Posts Tagged ‘Tutorial’


A new approach to modeling instruction at PolyPlane

The best way to learn 3D modeling?   Forget about the software.

For the moment anyway.  That’s part of the philosophy at PolyPlane, a new instructional site that emphasizes the broader concepts of 3D graphics before delving into the dashboard of a particular CAD application.

PolyPlane“People just starting out in 3D modeling are forced to wrap their brains around a lot of unfamiliar concepts all at the same time,” says Gabriel Mathews, principal of Portland’s Con Cor Design Group and author of the video series.  “At the outset, stepping back and understanding the process of modeling in general actually makes learning an application a lot less frustrating.”

The first series of free videos at – called “pre-flight” – gives the overall lay of the land (or grid, in this case) for students before they even get into the cockpit of a modeling application.  Each three-to-four-minute lesson focuses on a basic concept in the problem of generating 3D geometry.

“We try to build an overall framework of modeling for the newcomer.  We don’t want to just define the term but show why it’s important and how it works in the big picture,” explains Mathews.   “Once you have this sort of schema in mind, it makes it much easier to take command of the software when you do finally approach it, because you know what you need and what to look for.  After a short time on PolyPlane you can really pick up any kind of modeling application.”

This can include engineering packages, like SolidWorks or Pro/E, curvilinear NURBs-based applications like Rhinoceros or Alias or tools for animators or artists like 3DStudio Max, Blender, or Maya.  Having more prior knowledge about the basic tenets of 3D can also help students make smart choices about which software are most in line with their interests, Mathews says.

Sketch To Model video course from

Modeling school bite by bite

Mathews was inspired to launch PolyPlane by a friend’s successful instruction site for 2D graphics called CTRLPaint, which uses short video illustrations and friendly narration to introduce new techniques piecemeal.  He thought a similar approach would work to cut through the complexities of 3D curves, meshes, and surfaces.

Mathews says there are dozens of other sites with modeling tips as well as tutorials put out by software developers, but he finds that too often the offerings expect the viewer to already have a background familiarity that amateurs usually lack.

“You get something that is 45 minutes long and loaded with acronyms and technical jargon,” he says.  “Any outsider is not going to know what a UVW map is.  It’s discouraging when you slog through a long tutorial and only grasp 50% of what’s being said.  And if the instruction is too centered on the software of a particular brand, it also tends to assume the viewer has a working knowledge of modeling already.”

In contrast, each short PolyPlane video explains in simple terms and clear illustrations another piece of the puzzle.  Visitors to the pre-flight series can accumulate a solid background of the principals in a few spare moments during the week, without opening up a modeler app.

“A lot of modeling is problem solving, more of a mental maneuver, like how to break up the object you want to make into more basic geometry, for instance.  Your modeler is not going to do for you, it’s something you learn to visualize,” says Mathews.

“Each video you wind up learning another little bead of wisdom:  how to control a camera view, why NURRBs are important, what does it matter to set up an origin point a particular way.  As you get into modeling in whatever platform, all these rules of thumb eventually become second nature to you and you don’t really even think about it.  But when you are starting out they can become the roadblocks in understanding the software.”Polyplane 3D modeling tutorialWatch and Learn: PolyPlane employs visual aids to show the conceptual underpinnings of modeling actions.

Test Flights

Learning by doing eventually is part of the ride, too.  PolyPlane has longer 2-hour series – called “sketch-to-model” – which put the principals to work in a practical, step-by-step modeling project.   Here it is helpful to follow along in a modeling application, Mathews says, but it doesn’t much matter which application; the user can adapt the general PolyPlane techniques to whatever platform.

Mathews says that many designers tend to switch applications at some point in their education or careers, so it helps to be open-minded at the beginning anyway.  He himself initially took a college course that taught AutoDesk products, then discovered Rhinoceros and taught himself the application with the help of his previous instruction.

“People tend to gravitate to a system eventually that becomes their favorite tool.”  For cost-conscious students, Mathews says a free sample version of Rhino or Google SketchUp works for the more intensive PolyPlane exercises.  Students can get a solid foundation with the pre-flight and the tutorial projects during a month of free trial.  After that, students can purchase the software for relatively low cost.

“I chose the Rhino environment in the video examples because it is what I am most fluent in and it tends to be the most affordable paid software.  It’s true that Google sketch up is free but the complete loaded version of the software is $499.  Rhino is around $1000 but if you are a student it is $199, so it turns out to give the most bang for the buck.”

Regardless of the software choice for students, Polyplane aims to create the most economical instruction method in terms of time.  “Whether you have to learn 3D modeling for school or on your own, we think PolyPlane will get you up to speed the fastest,” says Mathews.

PolyPlane plans new free videos every week throughout 2012, more advanced projects, and other design resources for the beginner.  Check out other video lessons at


From Top Down to Bottom Up

Generative design tools flip the script of architectural thinking

by Brett Duesing, Obleo Design Media

“Some might view computational design is just making some weird or crazy form,” says architectural designer Woo Jae Sung.  The 3D shapes may look arbitrary, but the method behind them is not.  “Contrary to the misconception, generative modeling is based on rationalism.  Our newly developed parametric tools were based on the needs of bottom-up design thinking.”

Designers have two different starting points when conceiving new structural forms, top-down and bottom-up.  Top-down is the classical, Cartesian-center technique of picking the overall shape first and then filling in the parts.  Bottom-up, as the name implies, is the opposite: it starts with geometric components as the initial building blocks.  Through repetition and variation according to logical rules, they grow to define larger systems.

Bottom-up conceptual approaches are found throughout other art disciplines, but it is still rare in architecture.  But Sung sees bottom-up as up and coming.  Sung recently taught a workshop at Cornell, where architectural students experiment with generating highly complex 3D forms by automatically repeating patterns of components.  The workshop uses the newly released application Grasshopper, a parametric plug-in for Rhinoceros’ 3D NURBS modeler.

“In my perspective, the generative design process is not a sub-discipline in architecture, but rather another paradigm,” says Sung.  “Traditional design tools prohibited us from thinking bottom-up, while parametric or generative tools are broadening our design perspective.”

Sung publishes his own Grasshopper Tutorial, a primer of getting started in the program, for Rhino users everywhere.  The tutorials are free on his blog,  Sung says the tutorial content comes out of his own experiments in the software, where he tests his bottom-up theories and learns how to translate them into fully realized computer models.

“Before the advent of parametric and generative tools, doing bottom-up design was a time-consuming, painful, and rigorous process,” says Sung.   “Changes in parameters or relationships between objects meant that entire model should be done manually from the scratch.” He cites works by Eduardo Arroyo or Ciro Najle as examples of bottom-up processes without computer aid.

But with generative digital tools that can easily program geometric patterns, Sung and other a bottom-up artists now have a clearer opportunity to flip the script, so to speak, on the dominant paradigm of top-down thinking.

Housing Block ? Construction of Unite d’habitation in 1945. Le Corbusier’s housing layouts were heavily prescribed by a top?down Cartesian framework.

Housing Block: Construction of Unite d’habitation in 1945. Le Corbusier’s housing layouts were heavily prescribed by a top-down Cartesian framework.

Escaping from the grid

Tradition design tools, construction methods, and habit of mind have reinforced top-down thinking.  Look around at the environments where we live and work, and it is obvious that most of them began life as T-squared outlines on the drawing board.

Sung is starting to see generative output enter into real-world projects, although their application seems to be limited to textural additives, in the form of “crazy” contemporary ornamental patterns on wall panels of a building that was otherwise produced through top-down processes.


Ground rules– Woo Jae Sung’s bottom-up apartment alternative begins with a group of circles nest inside an acute angle. The circles can be rearranged within this boundary in different configurations. A wider angle grows the area of the circles.

