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Free 3D Models, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

March 3, 2010
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Little Fishie MeshWhen starting out with 3D, Free Models can be of value, but it all depends on their quality. They can be helpful in learning or in helping you complete a desired scene. I picked up this nice little Toon Fish recently because I wanted to play around with a fun little underwater scene. I already had the underwater plants done, but didn’t feel like modeling a fish. And what a nice surprise. Lots of polys, about 9000 of them, but it’s nice and clean and the little character has wonderful lines. Aesthetically, it’s delightful and it will fit nicely in my little personal project, a greeting card for a friend who has lots of tropical fish.

Sloppy MeshSometimes you’re not so lucky though. I’ve seen lots of models, both free and paid, where people really went to town with the Boolean tools and where the models where chopped up pretty badly. Here’s one I got quite awhile back. Instead of modeling the rectangle structure at the top properly, looks like the Boolean tools were probably used, and the mesh is just sloppy. Depending n the rendering engine you use and how things are set up, you can wind up with some pretty weird shading in areas because of the not-so-neat divisions.

I saw this recently on a gallery site. The image submitter had what seemed to be a great rendering of a building, but on closer inspection, he had done a Boolean cut-in for a window on a curved portion of the structure. And because the shader he used for the exterior wall portion was flat, there was some weird shadowing going on in the render which was done in Cinema 4D. Too bad, because except for that, it was a stunning piece. And even a great piece of software like Cinema 4D will not save a poor modeling job, especially if it’s a focal point in the piece.

The worst possible case I’d even seen in a free model was one for a USB plug. The darned thing was about 5000 polys, and that’s just insane. Lots of diagonals running everywhere, and there were some nice holes in the mesh too. My own misfortune with the USB plug was not as bad as my brother’s though. He was looking for an office chair on wheels and happened on to one of the “Bad” free sites. Not only did he pick up a bad model, he picked up virus to boot.

Paintbrush HandleAnyone with a bit of experience in 3D modeling will tell you that there’s nothing like a good clean mesh. Ok, I went a little bit over the top in my little paintbrush handle at left, but that’s just me. But I think even simple objects are worth doing well. I’d be embarrassed to put a bad mesh up even on a free site.

So what’s my advice free models? Find a few good sources, and stick to them. I’ve had very good luck over at Share CG and at Renderosity. Stay away from the huge portals unless you know their reputation. Many of the large portals not attached to valid 3D communities just exist to harvest your email address, give you a virus, or steer you towards bogus credit card offers. Next thing you know, you’re getting email from Nigeria. Be careful on these large portals with thousands and thousands of freebies, because many of the models may be stolen as well.

When using free models, it’s also important to know their terms of use. For instance in the little Toon Fish above, the use of the model is restricted and it cannot be used commercially. So I’ll just use him for my little personal greeting card project, because he’s just too cute to pass up 😉

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