3D Modeling Standards: Folklore or Fact?

TurboSquid 3D Modeling

There was a time not too long ago when hardly anyone knew what a 3D model was. Then Toy Story came out in 1995, and it got a little easier to explain to my mother what I do for a living. Fast-forward to the release of Avatar this year, and suddenly everyone is interested in this 3D stuff.

All the while, as 3D artists continued to model away, rough standards emerged for the construction of 3D models. But while it’s pretty easy for anyone to spot a good rendering, it’s not so easy to get a handle on all the components that make a 3D model good under the hood.

The rendering looks fine, but...

...what does the topology look like?

Experienced artists use the term topology to describe the construction of a 3D model, the arrangement of polygons and edges and how they flow. Unfortunately, there’s no Standards Bureau for 3D Modeling—definitions of “good topology” are passed around like folklore on forums or given as part of on-the-job training in a specific industry. But what works in one field might not work in another, which makes for confusing and even conflicting standards for 3D models.

To help sort this out, we asked customers from all kinds of industries to spell out their own standards for both stock 3D models and custom work. Several of these rules came up as common to all production fields, from architectural visualization to game development and broadcast.

  • No ngons (polygons with more than four sides)
  • Mostly quads (four-sided polygons) with a few triangles as needed
  • Built to real-world scale
  • No coincident or overlapping faces
  • Normals flipped the right way

Now that 3D modeling is no longer a new art, is it time for firm professional standards to emerge from the folklore? Would enforcing professionalism in such a manner stifle creativity?