The proliferation of 3D printing has brought many benefits to the medical field, creating customized objects to solve many unique needs for healthcare professionals. If you are looking for ways in which 3D printing can add value to your profession, you have likely done some research on how long it takes to learn how to create 3D models.
Let’s get into this topic.
Some 3D modeling software is quite intuitive, with users able to get the hang of it in a few days—possibly even a few hours. However, for creating complex objects likely to be used in the medical field, getting adequately trained in 3D modeling will usually take at least six months.
The range for learning 3D modeling is large and inconclusive. Many factors can make the learning curve steeper or shallower. However, if you are willing to work hard and commit several hours daily, you should be able to start churning out quality 3D models in a matter of months.
Factors that Influence the Learning Curve for 3D Modeling
There is no set time frame for how long it will take you to learn 3D modeling, as the process will differ from one person to the next. The following list of factors provides insight into what influences the learning curve:
Type of 3D Model Needed
This is the most significant factor that will influence how long it takes to learn 3D modeling. If you have at least a general understanding of art, design, and computer software, you should be able to effectively render basic objects such as boxes, tables, and chairs in a matter of a few days. Unfortunately, unless you plan to create the ideal virtual waiting room, this may not have much utility in the medical realm.
Even for experts, creating 3D models for prosthetic limbs and artificial joints can take weeks to finalize. As such, if you are a beginner in 3D modeling with the end goal of trying to make models for these types of objects, you can see how the learning process can extend to many months, if not years.
Moreover, some 3D modeling in the medical world is not constrained to simply making prints to fulfill patient needs. Entire surgeries have been reconstructed using 3D models, giving doctors the chance to do a video game-like simulation of the procedure before actually performing it on a patient.
If this is the case, you will likely be working on a team of Pixar-esque designers working to create these types of complex, interactive models—a journey that could take years to complete.
Your Experience in Design
Another major influence on how long it will take you to learn 3D modeling is your experience in the realm of art and design. Very simply, if you have never drawn or created any type of model, whether on a computer or in real life (sculpting) and are attempting to jump into 3D modeling, the learning process will be arduous.
It is important to be able to conceptualize solutions and put them on paper, as every 3D model begins as a 2D sketch. From there, you will need to learn how to get your reference 2D object into a 3D program the correct way to serve as a helpful reference and not a hindrance. You must then use your modeling software to add shapes, mass, and layers to build a detailed rendering of your 3D object.
If you are an artist, engineer, or designer who has a firm understanding of how to build objects, navigating through 3D modeling software should not take too long. However, if you are inexperienced as a creator, in general, then the process will seem complex and take significantly longer to learn.
Knowledge of Human Anatomy
The other important consideration for 3D modeling for medical animation is that creators must have a solid understanding of human anatomy. Designing a tendon, ligament, or bone graft, in isolation, is usually not enough. You must be able to create them to fit in with the rest of the body and be a functional component of a larger model. If you are unfamiliar with human anatomy, this will add months of study to the learning process.
In fact, medical 3d modelers are likely either closely supervised in their work by medical professionals or if they want to work on their own, need to complete degrees in medical animation, such as a BS or MS.
It is difficult to say how long it will take a person to understand 3D modeling without knowing how much time they will commit to learning the process each day. If you only watch a how-to video here and there and play around with the software occasionally, then you can study forever and never really learn 3D modeling.
However, if you can set aside several hours each day, invest in helpful training resources, and really practice the art of 3D modeling from all angles, then experienced designers can become masters in general 3D modeling in two or three months, while beginners can become functional modelers in around six months.
Method of 3D Modeling
On top of it all, there are various 3d modeling methods, including NURBS, polygons, subdivision surfaces, and digital clay. Different ones seem to be easier to learn for different people. For example, NURBS and polygon modeling have very different approaches to building a model- curve based vs face based. The best way to find out what suits you best is to practice modeling each method.
Modeling in digital clay in a program like Zbrush may be very intuitive for people with physical sculpting experience, but it has its learning curve as does any type of modeling. Some program like Maya include various modeling methods and you can practice all of them. Others like Rhino do not.
One more caveat is some models are easier and quicker to make in one method and not another. NURBS modeling is great for organic shapes while polygon modeling is good for non organic hard edge models. This does not mean a model can only be made one way, but its likely easier. Therefore you should know how to model in different methods. Most programs like Maya allow you to convert from one type of model to another and then continue modeling in another method but you still need to know which method to begin with to optimize your time.
Software Used for 3D Modeling
The role of software in the learning curve is a topic of debate within the 3D modeling community. On the one hand, some say that picking up the nuances of modeling software will not present any challenges for a contemporary market, as users are constantly navigating through new software, apps, and technology daily. They believe that 3D modeling software is intuitive for most people and can be learned in as little as a few hours.
On the other hand, there is the population that believes that most 3D modeling software includes a variety of advanced features that can take a long time to learn how to use.
As many of the software programs used for 3D modeling are subscription-based suites that provide the most advanced modeling features, it is best to allow yourself time to navigate and practice using all aspects of the software.
3D Modeling with Scanned/Reconstructed Data
When you take into account 3D modeling for medical animation and other fields, you may have to start your modeling with real data such as that from 3D scanners or medical imaging modalities (CT, MRI, etc). This adds another layer to what you need to know in 3d modeling and it includes optimizing and model cleanup. In terms of medical imaging, this may include modeling in the form of 3D reconstruction, which is also another approach to modeling. These methods can take weeks or months to master.
3D Modeling Courses You Can Take
With the prevalence of free information available on the Internet today, you can definitely learn how to 3D model on your own without spending a dime. However, if you choose to go this route, you must be extremely disciplined and have a well-defined plan for what you need to study to reach your end goal.
If you feel a bit lost on how to get started on your 3D modeling journey, several 3D modeling courses can get you moving in the right direction.
Lynda is alternately known as LinkedIn Learning and offers a subscription-based series of 3D modeling tutorials. Some tutorials last as a little as a few minutes, while others last 12+ hours. Making your way through the library will take days, if not weeks, to do correctly.
Lynda offers training across a broad spectrum of software and has tutorials for designers of all ability levels.
Udemy is a general online learning academy; this is a great option for beginners, as it is affordable (most courses cost less than $50) and offers many relevant modules for those looking to get into 3D modeling, such as web design basics, software development, and CAD (computer animated design).
Some other websites with training videos include SimplyMaya | Online training for Maya and VFX artists, The Gnomon Workshop, PluralSight.
Getting through the courses offered on 3D modeling may take a few weeks to months, depending on your learning goals.
If you are a more advanced designer with some experience in the medical profession, the classes offered by 3D Training can teach you how to expertly craft 3D models in a few months.
This platform provides in-depth instruction across various modeling software choices and gives the student practice creating renderings to solve problems within specific industries.
The time to learn 3D modeling varies with several factors, such as the type of model needed, experience in design, personal schedule, and the software chosen. Those just starting their journey in 3D may take years. And lets not forget, modelers are always practicing and refining their skills- it is a lifelong study.
Considering that modeling for 3D animation is some of the most complex in the industry and requires an understanding of human anatomy, you can expect much longer than general 3D modeling to create functional and relevant 3D models.
Click the following link to read about teaching yourself 3d animation.