3D modeling – the unsung hero that shapes our world
3D modeling is essential to applications within architecture/design, geology/science, engineering, healthcare, and the subsea oil and gas industries.
Over the last 50 years, computing has completely transformed our lives, becoming a predominant force in everything we do, from how we communicate to how we work.
When you think of computers, you probably think of IT and the immense power of the internet, however, there is one particular sector of the industry that has ideas on an even grander scale – and has been quietly shaping the world around us for many years.
The growth of 3D as an industry
From cars to cellphones, buildings to bottles, it’s hard to think of a single object in our modern world that hasn’t spent at least some time in a CAD program. The 3D industry has come a very long way in a very short time and now shapes almost every object around us.
While 3D graphics and animation were once the preserve of top-end media houses and film studios, tumbling prices in computer hardware combined with the increasing affordability of software have meant even home-based hobbyists can produce startlingly realistic 3D graphics and animations.
Of course, as with any industry where there’s a demand, supply soon follows, and commercial, high-end 3D modeling production is now a massive global industry.
The application of 3D in the real world
3D has a vast array of uses across all sectors, but its most common industrial applications are within architecture/design, geology/science, engineering, healthcare, and the subsea oil and gas industries.
In a more general setting, 3D is now the prevalent technology in the movie and games industries – though it has found numerous additional applications in marketing and advertising.
The industry’s influence continues to grow and is all-pervasive across manufacturing, media, and design.
Immersive Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (or VR for short) has long been touted as the next big thing yet has, until very recently, spectacularly failed to deliver on its promises.
Using VR, 3D modelers can build virtual worlds where the user can interact with their surroundings and explore entire computer-generated environments.
As the cost of VR headsets continues to tumble, these applications have become more and more common and are now beginning to enter the mainstream. Indeed, Facebook is the latest in a long list of companies backing the technology, purchasing the Oculus VR headset system in 2014 for $2.3 billion.
Facebook had a clear plan in mind and subsequently launched its Horizon platform earlier this year – a fully-fledged online VR app allowing users, “an interconnected world where people can explore new places, play games, build communities, and even create their own new experiences”.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t exactly known for backing bad ideas, and with Facebook now actively promoting the technology, one can expect to see a whole new range of applications by other companies, keen to join the bandwagon.
VR with AR
VR is also gaining particular traction in Augmented Reality applications, where the real-world and virtual worlds combine. Augmented reality essentially enhances reality with computer-generated overlays, normally displayed by way of a device.
Basic VR applications are already common on cellphones, where you can hold up your handset to a scene or landscape, and virtual overlays are ‘painted’ on top, offering additional information or animations.
The combination of VR/AR is at its most spectacular when used at sites of archaeological significance, such as old ruins, to bring ancient buildings back to life and portray them in their previous splendor. It is a technique that is becoming increasingly popular at historical sites.
The video game industry is unrecognizable from the early 2D days of Pacman and Space Invaders in the ’80s. Modern video games are far more immersive, normally featuring gameplay in highly-detailed 3D environments.
It’s estimated that around 35% of all US households own a games console, and the video games industry in 2018 was worth a staggering $44 billion – bigger even than the movie industry. There are an estimated 2 .7 billion gamers around the world, and predictions suggest the market will surpass $200 billion by 2023.
3D modeling and animation have been the driving force behind this exponential growth – both by pushing the speed and power of the consoles and also by increasing the complexity and detail of the games themselves.
Movies and entertainment
When Disney moved to 3D modeling in 1990, it spelled the end of traditional animation and gave birth to a whole new way of directing and filmmaking. These days it’s almost impossible to think of a film that doesn’t feature some form of CGI or 3D modeling.
The 3D industry has completely transformed moviemaking as we know it and lifted consumer expectations in terms of what we anticipate from special effects. Even run-of-the-mill films use CGI and modeling these days.
Movies aren’t the only place where 3D dominates. Home entertainment has been transformed with everything from sports shows filmed in green-screen CGI studios to the re-enactment of sport plays in a full 3D environment.
Non-destructive testing (NDT)
One of the most exciting – and most commercially enticing – areas of 3D development has been the use of models in Non-Destructive Testing (NDT).
NDT – also sometimes known as Non-Destructive Examination (NDE) and Non-Destructive Inspection (NDI) – is a technique used by industry to evaluate the properties of materials and components without causing damage.
3D technology is now so advanced that it’s possible to build components so structurally and anatomically precise that they can be used in a 3D environment for virtual testing before production.
There isn’t a single area of industry that couldn’t benefit from the use of 3D modeling and animations for presentations.
Media agencies like Motion Giraffx can make spectacular, immersive 3D visualizations and animations showcasing operations in a level of detail never before possible.
3D animations are particularly well-suited to industries where the inner movements of components are key to understanding how they work. Sectors like engineering and subsea oil and gas benefit most from these other-worldly views showcasing equipment at work.
Product prototyping is common across all industries but is especially prevalent within the car and auto sector to build 3D models of cars before moving to full production. These models can be used for everything from aerodynamics to fuel efficiency. The technique is also widely used in Formula One and other motorsports to bring a competitive edge to teams.
3D printing creates (prints) 3D objects, usually in a layer by layer process in a specialized 3D printing machine. There has been a considerable growth in the popularity of the technology over the last few years, leading to vastly reduced prices.
As one might expect, the most important use of 3D printing can be seen in an industrial setting. By sending printed models, companies can virtually transport goods around the world – it’s the closest we’re likely to get to Star Trek type teleportation anytime soon.