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3D modeling

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Image courtesy of Naughty Dog.

What is 3D modeling?

3D modeling is the process of using software to create a mathematical representation of a 3-dimensional object or shape. The created object is called a 3D model and these 3-dimensional models are used in a variety of industries. The film, television, video games, architecture, construction, product development, science and medical industries all use 3D models to visualize, simulate, and render graphic designs.

Common types of geometry in 3D modeling

example of 3d modeling polygon primitives

Polygon modeling

  • Polygons are straight-sided shapes, defined by 3-dimensional points (vertices) and the straight lines that connect them (edges).
  • Modelers who use polygons usually use 3-sided polygons called triangles or 4-sided polygons called quadrilaterals.
  • Polygonal surfaces have a wide range of applications and are the preferred surface type for animated effects in film, video game design (US site), and 3D web development.

example of 3d modeling NURBs primitives

Curves and NURBS modeling

  • NURBS, which stands for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines, are composed of curves and are defined by a mathematical formula.
  • NURBS are best used for modeling smooth surfaces with complex curves, such as a wineglass or a football.
  • NURBs are more widely used in industrial or mechanical design .

example of 3d modeling sub division primitives

Subdivision modeling

  • Subdivision surfaces possess characteristics of both polygon and NURBS surface types.
  • Like NURBS surfaces, subdivision surfaces are capable of producing smooth organic forms and can be shaped using relatively few control vertices.
  • Like polygon surfaces, subdivision surfaces allow you to extrude specific areas and create detail in the surfaces when required.

Featured 3D modeling software

  • 3ds Max modeling and rendering software

    3ds Max (US site)
    3ds Max software offers integrated modeling, animation, and rendering tools for out-of-the-box productivity.
    Free trial

  • Maya 3D animation, modeling and rendering software

    Maya software offers 3D modeling, animation, simulation, and rendering tools on an extensible production platform.
    Free trial

  • Fusion 360 3D CAD software for industrial and mechanical design

    Fusion 360 (US site)
    Fusion 360 combines industrial and mechanical design with collaboration in an easy-to-use, affordable 3D CAD tool.
    Free trial (US site)

  • Maya LT cost-effective video game development software

    Maya LT (US site)
    Maya LT 3D game development software offers professional indie game developers creative tools at an affordable price.
    Free trial (US site)

  • Mudbox digital painting and sculpting software

    Mudbox (US site)
    Create production-ready 3D assets with intuitive Mudbox 3D digital sculpting and texture painting software.
    Free trial (US site)

  • AutoCAD design and modeling software for CAD

    Design every detail with AutoCAD software, one of the world’s leading 2D and 3D design platforms.
    Free trial

  • Inventor 3d mechanical design software

    Design, visualize, and simulate your products before they are built with Inventor software.
    Free trial

  • Media and Entertainment Collection 3D modeling pipeline software

    Media & Entertainment Collection
    Build a powerful 3D modeling and animation pipeline with these end-to-end creative tools for modelers, animators and visual effects artists.
    See included software

  • Revit building information modeling software

    Design, construct, and maintain higher-quality, more energy-efficient buildings with Revit software, built specifically for BIM.
    Free trial

  • Revit LT building information modeling software

    Revit LT (US site)
    A cost-effective and streamlined 3D BIM tool that helps you produce high-quality 3D architectural designs and documentation.
    Free trial (US site)

  • FormIt 360 Pro architectural modeling software

    FormIt Pro (US site)
    Architects can sketch, collaborate, analyze, and revise early-stage design concepts with this 3D modeling mobile and web-based app.

Free software for students & educators

We offer free Autodesk software for students and educators. Use the same 3D modeling and animation programs as the top 3D artists from around the world.

Free software for hobbyists & enthusiasts

Design with Fusion 360 using freeform modeling, sculpting, solid modeling, parametric modeling, and mesh modeling tools. Fusion 360 is free for enthusiasts, hobbyists, students, and startups.

Free 3D modeling software and apps

  • Tinkercad free 3D design tool for 3D printing

    Tinkercad is a free web-based 3D modeling tool for hobbyists, teachers, and students of all ages. Make home decor, toys, Minecraft models, and more.

  • 123D Catch creates 3D models from photos

    123D Catch
    123D Catch is a free app that lets you create 3D scans of virtually any object to generate 3D models from photos.

  • 123D Sculpt+ creates and paints 3D sculptures

    123D Sculpt+
    With 123D Sculpt+, create and paint 3D sculptures like a pro, with a skeleton builder and easy-to-use sculpting tools.

  • MeshMixer is a 3D tool for mashups and remixes

    MeshMixer is the ultimate tool for 3D mashups and remixes. Mash, mix, sculpt, stamp or paint your own 3D designs.

  • 123D Design free 3D model creation tool

    123D Design
    123D Design is a powerful yet simple 3D creation and editing tool that supports many new 3D printers.

  • 123D Make turns 3D models into 2D plans

    123D Make
    With 123D Make, turn 3D models into 2D build plans with animated assembly instructions.

Dive deeper with more 3D modeling resources

Inspirational 3D modeling galleries


Visit the AREA artists gallery and get inspired by 3D models created by artists all around the world. Share your work and tell your story.

Fusion 360

View the Fusion 360 product design gallery and see what people are making with Fusion 360.


A curated digital art gallery from one of the largest CG (computer graphics) communities online.


Check out user-generated designs created with Tinkercad, an online 3D design and 3D printing (US site) tool.

Tutorials for getting started in 3D modeling

Indie Game Maker 3D model character design tools

Indie Game Maker (US site)

Learn how to create your own 3D games and characters, with free assets and tutorials. Get inspired, connect with the community, and find the tools you need.

Pluralsight Digital Tutors 3d modeling tutorials


Watch tutorials on 3D modeling techniques and workflows, including professional-level training for Maya, 3ds Max, Mudbox, and Fusion 360 software.

Free 3D modeling training at Autodesk Design Academy

Autodesk Design Academy

Get free training on how to use Autodesk software. Check out tutorials for beginning, intermediate, and advanced users.

Autodesk University videos on 3D modeling

Autodesk University

Access free learning content and inspirational industry talks from our conference events, including talks for 3ds Max, Maya and AutoCAD.

3D modeling and CG communities


AREA is our official Autodesk CG community. Discover and learn through free tutorials. Follow the top modeling bloggers and get the latest industry news.

CG Society


CGSociety has over 120,000 registered members in its digital art community. View artist portfolios, read articles, take courses, and participate in forums.


3DTotal offers inspirational and educational resources for artists. View the CG gallery, get free training, participate in forums, and access a free texture library.



Polycount is a community for professional and hobbyist game artists. Explore galleries, 3D news, and forums.