Starting out as a 3D artist – resources

Introduction

Welcome to the fifth part in a series of posts helping you get started as a 3D artist. The series includes delving into software, hardware, resources and tutorials – everything that will get you going in the right direction as you embark upon this super exciting journey. I entered the world of 3D visualization as a fresh faced 19-year-old, absolutely clueless in so many ways. I was grateful for others helping me on that journey. Hopefully this series will be like the many tour guides that I had in the early days.

lighting shading rendering modeling 3d visualisation

Making use of online resources enables beginners to get a really quick step up in the world of 3D visualisation and animation.
Image credit supplied by PIRO4D

Having identified the software we want to use, the hardware required to run it and the tutorials to help us get off in the right direction we’re now ready to find out what resources are out there which will help us create our scenes more quickly, efficiently and effectively. There is so much out there in terms of models, textures, and plugins that save an artist valuable time. The plugins in particular enable artists to carry out tasks that would either take ages or would be impossible to do manually. In this part we dive into some resources that are well worth a look. We’ve broken them down into categories to give you a steer.

3D models

Did you know that you don’t have to create everything yourself?! In the past decade, off the shelf free and paid for assets have grown immensely in popularity. This has occurred for a couple of reasons. The first is because of the incredible generosity of 3D artists around the world who are happy sharing their 3D models with anyone who can make use of them. This can be for use either in scenes or just for the purposes of learning how models and scenes are creates and set up. The other reason for this growth in the assets market is because of entrepreneurs who realized there was a huge market for providing assets at a price – primarily to speed up the creation process for artists. Both of these reasons have led to a huge variety of models being made available to you in an instant.

The downside to this explosion of 3D models is that you start to spot the same assets appearing in different people’s work and scenes can start to become a bit uniform and predictable because of it. This isn’t always the case but it is certainly something that you’ll want to be aware of, especially if you’re trying to take advantage of free 3D models. Remember they’re free to everyone so everyone will want to make use of them! At times it makes sense to pay for models just so you get something that will be less widely used.

3dmodelhaven 3d models rendering sculpting

An excellent set of free 3D assets.
Image credit supplied by 3D Haven

When searching for 3D models you’ll want to first make sure that the models are compatible with your chosen software. You can do this by checking what file formats are supported by your software and then making sure that you get a match when downloading an item. You’ll also want to take into consideration the number of polygons that make up the model. For items that are really detailed (or poorly created) you might find the polygon count to be overwhelming for your hardware, especially if you duplicate the object too many times. Some providers provide their models with different levels of detail which is handy if you know the model will never be seen up close.

The final thing to say before pointing you in the direction of some of my favorites is to check the license, especially if you’re downloading it for free. There may be limitations on whether you can change the model or if you have to credit the author of it. For paid 3D models you may have limitations on the number of projects you can use the model in or in what type of work it can be utilized in. Whatever the license says, make sure you know the scope for which you can use it.

cgtrader 3d model references resources modelling sculpting

CG Trader holds a large searchable set of assets for 3D visualisation.
Image credit supplied by CG Trader

The largest repositories for 3D models include the likes of TurboSquid, CG Trader and Blender Market. These have thousands of free and paid for models available to download. For a small and more curated set of models you could check out 3D Model Haven or Design Connected. And finally, for a list of some excellent freebies that have been posted by Ronen Bekerman over the years.

helicopter setting rendering model flight 3d sculpt

Turbosquid is a huge repository for 3D resources.
Image credit supplied by Turbosquid and Asset Seller

Texture/Material libraries

Alongside 3D models you’ll make a huge amount of use out of downloadable textures and materials.  For the purposes of explanation, I’ll make a distinction between textures and materials. These terms can be used interchangeably and confusingly in the 3D industry so I thought a quick unpacking might be helpful.

I think of textures as photos of objects or surfaces that I can use as a base for creating my materials in my 3D software. These might include photos of brick, leather, tiles, concrete or anything in the world for that matter! When sourcing good textures or indeed creating your own you’ll want to make sure that the photos are taken straight on to the surface and that there are no shadows being cast onto the surface. The higher resolution the photos are the better.

texture material libraries render 3d model

High quality textures that will transform the realism of your scene.
Image credit supplied by Arroway

Some excellent texture libraries include Textures, Poliigon, Arroway Textures, and 3D Textures.

Materials, on the other hand, are created in your 3D software. They make use of textures but only as base diffuse maps or as other maps if they’ve been edited for use in slots such as reflection, bump or normal maps. So, when you download a material you will find that it will have a variety of settings already customized such as its level of reflection, refraction and glossiness. The material can be imported into your software, fine-tuned for your scene and then rendered. When downloading materials make sure they’re in a format that your 3D software or rendering software can handle.

Materials will generally be much more specific to a piece of software. There are many sites but I’ll just give you a few here. For V-Ray there’s V-Ray Materials. For Blender there’s Blender Mada. For something that has wider appeal across multiple pieces of software you could check out Free PBR.

blender media texturing rendering resources materials 3d

Materials for use in Blender
Image credit supplied by Blender Mada

Plugins

Plugins or Apps are connected into your 3D software of choice which extends its functionality and enables you to perform specific operations that you would either be unable to carry out or would be mind-numbingly laborious to do without a plugin. Plugins are software specific but there are some great repositories out there. For 3ds Max you have their official Autodesk App Market - 3Ds Max. Autodesk have the same for Maya. ScriptSpot has always been a regular go to for me for 3ds Max plugins. If you’re using Blender then Blender Market and Blender Addons are worth checking out. ZBrush also has some excellent plugins accessible on the Pixologic website.

plugins helpful rendering modeling maya blender

Really handy and time-saving plugins for use in ZBrush.
Image credit supplied by Pixologic

HDRI Skies

HDRI stands for High Dynamic Range Imagery and is used to light your scene. The file contains all the lighting information you need and provides excellent realism. These files can be used across multiple different pieces of software. Peter Guthrie’s Skies are excellent. As are the skies at HDRI Haven.

HDRI skies rendering high dynamic range lighting scenery

These HDRI skies form Peter Guthrie will take your renderings to a whole other level.
Image credit supplied by Peter Guthrie

Conclusion

Hopefully this has given you a great starting point for collating your favorite places to find resources. Over the years you’ll build up your own libraries of resources and know exactly where to go to find what you need. Please do leave any of your favorite places to find resources in the comments section.

Read part one of this article tutorial: Starting out as a 3D artist – 3D modeling software
Read part two of this article tutorial: Starting out as a 3D artist – rendering software
Read part three of this article tutorial: Starting out as a 3D artist – hardware
Read part four of this article tutorial: Starting out as a 3D artist – tutorials
Read part six of this article tutorial: Starting out as a 3D artist – 10 killer tips to drive you to success

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