teaching machines

Honors 104.502 Lecture 20 – Hello, 3D Modeling

April 18, 2016 by . Filed under honors gamedev, lectures, spring 2016.




Today, by popular request, we start to examine 3D modeling. I encourage you to approach this with confidence in yourself and your capacity. 3D modeling is not some dark art that only a few obtain. There’s nothing about it that makes it hard. The simple fact of the matter is that you (probably) haven’t done it before. When you were first learning to talk, you made a fool of yourself, but everyone thought it was cute. It’s important that you feel safe to do “first learning” even as an adult.

I’ve been reading a book by physicist Andrea diSessa called Changing Minds. It’s largely about providing authentic learning experiences using computation as a medium. He disavows “appliances” that hide all their internal knowledge and structure behind a big user-dumbing button. Instead, he argues, an educational medium must engage the user-learner in a function-structure-function cycle. We go to the tool initially for superficial reasons: because of what service it affords us. However, it reveals enough of itself that we start to learn how it works. With this knowledge we gain an underlying mental model that allows us to repurpose the tool and reach new functionality.

Many books and videos for learning technology abbreviate this to a structure-function cycle. The introductory material begins by walking through all the buttons on the user interface instead of showing me how to do something I want to do. In starting with structure, we get bogged down in an enumeration of possibilities before we have a function to care about. I’ve got a colleague who is trying to revolutionize language learning by cracking open a language’s algorithmic structure very early on. I agree with him that a language’s algorithms are essential to deep learning, but I think our brains work best when they discover that algorithmic structure through use. Structure doesn’t seem like a good beginning.

I editorialize here because a lot of 3D modeling tutorials start with structure. Today we will start with some functions, picking up structure little by little. We’ll make these models together:

We’ll be using the free and open-source modeling program Blender. There are many other modeling programs, and I have no particular opinion about what is best. I grew up a poor farm kid, and I like Blender’s software license. Some of the tasks we’ll encounter include: