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How does 3D software work?

From: CINEMA 4D Essentials 1: Interface, Objects, and Hierarchies

Video: How does 3D software work?

The process of creating 3D animation with any type of computer is really computationally intensive. Back in the day when the programmers first created 3D animation software, the computers worked very, very slow and the software was extremely primitive. So what the programmers had to do was to really cheat what was happening in the real world all around them and translate that into computer code. That simulation of what is going on around us in the world dominates all 3D software to this day.

How does 3D software work?

The process of creating 3D animation with any type of computer is really computationally intensive. Back in the day when the programmers first created 3D animation software, the computers worked very, very slow and the software was extremely primitive. So what the programmers had to do was to really cheat what was happening in the real world all around them and translate that into computer code. That simulation of what is going on around us in the world dominates all 3D software to this day.

The way your eye sees the world is by photons bouncing around from a light source, and you don't actually perceive the object itself; you perceive the photons that are bouncing off that object. 3D software works in a very similar way, except there aren't nearly as many photons. 3D programmers created an idea called a ray, and that ray extends outward from the point of view of the camera or a light source and strikes your object. I have a very simple scene here with a camera and a light, and the light has a green color to it and it's tinting this ball green.

When I hit play here, you'll see a representation of those rays. And I'll hit Stop. Now, these are not exactly how many rays there are, and the rays don't actually look like that. You don't see the rays. But this is the idea. The ray spread outward from the point of origin of that object, and they look for objects in the scene. And when they strike an object they register to the software, hey, I found an object, and they tell the software things about that object, and that information is what determines what pixels are drawn on the screen.

So I'm going to look through the camera now so you can see what's going on here. If I click this icon, this is the active camera icon, and when I select that, I get this cute little zoom in to my camera object that I'm looking through. And you could see all these little white specs here are the rays from the camera, and these are just a representation of that. Now, those rays are traveling from the point of view that we're looking at, and some of them are traveling off to infinity-- that's these rays over in this area here-- and some of them are striking the ball. Now when I hit the Render Active View icon it renders the scene, and you can see that some of my scene is black and some of my scene has the ball visible.

Now the areas of the scene that are black are where the rays traveled off to infinity and didn't report back. Now, the parts of the ball that are being illuminated green are based on the rays that are coming from the light and striking the surface of the ball. Those light rays are colored green and they're telling the gray surface of the ball to be tinted green based on the light color. So you can see that these objects are doing a great job of simulating the way that our eye works and the way that lights work in the real world, and there are some very important differences between those.

First of all, lights in CINEMA 4D and other 3D packages don't bounce by default, and that's on purpose. In the real world, light photons travel from a light source and they strike a surface and they rebound and they travel off in a different direction. It's that bouncing of light that determines what the color of the object you perceive is. The wavelength of light that bounces off of it is what your eye will perceive, and in a 3D world that bouncing of light is way too intensive to be calculated accurately. So the software programmers have simulated that light bounce.

The lights start off by not bouncing at all and then you can activate something called global illumination, and that process gives you a limited kind of light bounce that looks very realistic but is much easier for the computer to handle. This basic understanding of how 3D software works will really help you to move forward with CINEMA 4D.

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