Fortunately there is a nice range of free 3D digital art applications and tools to get budding digital artists started with some great creations. I put the question to the 3D Art Direct magazine readership of what has been their experience in using these tools and what did they use most frequently.
I include the best responses below, but if you’d still like to pitch in, then you can answer a quick three question poll here and we’ll add your brief review to this post, once approved. We’ll also include a link to your gallery of digital artwork.
Daz Studio by Darwins Mishap
To answer your question, my top free application has been Daz Studio from www.daz3d.com. I started on version 2, and work now in 3, 4, and 4.5 along with Poser Pro 2010, and Carrara Pro 8- which are both paid for applications. Studio can be relatively easy to get a grip on, if you spend time after installing it to go through the manual and start small. I did not, so my stubborn behavior cost me about a year of frustration before I finally had enough and opened that .pdf file. There is so much that you can do with the program if you can get the basics. After that, there are a slew of tutorials online that can help you progress from a beginner, to an intermediate. After that…I’d suggest purchasing those tutorials out there that are from artists that have found those tricks of the trade to push your work further.
It took a lot of hunting for me to get an understanding of what the program can do, and how to go about doing it. At first, it was mainly my lack of understanding on what to ask and how, but once I started to really dig into the program I ran across a lot of artists (surprisingly) that didn’t want to either answer questions or request my purchasing their “tutorials” and such to find an answer. That was back in 2007, and I’ve seen that issue has backed off quite a bit- more and more artists are sharing tips and hints and placing tutorials for others to find to help out those just getting into it.
There are several basics I do advise new 3D artists to get a good grasp on before really trying to crank out artwork- lighting, perspective, and colors. Lighting is easy- if you can’t understand how certain lights can either give or take away from your “feel” of a scene, you will spend countless hours (as I had) trying to re-rig and re-light the entire scene and those hours you can’t get back. Research is key: not just in say, movies..but photography. Look through books, sites, posters, whatever you can get a hold of and look at how dramatic scenes, romantic scenes, calm scenes…how are they lit to add to the mood of the piece. What key points are they trying to convey to the viewer using lighting?
Perspective is another basic, yet widely misunderstood key. If you don’t have that perspective down, the entire piece- no matter how it’s lit or how fantastic the shaders and textures are, is going to be off. Sometimes a little off, sometimes so far off it’s distracting. Even as a traditional artist I struggled with perspective, and still do today.
Colors are important as well. In textures, shaders, and lighting. Just a hint of warm or cool coloring placed onto a light can dramatically change your entire piece. A heavy dose of color onto a spotlight can convey danger, fear, heat, freezing temperatures, and mood. They also interact with the colors of textures.
Again, research is key.
Find the basics- lighting, perspective, composition, flow. Study how some of the masters portrayed scenes, people and ideas. You’d be amazed at how your work changes when you get an idea of how to portray the idea and have the lighting “suddenly” work its magic and BAM- there it is staring at you, your idea in your head suddenly in front of you on the monitor.
Sculptris by Britta Jacobs (aka Mermaid)
You asked about the free tool, which I use most frequently and there is only one answer for that: Sculptris.
I’m coming from the old school and working with clay since my youth this little program was a marvel for me the minute I first tried it. I found it on the net, because it was mentioned in a forum and was hooked instantly. A modelling program for free, the whole program being only about 4 MB in size! It is absolutely easy to learn and it feels like modelling in clay for real but without getting your hands dirty.
I found Sculptris, which was created by Tomas Pettersson from Sweden, who calls himself a “kind of computer guy” on his home page (http://www.drpetter.se/about.html) in 2009. This was just before it was adopted by Pixologic, but the application is still for free.
To me and to a lot of others this is a wonderful way of creating a quick sketch or model for real in no time. You can texture your models in Sculptris to your liking. Taron Baysal – a well known 3d character sculptor has created a varity of amazing models with Sculptris and even created a little free program called Macrea for textures usable with Sculptris.
Sculptris models can be exported as wavefront objects for further use in other applications – which is just what I do with a lot of my models, using them in Vue and for specific renders combining the wide possibilities of Vue for texturing with Sculptris fast and easy modelling capabilities.
Using Sculptris is very very easy and in no time you get into it. You start working from a sphere or if you wish from a plane and use the 9 different tools to form an object to your liking. With grab you can extrude or push in adjusting the tool with the size, strength and detail option. With draw you can add on or carve out either in a round or a banded form. With the crease tool you can create some fine lines and so on. Sculptris is simple and easy to learn just by doing but there are also some videotutorials on the net. You will find introductions at pixologic.com and of course on youtube, where you can also find tutorials on texturing with Macrea.
All I can say, is, just try it for yourself, it is free, easy to learn and fun to play with – I bet you will love it!
Above is some of my work created with Sculptris. All the examples are textured in Sculptris with the exception of the sacred metallic tree render, where I imported the Sculptris models untextured into Vue. The Softhog is a sculptris body with quills created in Vue from a simple cone with the new Vue 11 360 degree ecosystem.
I hope many of 3d artists will have as much fun as I have with Sculptris!
Bryce by Victor Habbick
Over the years I have continued to use a small selection of software mostly purchased at the full price. That said one of my main programmes Bryce has on several occasions been made available for free. The most recent version Bryce 7 is still available. While I purchase the Pro version on the whole for general 3D work there is little difference especially if you want to dip your feet into the world of 3D. While Bryce has never been looked upon as a serious 3d application it all depends on what you require your software to perform. Its unconventional layout and tools may confuse many, but for me it retains many of the quirky looks and features that I was so drawn to in the early days of computing by Kai Krause who founded MetaCreations and first brought this software to the market. Over the years he developed many plug in and software which all followed the same look. Sadly been quite on the software side for way to long.
Bryce can do so much more than just landscapes which it is basically marketed on. Like photoshop you will never finish finding little surprises along the way on how to achieve a certain look. What I would say is if you wish to repeat a look its best to keep a careful note of settings, materials etc and use the little safe buttons available throughout, such as safe scene layout, safe sky preset etc.
If like me you and are not mathematically orientated and find many high end 3D software packages daunting and outright expensive you could do better than give this a try. Its more than capable of giving professional results with a little care and attention, some thinking outside of the box and most of all retains the fun element that art should be about.
I still have a few gripes about it and it sadly needs a major overhaul as its very buggy at times and its still to be made Lion friendly for the Mac. I have to boot into an old Mac Leopard system so as I can continue to work until someone sees fit to update it!