Sung demonstrates that bottom-up design can go quite a bit deeper, to the point of defining the entire building form.  Recently, Sung explored the design of the Unite D’habitation, Marseille by Le Corbusier.  Considered iconic in modern architectural history, the 1945 housing block became a template of today’s urban living.

“My research revealed that unit types were not based on typology but heavily influenced by the rigid grid system,” says Sung, who re-organized the basic amenities of the complex by using bottom-up processes, which avoid the regimented repetition of the original Marseilles building while adding greater flexibility to the sizes and layouts of individual units.  “I wanted to propose an alternative way of making architecture based on the internal logic of the relationships, rather than the grid.”

The cylindrical re-conception allows for varied room configurations based on a set of basic geometric rules.  Like cross-sections of a tree, the roughly circular building floor plans resemble one another, but are also each unique.  As the floor layouts vary in form, the vertical supports of the cylinder gently curve back and forth, giving varied character to both the interior and the exterior.  Sung found the optimal solution for ten different floor plans in Grasshopper.

“I think this shows a different application of the parametric tool on architecture other than just wall patterns or mullions,” says Sung.  “Here the parametric tool is playing active role in generating form.

Various angle-circle configurations are assembled as a ring.  Since the <a href=

Natural Transformations

One of the appeals of a layered bottom-up process is that it is closer to that of natural organic growth, and so are the results.  Biological complexity is all bottom-up:  from molecules to cells, cells to tissues, and tissues to organisms.

Berkeley professor Christopher Alexander has literally filled volumes with good examples of form from nature and vernacular architecture, and bad examples from contemporary buildings in his book series, “The Nature of Order.”  He argues that top-down architecture, rooted as it is in abstract images and Cartesian grids, ends up lacking some hard-to-articulate quality.  “Soul” might be a way to put it.  In terms of experience, spaces created by top-down structures of mass-produced components can feel impersonal, cold, or “dead,” while buildings made through more organic generative methods seem to resonate as friendly, warm, and vitalizing.

These benefits may be subjective, but Sung’s attraction to the new design strategy originates more from the latitude it gives the designer when the grid no longer rules form.  “For me, bottom-up design process means control over power, flexibility over rigidity, and possibility over stability.”

Building Differently

A series of transformations within Grasshopper turns each angle into apartment units. A Voronoi algorithm turns the circles into room shapes; each ring design represents a unique high-rise floor plan.


Generative modeling tools like Grasshopper has opened the door to bottom-up design in architectural studios, but the remaining shift in perspective lies in construction site.  Concrete and steel – the cast-mold and frame-surface systems that now dominate construction – keep architects snapped into the grid.

“To build parametric-driven models, you need a mass-customization process, which requires construction paradigm change from cast-mold and frame-surface to sculpturing-modeling,” explains Sung.  “In the fields outside of architecture, we can see this happening.”

In making the quintessential top-down structure of Unite d’habitation, Le Corbusier drew inspiration for its structural system from ocean liners.  In what might be the future trend in 21st century architecture, bottom-up designers might look to the jet.  Aerospace parts exhibit strong, complex forms without the use of cast or frame systems.

“Considering that architecture has fallen behind other fields in adopting new ideas or methods,” says Sung, “sooner or later, the new paradigm will be more actively applied to architecture, and so will the application of generative modeling.”

Bottoms Up - The alternative housing complex model fleshed out in Rhinoceros after form-generation in Grasshopper. The slight variation in floor plans leads to organic curvatures to interior and exterior structural elements and a housing “block” where no two units are the same.

About Woo Jae Sung
Architect Woo Jae Sung is a graduate of Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea, and Cornell University’s School of Architecture in New York.  For more of Woo Jae Sung’s architectural examples and the latest edition of his Grasshopper tutorial, visit:

About Grasshopper
For designers who are exploring new shapes using generative algorithms, Grasshopper™ is a graphical algorithm editor tightly integrated with Rhino’s 3-D modeling tools. Unlike RhinoScript, Grasshopper requires no knowledge of programming or scripting, but still allows designers to build form generators from the simple to the awe-inspiring.  For more information, please visit: