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4 Primary 3D Modeling Methods Every Beginner Needs to Know About

Category: Environment Art, Maya
November 10, 2022

There are 4 primary modeling methods you need to know about.

Polygonal, Subdivision, Sculpting and NURB/Curve modeling.

Well, sculpting is not technically modeling but it does produce a mesh and is a very important part of 3d asset creation. I will explain more.

Each is used for a specific end result but there are many overlaps. In fact all 4 of these could be used within a single asset creation. But usually you isolate each of these into its unique modeling methods to get the job done.

I will also tell you the one that is the most important you should start with and focus on for game environment modeling.

Let's break these down one-by-one and get into it more...

Video Tutorial

Polygonal Modeling

  • Meshes are composed of vertices, edges, faces (triangles and quads)
  • Can be low-poly, mid-poly or high-poly depending on the model
  • Used in game development
  • Most common modeling method you'll be using and the one you should focus on learning first
  • Software used for Polygonal Modeling includes Maya, 3dsMax, Blender, Modo etc.

Subdivision Modeling

  • Uses polygonal objects like polygonal modeling to creates high-poly, high-quality meshes
  • Meshes have to be smoothed (subdivided) in Maya
  • Subdivision Preview Mode in Maya can be toggled with 3 hotkey, press 1 to go back to polygonal mode
  • Requires holding edges to prevent mesh collapsing so you have to approach Subdivision with a slightly different mindset than straight Polygonal Modeling
  • Used in film, animation, product design, rendering and high-poly creation
  • Not often used in games directly but can be used to create high-poly meshes for Normal Map baking
  • Subdivision Modeling should primarily contain quads with minimal triangles and no n-gons for the mesh to Subdivide properly
  • Software used for Subdivision Modeling includes Maya, 3dsMax, Blender, Modo etc.


  • Technically not a modeling method but it allow you to create a high-poly, high-resolution meshes that contain millions of triangles which you can then retopologize or simplify to get a usable mesh
  • Sculpting meshes are not used directly inside a game engine (although that's slowly changing with UE5 Nanite technology).
  • Sculpted meshes are often used to bake Normal Map texture detail from high-poly to low-poly
  • Sculpted meshes can be retopologized to give you a lower resolution usable in-game
  • Sculpted meshes are not used for animation (would have to be retopologized)
  • Software used to create sculpted meshes using ZBrush, Mudbox or Blender.

NURB/Curve Modeling

  • Objects are composed of splines, control vertices (CVs) and not vertices, edges or faces like in Polygon or SubDiv based modeling
  • NURB modeling is primarily used for engineering and industrial design
  • Although NURBS can be converted to polygons
  • NURB curves are often used to create more complex polygon objects
  • Software used for NURB/Curve Modeling includes Maya, 3dsMax, Blender etc.

Other Methods

Few other modeling methods that are more specialized are Photogrammetry, Parametric and Procedural.

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About World of Level Design

My name is AlexG. I am self-taught level designer, game environment artist and the creator of World of Level Design.com. I've learned everything I know from personal experimentation and decades of being around various online communities of fellow environment artist and level designers. On World of Level Design you will find tutorials to make you become the best level designer and game environment artist.

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