Many screensavers feature virtual three-dimensional (3D) images of a variety of objects. These objects are typically made with 3D design programs, whose features may include animation tools. By using these programs, you can easily create screensaver-like images. In fact, since quality screensavers tend to minimize the CPU-drain required by 3D drawing, making more elaborate images presents little challenge. The essential operations to learn when first creating 3D images include creating and manipulating a 3D object. Try out your skills with free software, such as Blender 3D, Google Sketchup, or Autodesk 3ds Max.
Blender 3D Content Creation Suite
1. Download the Blender 3D content creation suite (see Resources for link). Blender includes tools for making, rendering and animating virtual 3D models.
2. Create a simple object like a cube or sphere, then use the central toolbar’s basic tools for moving, rotating and sizing the object.
3. Add lights to prepare for rendering the object realistically. You can manipulate lights as you can regular objects, but take the time to learn place them well, relative to your object: lighting is a key part of how appealing the rendered scene looks.
Start with basic lighting in a position that illuminates the object from a natural angle, such as the sun would light it: place a light such that its location is above the object and behind the viewpoint.
4. Apply materials to your object, starting with a color from the color palette. Then, add different textures such as wood or stucco. You can also make textures with image files, such as those showing brick walls.
5. Use Blender’s rendering tools to display the 3D scene. Evaluate the scene’s appeal, then adjust lighting, texture and viewpoint as needed. Continue to render and critique until you’re satisfied with the image.
6. Download Google Sketchup (see Resources for link). Begin creating objects by making polygons with the pencil tool. Polygons are chains of line segments whose last segment connects with the first.
7. Pull 3D objects out of the 2D polygons with the “Push/Pull” tool, then shape objects with the same tool. Use the “Move” and “Rotate” tools for object-shaping also, then complete your initial editing by assembling all object surfaces with the “Group” tool. This tool allows you to move the complete object without disturbing its inner geometry. You can edit the inner geometry with the “Edit Group” command.
8. Create 2D pictures from the 3D scenes you create–but not by rendering them, as you do with Blender and other applications. Sketchup is a design tool, not a rendering tool. To produce 2D images with Sketchup, export your 3D scene to a 2D graphic file format (e.g. PNG, JPEG).
Autodesk 3ds Max
9. Download Autodesk 3ds Max (see Resources for link).
10. Begin creating 3D pictures by drawing simple objects like boxes and cylinders onto the construction grid. Add lights to illuminate your scene attractively, or use the app’s default lighting.
11. Convert your simple objects into “Editable Polys” or “Editable Meshes” to enable sculpting of complex objects. “Editable Polys” let you add, delete and position vertices, edges and faces of an object. Unconverted (also called “parametric”) objects don’t allow such editing.
12. Apply modifiers to your object to shape it in ways that are difficult to achieve by hand. For instance, you can make a cartoon building whose top expands and tilts out beyond its base, by applying “Bend” and “Taper” modifiers.
13. Render your scene to produce the final 3D picture. Or, include your objects in physics simulations with Max’s “Reactor” tool set. Turn these simulations into animations, or view them in real time.