I have been doing a lot of 3D modelling lately. The tools I have to work with now are so much better, so much richer, more stable, and capable than anything I ever used in the past. This isn’t because, Blender, the suite of tools I am using is any better than the others available. In fact, strong arguments could be made to the contrary. Maya, Houdini, ZBrush, and 3D Studio Max, are all probably better in some ways than Blender. Still, through the march of time, all of the tools currently in use are quite simply the best they have ever been. Almost none of this clever software design makes it easier to make a model.
You might think that new tools would simplify the process. What took artists ages to create for Jurassic Park would now be somehow boiled down to a “Make Dinosaur” button. The tools are a bit more glossy, and profoundly faster and more stable than they used to be, but the process of creating a model or animating a character hasn’t really changed much since I started working with 3D programs in the late 90s.
Some of that might seem obvious. Pencils haven’t changed much since people found you can scrape a burnt stick across a rock. The fundamentals of animation, putting one picture after another and playing them back as a continuous stream hasn’t changed for a century. But 3D modelling and animation is high tech stuff, and high tech stuff is supposed to grow and evolve in great revolutionary waves. Most of what I do still consists of shifting vertices around a 3 dimensional grid and managing layers of interrelated data. Everything is still built of triangles.
A few times, just this week, I have been reminded that what I do is more about very basic geometry than any particular new tool. It’s more about cascading inheritance of data down a long chain of subtle operations than the whizz-bang of a new digital sculpting tool. There is a reason why every athlete with media training has the line “we just have to work on the fundamentals” tucked in their back pocket. Fundamentals is all there really is. Once you grasp the fundamentals, anything else, any other advanced feature or time saving technique, is just a choice. You can take it or leave it.
If you want to learn 3D modelling or animation, learn about geometry, learn about organizing data. Everything else, every other tool, every other technique, is a preference. Do what makes you happy.