Will traditional sculpting/modelmaking make a comeback in the VFX World?


I been wondering lately if the advent of cheap 3d scanners and advanced tools to handle scanned 3d data will allow for a renaissance of the old fashioned Model/Creature shop.

There is something ot be said about holding a real 3d model of a creature/ ship.
I do wonder if in the near future we will see more of hybrids forms of modeling.
(The same way a lot traditional artists do a drawing first on pencil and then scan it, a sculptor could start a model in model in Mudbox/Zbrush, 3D PRINT it and then detail it or do variations of it).

Of course if sculpting/ model building makes a comeback thanks to new 3d methods, it would be REALLY ironic, since ease of cg was the root cause for their original demise.

Looking forward to your comments.



Well, my College degree and background is in traditional sculpture (Bronze casting specifically) so I like to think that traditional skills help me in my daily 3D work…

I still have a huge hunk of plasticine on my desk for when I want to work something tricky out by hand first.

As far as cheap desktop scanners go: the sub $2k price point makes them real attractive, but with the years of practicing clean edge-loops and the recent advances in programs like Mudbox3D and ZBrush, scanning and then cleaning up seems almost like a step backward to me. That might be just a Kneejerk reaction though. Perhaps if I was in a job environment that focused on quality and innovation instead of lowest-common-denominator volume then it would be much more attractive. Perhaps in the larger markets?


I would have to say that miniatures and bigatures are still very prevelant in feature film creation. So sculpting will always be very important.


Actually I think the reverse will happen. As the 3D tools progress and CPU power continues to grow exponentially, I think you’ll see more work being taken over digitally. It’s just becoming easier for a user to edit and have more advanced real time interaction with 3D work. A single artist work station takes up less space than all the equipment and infrastructure needed to do life sized sculptur work. 3D work doesn’t involve working directly with toxic chemicals. And the directors and producers have more of a percieved liberty to edit digital work.

Of course a leap in forward in robotics could see more creature work go back on set. But we’re not at that point yet.


*edit: whoops, wrong thread :s


Some toy manufacturers have begun phasing out traditional sculpting for their job requirements. Macfarlane etc.


Will it happen? I thought it already did. There was a big downturn in the early to mid 90s when everyone thought digital would wipe out the practical. But two things happened: Digital tools were much harder to sculpt with when trying to achieve a concept artist’s exact vision, and they matured slowly, and compositing software improved rapidly. That, and a readily available talent pool of sculptors and model makers and there you have it. Extensive practical models were used in the SW movies, and if I’m not mistaken, Pixar does 3D scans of sculpted maquettes for the base models of characters.


Digital tools were much harder to sculpt with when trying to achieve a concept artist’s exact vision

True this did happen, but lately some studios have been forgoing the concept maquettes and doing the concept scuplts strait in Z-Brush or Mudbox. Its these tools which have really changed the working methodology. Instead of trying to reproduce a sculpt, the artists are just doing the concept work digitally in the first place. Which makes sense if you never need to reproduce the the sculpt for an onset practical.

Pixar does 3D scans of sculpted maquettes for the base models of characters

The old Toystory DVDs show them working that way, but I’d highly doubt they’re still doing it. With the simplicity of their style it would make more sense just to remake the characters digitally. Considering their level of detail it would be more work to scan, reduce, fix the scan topology, and retopologize than it would be to just re-sculpt them digitally. Perhaps they use a scan as a basis for form. But I’m sure a Pixar artist could give a real answer to that question.


I would rather stick my hands in a nice cool chunk of earthware anyday of the week than fool with “intersecting faces” and “keeping the topology clean”. Even adding the details can be done in clay if the scanner is sensitive enough, but ya, but they would be easier, no clay chipping off in software.


It is much faster to alter a concept pic design in zbrush than in a real sculpture.So it is better for sculpting work even if you are working off someone else’s drawing.

You can see a problem without having made a clay sculpture(if its clay and you want to tweak the design while keeping the original then you need to make a mold, do a casting etc).You dont have that step in digital which is why toy and model kit companies are starting to switch.


I’m pretty sure they did it as recent as The Incredibles. At least that’s what they told me when I was there shortly after its release. But it’s not always about the quality of the digital model - that’s a given these days. Having a physical model offers a perspective on the character no digital model can offer. When writers and animators and producers meet to talk about story and character and what-have-you, they often use maquettes to communicate the characters’ attributes simply because it’s tactile, relatively fast and cheap to iterate variations (with a talented sculptor, of course).

On the SW movies, I know they made study models or maquettes of every set, vehicle and character design that that appeard in those movies. Being able to hold, turn, and examine in different light is a valuable process that can’t be easily (or quickly) replicated on a computer. Whether or not the final models are scanned from those models is another issue and has more to do with the particular pipeline of any given studio.


Personally, I think we’ll see a wide range of hybrid processes. And it won’t matter what tools a person uses so long as the end result satisfies. The real endgame is that it won’t matter whether it’s done using a tangible material or a digital tool, because for all we know the two will be one and the same.


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