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Obviously the most essential component of 3d animation is the 3d model. Without this component there would be no subject to view.

Many methods can be used to create the geometry of a 3d model. The following are the methods I use most often.

Polygon cage modeling.

This is probably the easiest to understand method for creating a model (if there is such a thing)

To create a model with cage modeling, I create a very simple polygon box. By dividing the box into a more refined shape, I can approximate the rough shape that the object will have.

The shape is then further refined to account for more and more detail. At this stage, I will use the computer to smooth out the rough cage that I have created. The computer will analyze my boxy model and generate hundreds of further divisions to smooth out the shape creating a much more natural model.

By examining the model, I can determine which areas need further refinement. I can then go back to the poly cage and move the corners around to refine the overall shape, and add more divisions in the shape to create greater detail.

Once I am happy with the shape, I use the computer to smooth the model once again.

This technique is best for creating smooth organic shapes or objects with rounded corners.

Nurbs modeling

With this method, curved lines in 3d space are drawn. The nurbs curves are used to make a frame for which the object will be created. By creating four curves that connect at their end points, the computer can generate the smooth surface that exists between the curves. This surface that is created is called a nurbs patch. By creating multiple patches you can describe a complete surface.

This method it best for creating very precise (drafted) models.

Often, I will use a combination of these modeling techniques to create a character or object.