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What does Digital Content Creation even mean?

3D Digital Content Creation (DCC) software is targeted towards creatives making visual experiences. These experiences can include but are not limited to;

  • Video games.
  • Movies
  • Visualizations and renderings.
  • Interactive exhibits.
  • Educational content.

…and more.

What defines DCC software?

DCC software is used to create many different outputs. As such, they deal with many more types of objects in a file than a CAD software package, which primarily deal with geometry.

3D files in DCC software are referred to usually as a “scene”. Some examples of these objects are below but note that the images are not all-inclusive. For example, “bones” are not shown, but they are used to animate 3D models.

DCC packages usually uses direct editing to modify a mesh. This means that they are very easy to edit at the speed of thought and models do not need to be pre-planned like they usually are in CAD software.

What are the major functions?

Modeling

Modeling in DCC software usually involves grabbing edges, vertices and faces of a polygon or subdivision mesh and moving them around by hand. It is intuitive, creative and very fast.

Sculpting

Much like real clay, sculpting is great for creating organic shapes of any kind or adding surface detail to an existing model. In computer graphics, artists use brush-based tools to push and pull geometry. Under the hood, many DCC tools use polygon meshes and dynamically add more polygons where the artist paints their brush. However, specialized tools like ZBrush and 3DCoat use voxels to create even more flexibility.

Retopologizing

Models can often be made with poor edge flow and/or too many polygons to render in real time or easily modify. Retopology is when you take an existing model and build a new one over top of it with a more workable mesh.

Procedural Generation/Parametric Modeling

A rapidly expanding segment of 3D, procedural generation uses parameters to create geometry on the fly that can be quickly adjusted afterwards. One example might be scattering a bunch of objects (like trees) on top of another object (hilly terrain).

Another example that is in software packages like 3ds Max and Blender are “Modifiers”; non-destructive operations that can be added to and removed to a mesh to alter its appearance without permanently modifying the base geometry.

UV Editing

UV editing is the process where a 3D model is unfolded into a flat shape so that a 2D image (a texture) can be applied to it.

It’s like taking a T-Shirt and unstitching it so that you can draw on it.

Full-fledged UV editing includes manual control over the UV map. Less advanced UV software includes standard projections like planar, cubic, spheroid, etc.

Texture Painting

Once a model is UV unwrapped, creators can paint directly onto it using texture painting. This process is similar to using Photoshop except instead of having to remember what chunk of the UV map corresponds to what chunk of the model, you can paint directly on it in the 3D viewport.

Rigging & Weighting

Rigging is the process where a 3D mesh is parented to bones or controller objects. Basically, if you want to deform a mesh in 3D you rotate these bones instead of trying to move the vertices frame by frame. Weighting is the process of telling the software how much influence a controller has on the vertices of the mesh. If it’s 100% then every movement of the bone is applied 100% to the vertex. If it’s 50%, then any movement is 1/2 of the movement applied to the bone and so on.

Material Creation

Materials, also referred to as “shaders” are what give 3D models in games and movies their color, texture and reflective properties. While there is progress being made towards a standardized material system across all software packages, currently every rendering package (V-Ray, Modo’s internal renderer, etc.) handles materials slightly differently.

In real time engines like Unreal, BabylonJS and Unity the industry has standardized around PBR based textures which means that textures can be used across all engines. Most DCC software also allows for PBR based materials.

Animation

Animation in 3D is pretty simple. A model is posed in a position or location and a keyframe is set on the timeline. Then the timeline is advanced and the model is repositioned, where another keyframe is set. The 3D software interpolates between the keyframes automatically to create a smooth animation.

Curve editors are used to fine tune the translation of objects between these keyframes. Additional constraints can be added to make animations easier to build and more realistic; constraining a car tire to always be on the ground, for example.

Simulation

Simulation in DCC software is not the same as in CAD. Since movies and games are more concerned with looking and feeling “right”, the simulation tools they come with are much less precise and data-driven than CAD applications.

That being said, many DCC programs can simulate a wide range of materials and effects, from shattering a rock, to a waterfall to  smoke from a fire.

Rendering

There are two types of rendering: precomputed and real-time

Precomputed rendering is when a scene is set up in a CG package; with lights, camera, materials, etc. and then that scene is sent to a CPU or GPU to calculate the physics, lighting and animation of the scene. Because it is not being done in real time it is possible to have much more advanced and photorealistic effects.

Real-time rendering is when the GPU of a computer is doing these calculations at almost the same time they are being displayed on a screen. In order to give the illusion of continuous motion, the computer must be able to render +15 FPS, but most gaming takes place around the 30-60 FPS mark. In order to reach these targets, models, textures, animations – everything must be optimized to be rendered as quickly as possible while sacrificing as little visual fidelity as possible.

Popular DCC Software

For a list of popular DCC software, please see “D.C.C. Software List“.

Next D.C.C. Software List
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