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Build Your Own (Physical) 3D Models

Build Your Own (Physical) 3D Models
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Most of us consume products without realizing that their origins are 3D models. That term may make you think of your favorite computer game, but this statement in fact applies to a multitude of items in our everyday life: your cell phone, new flatscreen display, car, even the hand-made designer accessories you want to buy your wife - they were probably designed in a 3D environment.

Luckily, video cards are a far cry from those of yesteryear. That not only broadens the options for creating as realistic 3D models as possible, it also augments the user's creative ability. While it was difficult and frustrating to visualize any complex model on an old graphics card such as my ancient ATI Mach64, anyone with a decent graphics card who has modded a level of Quake or Unreal knows a little bit about 3D geometry and how it works. But these virtual creations do not have to remain in the virtual world. You can bring physical 3D models into real life!

I recently completed an animation for Tom's Hardware Guide that introduces our new videos. Being that I take a side interest in Computer Numerically Controlled machining (CNC) I thought I'd take the 3D model created for the animation and mill an actual physical piece to be used for a laptop badge.

Discreet's 3D Studio Max is one of the premier visualization and animation packages available on the market. Users originally had a choice of three different viewport renderers to display textures and geometry. Two of these, OpenGL and native software rendering, have mostly been abandoned in favor of Direct3D 8.1 and 9.0. The animation strengths of 3DSMax have been showcased heavily in feature film arenas and polygon creation for gaming. As all models in 3D Studio Max are created in a manner similar to that of any CAD or engineering software, they can be exported into a file format that is suitable for machining.

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