3D Modeling Benefits of Practice on Simple Objects (Like Kitbash Parts)
Reading Time: 9 min 50 sec

If we are new to 3D modeling software like Maya, Blender, or Cinema 4D, we typically look for tutorials first.

We do our best to follow the steps shown in the video, so we can learn the basic tools and operations of the software.

Eventually, we´ll try to combine the tools to create something on our own.

That can be something simple, for example, an object we already know like a lamp or a chair.

 

This is all great for the first, second, or tenth model we do.

But what if we would like to make a career out of 3D modeling?

Will then the learning dynamics change too? What to learn, what to look for, and what to practice?

 

As a hobby, our skills are primarily valuable only to us and maybe our inner circle of friends.

If we talk about careers, then we´ll need to polish our skills to the level that brings value to someone. A value high enough, that we can provide as a service.

 

Here is where hobby mentality changes to that of career mentality.

How to build a skill from the beginning, with proper habits and an established workflow structure?

This is where I recommend starting your first practices on simple objects (like kitbash parts) and I´ll share the main reasons why.

 

First, what kind of simple parts? What are kitbash parts?

Simple parts as in singular objects. Objects that do not have moving elements or any mechanics.
Bolt is a singular element, but the keyboard is not (since it contains multiple parts). A phone is a singular object, but a gaming controller is not. Both the gaming controller and keyboard contain singular elements, like buttons and keys.

Combinations of singular elements will lead to additional complex forms, but more about that later.

Kitbash parts are reusable objects we make once but are useful or repeated in more than one project.

In 3D modeling and hard surface design, kitbash parts, can be bolts, screws, hydraulic pistons, or mechanical joints.

Any form, object, or element that would often repeat in our day-to-day projects.

Some kitbash parts are singular and simple like bolts and screws, and some can be complex in function like mechanical joints.

 

Second, what is the biggest benefit of creating a Kitbash library?

  • Simple kitbash parts are great for basic tools practice.
  • On simple parts, we fail faster and can fix mistakes faster
  • We learn the value of repetition, polish, and variations
  • We create a habit of starting and completing projects
  • We can try various workflows and implement them faster
  • We build a library of parts for future projects
Practicing basic skills and tools

If we just start with 3D modeling as an example, we look through a sea of tutorials and try to find the one where the result is cool.

 

Cause this is the thing we wanna create… something cool to show, hey, look this is what I did”

 

In this search, we ignore the biggest factor of all.

How do we learn what is presented to us? How do we apply what we learned?

 

We give our trust to the video creators in the hope that they know what they´re doing. We trust them that our time is well spent.

 

How we practice basic skills and tools, will reflect our future projects.

How we create the first project, will be reflected in the second.

 

In reality, it is not important if our first project looks cool or not.

 

It is important that in our first project, we understand how to use basic tools. Were and how to extrude. How to bevel and edge, slide points, and change pivots. How to snap and duplicate. Create basic renders so we can present our work.

 

Lowest of the basics. We make those strong and we can build more on its foundation.

 

Understanding the base tools and software fundamentals is paramount in bringing our design skills forward.

Take a simple bolt as an example.

In this simple project, we can go through tools like extruding, beveling, adding, and removing edges.

We can learn how to slide points, duplicate the object, rotate, scale, and move it around the viewport.

 

Chances that we understand the software faster, become higher if we use the basic tools often. What we create does not matter as long as it is simple and it is a singular object.

 

How we combine the tools we just learned also matters.

 

A simple bolt can be an excellent starting point to try all the tools out and test our understanding of the basics.

 

So here is a small test for you.

Here is an image of a simple bolt. Try and see how fast you can create it the first time around using basic tools only.

Then see how fast you can create it the second and then the third time around. You may notice a significant increase in efficiency with each new attempt.

 

The results bring us to the next point.

Failing faster and fixing workflow mistakes faster

The goal of the exercise is to fail faster.
The faster we fail, the faster we expose the weakness in our skills or in our workflow.

If we create a simple bolt, and we´re not sure how to create a 6-sided cylinder, we expose information we do not know.

If we start to build a car, and can not pass the form blockout, we are missing a complete set of skills.

 

Skills we need to master, are easier to spot and expose in simple forms.

We may know how to add a default cylinder to the scene, but we do not know how to add sides. Now we are forced to find out where to adjust the sides.

Anything that makes us abandon the creative process and look for a technical solution, exposes our weakness in technical knowledge.

 

If we abandon the technical process on account of the creative process, we expose the creative process as our weakness.

If we manage to create a bolt with clean topology, but our proportions do not look anything like a real bolt, then we know that the next part we need to work on is our observational skill.

 

If we create a bolt that looks exactly like the real one, but our topology is messy, then we know our topology needs improving.

We do not need a car project to expose skills we do not yet own. We only need the smallest of tests to see what our skill level is.

The faster we expose the weakness in our skill, the faster we can address it.

Here is another test. Try and see what what is in your way.
Tools, topology, or establishing proportions.

Value of repetition, polish, and variations

Repetition is something that is often overlooked as a value.
Now that we created a single bolt, we may continue to do something more challenging like a cylindrical piston.

 

How many times did we do that bolt in the first place?
Once, two times, or three?
Chances are that our first models we do only once before we move on to the next one.

 

Here is why I think that is a mistake.
If we create our first objects only once, we miss out on a valuable lesson. The value of repetition and polish.

In repeating the same task, especially smaller tasks, not only do we fail faster, but we have the chance to reduce the mistakes with each new repetition or attempt.

