The Definition of Topology and Its Purpose in 3D Animation

Good topology uses just the number of shapes necessary for a project

Topology of car
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Think of 3D topology as the wireframe of an object. Topology refers to the geometric surface characteristics of a 3D object. The wireframe is the foundation of 3D modeling that eventually results in three-dimensional digital animation.

Wireframe Characteristics of Good Topology

A wireframe contains vertices where lines meet, edges that are lines made up of two vertices, arcs, curves, and circles, all of which form "faces" in the wireframe design. In computer-generated 3D topology, the goal is to have sufficient detail in the wireframe while keeping the number of faces to the minimum necessary to accomplish the job. 

3D modelers strive for "clean" topology, typically illustrated by a 3D mesh with efficient polygon distribution, proper placement of edge-loops, few or no triangular faces (as opposed to four-sided "quads"), and clean precise creases that minimize stretching and distortion.

Another aspect of good topology, and an important concept when modeling for 3D animation, is increased polygonal resolution in areas of a 3D model that will undergo the most deformation during animation such as joints, facial features, and moving parts.

3D Modeling Software for Beginners

A surprising number of free 3D software programs are available. Any of these provide a good place for a beginning modeler to start.

Many 3D modeling software sites provide tutorial videos to help beginners master the concepts behind 3D modeling. 

3D Modeling Software for Professionals

Professional-level 3D modeling programs can be intimidating and expensive. However, if you plan to be active in 3D animation—whether for creating video games, computer graphics, or films—you'll eventually end up needing to master one of them. Professional-level 3D modeling software programs include:

  • Maya
  • Modo
  • Fuse
  • LightWave 3D
  • Poser
  • Cinema 4D
  • 3ds Max Design