Best Books for 3D Modelers and Digital Sculptors

From modeling anatomy, to architecture, to vehicles, these are the best.

Here is a list of six solid books for someone looking to further their 3D modeling skills that are highly recommended by experts in the field.

This list is far from exhaustive—there are literally hundreds of 3D oriented books out there—but this selection attempts to offer best-in-class resources. No matter where you look for your training, it is recommended that you steer toward the most recent guides. Preferred workflows change absurdly fast in this discipline, and older resources may be outdated.

Though the old adage "don't judge a book by its cover" holds true in most cases, if the render on the cover of a 3D modeling or sculpting book looks ancient, then the content probably will not serve you as well. Be sure to look for newer editions, as books of this sort are often updated by the authors to keep up with changes and trends.



It doesn't matter whether you're doing character modeling or environments, hard-surface or organic, most workflows lead through ZBrush.

Pixologic is easily one of the most innovative software companies, and a solid knowledge of ZBrush's sculpting tools will speed up your workflow ten-fold if you're still using traditional modeling tools for character development.

There are a lot of really talented artists offering quality ZBrush training (see: Ryan Kingslien), but Scott Spencer is a champion when it comes to print resources. More »

What's that? You've mastered the ZBrush basics, but your anatomy knowledge is still...lacking? Well, here's the resource for you, and unlike most other anatomy guides, this one relates the information specifically to ZBrush.

Anatomy is one of those subjects where books can actually give you a level of usability that video training can't match. Watching a master like Ryan Kingslien, or Avatar character designer Scott Patton, sculpt is an awe inspiring experience. But those guys are so efficient and masterful at what they do with their brush strokes that it is easy to miss subtleties. 

This not an absolutely perfect guide, but if you're looking for a step-by-step guide for sculpting a heroic male character, this one goes above and beyond the call of duty.

There's even a chapter at the end of the book that shows how to use mesh extraction to create clothing and props without ever leaving ZBrush. More »

Blender has become one of the most expansive 3D applications on the market.

Using character development as a backdrop, Jonathan Williamson takes all these improvements and boils them down into a thorough exploration of modern modeling workflows in Blender 2.5.

Covering the character development process from start to finish, this book will leave you with a thorough foundation in modeling for animation and games.

The content is perfectly suitable for beginners who are just starting out in Blender, but offers plenty of helpful nuggets to satisfy the needs of intermediate and advanced artists alike. More »

If you're a complete beginner, it's recommended that you skip very general introductory books for software like Maya. It isn't that they're not helpful, but books like that cover a lot of topics and often fail to give you anything you can't find online through a five minute Google search. 

At 992 pages, you won't see anyone criticizing this book for a lack of depth—this one is an absolute tome. But don't let the length fool you into thinking the content won't be engaging.

Unlike the equally comprehensive Maya manual, this book uses project-based walkthroughs to give you an in-depth picture of how Maya is used in a typical production workflow, but gives you enough theory to apply the concepts and techniques to your own projects. More »

There are countless reasons you need to have a good handle on Photoshop as a 3D artist. Concepting, texturing, compositing, post-production, presentation—it doesn't really matter what discipline you choose to pursue in CG, at some point you'll probably need to rely on Adobe's flagship graphics suite.

The reason this book is fantastic is that unlike virtually every other Photoshop resource on the market, this one was designed with 3D in mind, meaning you won't have to wade through 200 pages of material written with photographers and designers in mind.

Instead you get specific information on pre-visualization techniques, texturing and post-production workflows, and a slew of project based tutorials, all of which are incredibly relevant for someone wanting to work in film or games. More »

This book has received rave reviews, and 3DArtist magazine awarded it a lofty 9/10. Jennifer O'Conner is someone who clearly knows her way around Mental Ray, but even more important is the fact that she knows how to convey her knowledge in a way that makes even the most arcane MR node seem clear as day.

This book covers all the major concepts in rendering (irradience, importons, IES lighting, global illumination, etc.) and leaves very few stones unturned.

More than anything else in the CG pipeline, rendering can be very application-specific. This resource focuses on 3DS Max with Mental Ray, but also covers CAD and Autodesk Revit. The publisher offers a similar resource for VRay users here. More »

Automotive modeling requires a very specific skill set that combines some of the most challenging aspects of both organic and hard surface modeling, and it requires a level of precision rarely seen in other aspects of entertainment design.

Andrew Gahan's guide takes a difficult subject and makes it accessible. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that he's structured it in a way that makes it applicable no matter what software you're using. Whether you're modeling in Max, Maya, or XSI, the information presented in this volume will be relevant. More »