create the scenarios and cities inhabited by the characters.

One of the most influential fields of Organic Modeling is the video-gaming industry. 

Although it is no longer a novelty, the use of 3D technology in games is essential to meet current demands. Most game projects are developed using resources in 3 dimensions, with the same realism as animated films. Its tools allow the creation of sophisticated characters, scenarios rich in details, and textures so close to reality that it leaves doubts about its virtual origin. In games, the rendering process is done in real-time. This means that the simulation of textures, shadows, and other resources are created on the screen while the game is going on. The performance of games has evolved in such a way that it is no longer possible to think about a future for the game market without the aid of 3D technology. A game designer’s routine is far more demanding than most users realize. This professional needs to know anatomy, physics, perspective, depth, volume, and all the apparatus necessary to understand and “materialize” the elements that interact in an animated production. 3D work, however, is not restricted to software. Before, the characters are sculpted in clay, a specific clay for this purpose. Thus, it is easier to understand the anatomical details when drawing on the computer, in addition to helping with mobility studies of the character and the inclusion of details such as hair, clothes, etc. With technology evolving continuously, there is always something new to learn in the universe of styles and visual effects. However, skilled the professional is. Therefore, the improvement of this art is continuous, since the result sought requires a lot of dedication. It often takes hours, days, or months before a 3D model is perfected before going through the stages of texturing, animation, and, finally, rendering. The reward for such effort is the artist’s satisfaction and the fact that this type of professional is one of the most sought after by companies around the world, especially in cinema and games.

Modeling Types 

Here you learn which approaches can be used when creating a model. It is worth mentioning that there is no determined preference for how to approach 3D Modeling. The type of modeling you choose depends a lot on the model or project you are going to work on. If you are going to build a character, it is much more reasonable to use a sculpting/subdivision modeling approach. 

If you need to build the motor part of a car and want to do it using the same approach, you will suffer a lot more and spend a lot more time than if you choose polygonal / box modeling. Let’s explain both ways, shall we? 

Box Modeling or Polygonal Modeling

It is the 3D modeling process from an uncomplicated base geometry (cubes, planes, cylinders, and spheres, for example). Here you choose the geometry resembling the final shape of your model. For example: to model a door, you can start by creating a cube and resizing the faces to leave the rectangular/flat shape that the door has. 

Subdivision Modeling or Sculpt Modeling

Here there is an insignificantly greater complexity of understanding because the subdivision modeling can be originated from a box modeling, where you choose a geometry and the modeling process with several subdivisions. But it can also be started from a mesh base (a model that contains a bunch of polygons that is widely used for digital sculptures). When we work with the second option, we usually use digital sculpture software. So, you don’t have to worry about the model’s topology, especially if it’s organic. The positive side of the Sculpt Modeling is that the more polygons you use, the easier it becomes to do more organic Modeling. On the other hand, the topology gets dirty, and the model is often so heavy for a game or animation that it is impractical to use it as it is.

Topology and Retopology 

When we talk about topology, we are applying to the 3D model wireframe. A good model needs a good topology. That is, the correct and logical organization of polygons so that the animation has a good deformation. This step is very important for the entire 3D modeling process because it is the topology that will determine a good start shape of the 3D model as well as the deformation at the time of animation. In this area, it is very important to know and apply Edge Loops (a set of edges connected by a surface) and avoid polygons with more than 4 points (known in ​3D modeling N-gons). Retopology is taking a model that was usually built by a Sculpt / Subdivision Modeling and redesigning the object’s topology. This step is usually more necessary in characters or other 3D models with a huge amount (like really huge, a few million polygons out there). The better the topology of the model, the better the deformation of the final animation.  

Low Poly and High Poly 

Both are terms used to explain the number of polygons in your model. High Poly modeling is used to build your model with the smallest detail possible, but it is rarely used in a final project because it is a very heavy model in terms of rendering. Now add this model along with other 10, 20, 50 models that usually make up a single scene. Even the most powerful machine in the world wouldn’t be able to work on this frame size. For this reason, the Low Poly models emerged with fewer polygons and, consequently, fewer details were sculpted directly in the model. For your information, a High Poly model usually has between 12-30 million polygons, while a Low Poly model can be an average of 15-60 thousand polygons (usually, this average is used for game characters so that it will vary a lot from the project and, for animations, the count can be a little more generous).

But then why do I want to make a High Poly model? 

As a Low Poly model has few details, while the High Poly model, you can detail even scars or freckles on a face, the goal is to pass all the information from the High Poly model to the Low Poly model. This is done by transferring the information from the high-resolution model to a 2D texture known as Normal Map. Thus, we apply this 2D texture to the Low Poly model, and we will have an incredibly similar result to the High Poly model.


The 3D modeling is divided into two big producing groups: Hard Surface and Organic Modeling. The first one aims to build manufacturing projects. It is good to know that this kind of production usually requires a 3D modeling software (also known as CAD, if you prefer this name). Also, most situations, like additive manufacturing (sAM), require a 3D Printer and filaments.

The second one aims to “copy” all of the nature stuff like grass, trees, the human body, and others. It requires a 3D rendering software, some clay, and tremendous artistic skills to develop some projects like it—that is why it is highly used at the cinema and gaming production. 

With all the technological evolution, we can see many changes for good. More and more, “real” things can be developed by using 3D printing. Also, all the visual production is becoming more realistic in a way it can be difficult to distinguish. Exciting, isn’t it?

If you want to start, we suggest you check the SolidFace website. It’s an easy way to understand 3D modeling. Also, it’s a free 3D modeling software that contains free updates, tutorials, and more!

Check it out on our blog page. There are many good articles and content to embrace you in the 3D modeling/printing universe. Just click here!