There’s one thing--and only one thing--the Transformers films are truly remarkable for: staggeringly detailed computer effects shots from the incomparable artists at Industrial Light & Magic. In Dark of the Moon, Shockwave’s worm-like metal pet Driller consists of 70,051 separate parts, a good 20,000 more than Revenge of the Fallen’s Devastator. It took ILM 288 render hours per frame to animate the Driller eating its way through a CG Chicago skyscraper, and the visual effects files themselves took an hour just to load on the development house’s most powerful desktops.
No one does 3D modeling and animation like ILM--they’ve proven that time and again by bringing characters like Optimus Prime and Davy Jones to life. To climb to that level of talent, most of us have to start small, building our own simple 3D models and learning the ins and outs of shaping and texturing meshes. Getting into 3D modeling can be intimidating thanks to the complexities (and costs) of software like Autodesk’s $3500 3D Studio Max, but it’s easier than ever thanks to free options like Google Sketchup and Blender.
Interested in throwing yourself into 3D animation? Want to know how to design those cool objects we print in the MakerBot every week? Here’s how to jump headfirst into 3D modeling without spending hundreds of dollars on overwhelming software.