 

The bolt we did the first time may not have great topology but it has great proportions. Through repetition and making this bolt a second time, we have the chance to fix that mistake and implement a better topology.

 

Also, we have the chance to strengthen our knowledge of the tools we use, making them almost a muscle memory. Our focus can be on topology only.

 

Even if we fail a second time in creating a clean topology, we fail faster since the object is small. Creating it a third time will result in a speed increase and awareness of where tools are located, and how we use them.
The third attempt may be the attempt where everything falls into place. Tools, proportions, and topology.

 

If we skip repetition, we may encounter the same problems we have in the first place, appearing in the second project and the third.
Repetition gives us another benefit. Variations.
Even if we create a single bolt 3 times, we can explore different variations in bevel sizes, sharpness, and thickness.

 

All these drills and practices we did here are forming a habit.
A habit of refinement, self-critique observation, and not being afraid of making adjustments for the benefit of a final polished product.

Which brings us to the next point.

Creating a habit of starting and completing projects

If we follow a tutorial online, what are the chances we will complete it?

What are the chances we follow it closely and care about the end result?

 

Do we put in the effort to make our version look exactly like the version presented in the video?

 

What is stopping us in this competition? Tutorial, not quality enough?

Stepps not clearly explained? Just browsing?

 

Or tutorial is great but we stop mid-way.

We start another and stop mid-way.

We start yet another one and again stop mid-way.

 

Our habit is now starting a project abandoning it in the middle, and starting a new one.

 

The approach we take to make one project will reflect the approach we take for the following project.

 

This is again the benefit of smaller projects and repetition.

The project we discussed previously, a simple bolt, is easy to complete.

It is fast to complete. We reflect on our workflow faster, and we rectify our mistakes faster.

 

We also start and finish a project faster.

 

A simple bolt project is a complex workflow foundation that holds the necessary disciplinary structure.

  • Tool familiarity
  • Failing fast enough to isolate mistakes
  • Exposes value of repetition to a final polished product
  • Starting a project and bringing it to its final presentable state

 

A simple bolt is our kitbash project. All that we learned, we are ready to translate into further projects.

Trying various workflows and implementing them faster

How do kitbash parts help us with trying out different workflows faster?
Creating a bolt in 5 minutes or 10 minutes makes the difference.
Finding where the difference happens is where we adopt efficient workflow.

If we completed our first project, chances are we used the default tool locations. Also, chances are we used only the basic functions of the tools.

 

Now that we have slightly increased confidence, we may try out the same workflow with hotkeys assigned to the tools we use most often.
Maybe now we reduced our workflow from 20 minutes to 14 minutes when creating the same bolt.

 

Now that we are familiar with the basic tools and their use, we can expand and introduce different functionalities of that tool.
(For example, did you know we can use a scale tool in Maya to extrude? We can hold the shift to duplicate.)

 

We use the familiar tools to expand our workflow and introduce more and more tools where we can practice speed and efficiency.

Even if we switch software, it is easier to adopt a new toolset on smaller repetitive tasks.

How does kitbash workflow translate to bigger projects?

Think of simple kitbash parts as training wheels.

We mentioned previously how our approaches define our habits.

How we start and complete a small project, is a window into a project that will follow.

 

Complex projects are combinations of smaller parts in a unified order.
if we struggle with complex forms, we usually break them down into simple and understandable forms.

A cube that stands alone looks simple enough. However, two cubes that intersect with one another open new possibilities.

Two cubes can now vary in scale and position. They can vary in places where they intersect. While two stand-alone cubes may be simple to make, their intersection may not be (especially if we take topology into account).

So what do we do then? We simplify the object to its simple forms.
Two cubes, and one intersection. Each of these simple forms is now our new practice.

We break down the unknown forms into known shapes until we solve each part. (if you are interested in the topic, I made a video on it how to approach creating complex forms.)

 

Regardless of the parts we would like to do, each of them can be broken down into smaller, simple parts.

Those small simple parts are our practice. That is where we form our habits and our understanding of 3D modeling workflow.

Either we look for hydraulic pistons, screws, bolts, or mechanical joints that have multiple connections… each of these objects has a simple base.

Understanding complex forms comes from mastering and understanding simple forms.

We practice simple forms, to implement and combine them into complex forms.

Kitbash parts allow exactly that. They can be small enough, and complex enough. They have elements that may challenge our skills but also our discipline.

Bonus… so what is the point? Where is the visible benefit of creating any pieces that are described here?

 

Library building. A mental library of form, and a digital library of useable pieces.

 

As we build and recreate parts we see around us, simultaneously we´re building a visual mental library. Once our library fills up, and once we create enough bolts or hydraulic joints… once we solve enough topology puzzles, our mental library will get filled each time we create.

Once is full enough, we´ll be able to pick and choose as we go which form we take next, and which topology fits the best to it.

A digital library will be a library of pieces that we can reuse and adapt for each new project, increasing our workflow efficiency.

It is up to you now what type of library you decide to build.

Mechanical forms, automotive, architectural, or organic.

One final important note. As we practice, we need to practice with precision. How well do we translate what we see in the real world into our viewport?

It matters if our library is filled with pieces that are close in resemblance to the real objects. If they strongly vary, we are again building a habit where the visual transference of form from the real world into a digital one is not on top of our priority list.

So we need to make sure that is not the case, and that our library is a representation of our skills, discipline, and precise observation.