SIMPLE PRINCPLES OF 3D MODELING--SL Mesh For The Beginning Creator-Part 2

If you are new to 3D modeling, like I am, you are gonna need to know  some of the survive this maddening world.  In other words, we need to become familiar with some of the terms used and what some of the concepts mean.  Believe me, knowing a few terms...NO you do not have to memorize them...there will be NO test at the end...will make your life so much easier. 

I know, I learned the hard way!  I seem to have a tendency to jump in and want to know it all and right NOW!  But, you and I both know it doesn't really work that way.   Honestly, while it may be a pain and the information make your eyes bug right now, it will take some of the frustration out away or try to as you go about learning to model. 

Be sure you check out the Resources at the end of the article for links to various other articles, which I hope will provide you more information on our topic.


According to, 3 dimensional (3D) modeling is simply...

..."The process of creating a 3D representation of any surface or object by manipulating polygons, edges, and vertices in simulated 3D space. 3D modeling can be achieved manually with specialized 3D production software that lets an artist create and deform polygonal surfaces, or by scanning real-world objects into a set of data points that can be used to represent the object digitally."

A 3D modeler is similar to a traditional media artist, who uses pencils, chalk, charcoal, paints, camera, or, other substances to create a representation of what they see into a 2D format, such as on canvas, paper, photographs, etc.  In other words, in 3D modeling in it's simplest form, you are trying to take a physical object you see (i.e. paper clip, book, television set, snowflake, chicken, avatar, etc.) and recreate it's shape using the media of lines and dots to create your art.  However, to create your art, as a 3D modeler, you use special 3D software and create in 3D space rather than a sketch pad or painting on canvas or paper.   Confused?  Try this thought...


A 2D comparison or, at least it makes sense to me, would be the old fashioned, pen & pencil (crayon) connect the dot pages of our youth. I don't know if children still do this or not, but when I was growing up we us to spend hours doing connect the dot puzzles using paper and pencils or crayons.   Connect the dot puzzles are sort of reverse engineering...taking a complex object and reverting it to a simple outline made up of dots.

It was fascinating to watch as you connected the dots and a shape seemed to appear when you were 7 or 8 years old.   3D modeling is a similar principle except you are using software to draw the lines (edges) to connect the dots (vertices).  When all are connected, the shape is filled-in (faces) with your crayon to create the individual parts of the object. Who knew we would need this skill later in life!

Old Fashioned Paper & Pen Connect the Dot Puzzle

If you look at the puzzle above, you can see a bunch of numbered dots (vertex-singular; vertices-plural) that sort of give us an idea of the final shape will be when the dots are connected. The dots or, vertices gives it a shape.  Think of these numbers as our map, our path, our compass points, or our coordinates to follow.  The numbers tell us in what numerical order and direction we should travel to connect the dots with our lines (edges) to make the shape.  Once the dots are all connect, the area inside the edges and dots would be our face or, faces filling in our edges and dots to give us a more solid form.

Connected Dots

 In other words, we can take something that is a 2 dimensional (flat) representation of a "thing" and transform it into a 3 dimensional thing by using 3D modeling software, such a Maya, Sketch-up, Z Brush, Blender, etc, by modeling (drawing) out vertices (dots), edges (lines), and faces to create the "thing" in 3D space. 


Okay, so we have a definition and some idea of what 2D and 3D "things" are in the real or, physical we need to talk about these 2D and 3D "things" in 3D space. This is can be a difficult concept to try to explain and to understand, at least it is for me in some respects.  So, let's look at how Wikipedia defines it.

Here is Wikipedia's definition..."Three-dimensional space is a geometric 3-parameters model of the physical universe (without considering time) in which all known matter exists. These three dimensions can be labeled by a combination of three chosen from the terms length, width, height, depth, and breadth. Any three directions can be chosen, provided that they do not all lie in the same plane."

In other words, as I understand it, 3D space is a mathematical concept that attempts to explain or define our world and the existence of objects around us.  Nothing can exist in our known world if it does not contain at least three of the dimensions listed above including time. 

Now, if we apply this concept to a computer environment.  We still need to have three of the dimensions (leaving out time) in order for this environment to become 3D or Virtual 3D space.   Usually, we find this in the form of X (left to right), Y (back and forth), Z (up and down) directional coordinates, which most of us know as width, length, and height.  The combination of these things we can form some thing our avatars in SL or a wooden prim cube for example. 

To work in this virtual 3D space, we need special software that will allows 3D space to exist. 3D modeling software, such as Blender, Maya, Zbrush, etc. allows us to create a 3 dimensional object from materials inherent in the software using X, Y, and Z coordinates.  Having the ability to have width, length, and height in our software, we can create objects in that 3D space. 

Each edge and vertex (as seen above) exists at some point in 3D space. When we add a vertex or edge in our 3D modeling space, wherever we place it, the vertex or edge, is assigned an X, Y, Z coordinate in space. So really, when we create in modeling software, we are placing a bunch of vertices (dots) and connecting them with edges (lines) to form a solid looking mass or object like our "connect the dot puzzles" we had as kids.  It is pretty simple once you get your mind wrapped around it.


Whew!  That is pretty mind blowing when you think about it. Something else that is pretty mind blowing is Second Life.  From my unlearned perspective, it boggles my mind what can be done in virtual space.  Why?  Because, SL has a primitive built in 3D mesh modeling system.  While this system may not be as powerful as Blender, Maya, or other 3d modeling software, all those little shapes in the building menu are mesh.  Actually, almost every thing in SL is mesh if it is made out of a system prim, sculpty, flexi-prim, or mesh.  Even our avatars are made out of mesh.  Everything is made up of dots, lines, and faces you just can't see them like you can in modeling software.

Before the inclusion of mesh or sculpts, all prim based items were made out of the SL mesh building blocks.  It is what we had to work with to create our world.  You can cut, twist, hollow, stretch, texture, animate, and torture these system mesh prims just like you can in modeling software.  However, there are limitations to using the system prims such as how small or large you can make them,   how many you can link together in a set, how they can be textured, etc.  

By now, you are probably wondering if you make things out of dots and lines is that rather tedious to do?  Yes, it can be very tedious depending on what you are making.  But, most 3D modeling software has a set of basic shapes you can use as your starting point and build your way up extruding faces, vertices, or edges.  It is really quite fascinating once you start modeling at all the different approaches that can be taken. 

Below, you will find some 2D images of some of the building starting shapes we use in SL,  Blender, or other 3D modeling programs to create/build objects.

Some Basic Building Prim Shapes

So next time you begin to think about 3D modeling, just think of Second Life. Think about how that virtual world exists in 3D space.  Think about all those little dots and dashing that make up each object. If you are not an SL builder yet, give it a try.  

Try rezzing a cube, stretching them, moving them around, stack them on top of one another to make a simple set of stairs.   When done, you can say you made your first primitive mesh model!



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