Learning to design vastly expands your capabilities as a maker, but getting started with 3D modeling can be intimidating with the wide variety of tools and techniques available. In this tutorial, we’ll be going through the fundamentals of 3D sculpting using the program Sculptris, which you can download for free here.
3D Sculpting allows you to get started with modelling immediately and learn additional tools and techniques along the way. By the end of this tutorial, you’ll have everything you need to create your own designs and a strong foundation to continue learning from.
Step 1: Ideation
The most important component of the design process is ideation. Without a sense for the general shape and feel of your design, the rest of the process will be more challenging. In this tutorial, we’ll be designing a Dolphin as it’s simple shape that allows us to teach sculpting fundamentals.
Creating a sketch of your design is always good practice. For beginner modellers, a pencil and paper is all that’s needed to get the main features of your design down. More experienced users will often create their sketches digitally to be used as reference images later. For this introductory tutorial, we’ll be sticking to pencil and paper as Sculptris lacks the functionality to import multiple reference images.
Step 2: Making The General Shape
All of your designs in Sculptris will start as a simple sphere which is molded and deformed to produce the final object. Before getting started with modelling, let’s go over the basic components of the Sculptris Interface.
This is where you’ll be spending most of your time. These tools can be thought of as brushes that modify your object in different ways. You’ll want to experiment with each of these to get a sense for their functions and practice learning the hotkeys as they’ll help to speed up your work significantly.
These tools don’t directly modify the mesh, but they each serve a unique function that aides in the design process. We’ll be going into depth on some of these tools later in the tutorial but for now, just make sure that you have the symmetry option enabled.
This panel allows you to add geometry as well as import and export files.
This top panel changes the settings for your currently selected tool. Change the diameter of your brush, the strength of your brush, and the number of polygons it adds. We’ll be going into greater detail on why it’s important to add polygons later in the tutorial.
Now that you have a general idea of the Sculptris interface, we’ll jump right into modelling. Ideally, you’ve taken some time to experiment with each of the different tools and have a sense for their functions.
To start creating our Dolphin, we’ll use the grab tool to shape our object. Keeping all of the toolset modifiers in the medium range works well for this step. Take some time to mold the sphere into the general shape of your object. We pulled up reference images of a Dolphin and used our paper sketch from earlier for this step. Once you have the general shape, smooth out uneven components using the ‘move’ and ‘flatten’ tools. By the end, you should have a shape roughly resembling the body of a Dolphin.
Next, we’ll design the fins and start to form the head. For this, we’ll continue using the ‘grab’ tool but we’ll reduce the size of our brush. Pull up more reference images and start to shape the tail fin. Having symmetry enabled makes this process much easier and allows us to more quickly visualize whether the fins are shaping up correctly.
Once you have the tail fin designed, move up to the dorsal fin. Use the ‘grab’ tool to form the general shape. By default, this will be much thicker than the dorsal fin of an actual Dolphin. To thin it out, switch to the top view and use the ‘grab’ tool to begin pulling the dorsal fin inwards.
Next we’ll move onto the Pectoral fins where we’ll introduce a new concept, masking. Hold down your control key and draw the base of the dorsal fin. You’ll see a dark grey shadow appear which is your mask. Anything shaded dark grey won’t be impacted by changes you make to your mesh. In this case, we want to pull out the fins so hit ‘ctrl + i’ to invert your mask. Now you can use the ‘grab’ tool to pull out just the section for your dorsal fin.
For the final jaw section of the dolphin, we’ll use a mask to shade the top portion of the head. Use the ‘grab’ tool to pull out the lower jaw section. Clean up any uneven sections of your model using the ‘flatten’ and ‘grab’ tools and we’re ready to start adding detail!
Step 3: Adding Detail
If you’ve had Wireframe Mode enabled (turn this on with the ‘w’ key) you may have noticed that your model is comprised of a series of triangles and adding features or modifying geometry adds triangles to your mesh. The number of triangles added to your mesh is controlled by the detail slider in the toolset modifiers panel.
Triangles become especially important when adding intricate details to designs. Modelling is done by manipulating the position of the vertices of triangles so more triangles enables greater levels of detail. For each of these features, we’ll want to make sure that the detail slider is close to 75% of its max value to ensure that features resolve well.
For the mouth, we’ll be using a new tool called ‘crease’. This does what you might expect and adds a channel to your mesh. Pull up a reference image and draw a crease for the Dolphin’s mouth. You can adjust the size of the crease using the diameter slider in your toolset modifiers panel and symmetry will mirror this for both sides. Use the ‘grab’ tool to modify the positioning of your crease if it’s a bit uneven to start.
To make the eye sockets, we’ll use the crease tool with the strength slider turned to max. From the file options panel, select the ‘new sphere’ and then ‘add object’ options. This creates a new sphere and mirrors it on both sides of your object. Scale the sphere to size using the scale tool from your main toolset and move them into the sockets.
From here, our Dolphin is ready to go! Now that you have a basic understanding of sculpting, add your own quirks and make it your own!
Sculpting is most often used to create intricate and highly detailed objects. A high resolution printing process like Stereolithography is best to ensure that all of the detail from your model is resolved. For our Dolphin, we’ll be using the Form 2 and Grey Resin V3. Check out the results below and request a Form 2 sample part to get a sense for the quality of SLA!