Camera & Viewport Types

There are other parallels to real world cameras that you can find in the 3d space. Zoom levels and how they are measured is one. In the real world we typically reference the "milimeter" rating of a camera lens to indicate the "zoom" level of the image. A higher "mm" indicates a focal length (the distance between a lens glass and a point light crosses within the lens casing) that is more "zoomed in". More zoomed in images are also said to have a smaller "field of view". A lower "mm" indicates that the image will have a wider field of view (and eventually resemble a "fish eye" image).

There are times when we want to emulate real world cameras to the degree where measurements of focal lengths may be needed but for the vast majority of users it is good enough to simply be able to change the field of view for a camera in a 3d space.

And regardless of individual camera settings you'll probably be seeing your scene through a varying number of viewports at any given time anyway. Here's an example of what you might be greeted with upon opening a 3D program for the first time.

While there are many options, buttons, commands, and icons to interact with the main focal point of the program will be the viewports in the center.

Above is the default viewport layout for Cinema 4D. 3DS max will have a similar default layout. Autodesk Maya will start with the perspective view only but you can switch to a "quad" view at any time by clicking the "panel layout" button to the lower left of the default layout in that program (amongst other layout options).

As you can see the traditional quad layout consist of views that see your scene from the top, the front, the side (it may be left or right) and a "perspective" view. Note a few things.

  • All views do not have to be the same zoom level.
  • They do not have to be centered on the same object and can in fact move freely.
  • That the displayed grid for each is constant to the world measurements (so that in the case of the puppet above his arms reach about 6 units in both the top and front views).
A Wireframe is a display style that shown only the *edges* of an object, allowing you to concentrate on the form and density of an object and not the surface qualities.

Another thing you'll notice (once you make an object to be seen) is that the other views are probably displaying "Wireframed" objects by default. These views are simply showing your objects as the polygons that they are made up of. Each can be changed to show different view modes (discussed in the program-specific pages).

Within this traditional quad setup we can refer to the Top, Side, and Front views as "orthographic" as opposed to the sole perspective view. Now what do we mean by that?

Perspective VS Orthographic / Parallel Cameras

By default the "perspective" view will be the viewing style most 3D progams will be using in their primary viewport upon first opening the application. Perspective viewports show your project scene in a way similar to how you see the world where farther objects are smaller and parallel "lines" such as those at the tops and bottom of walls eventually converge if you follow them long enough.

A simple scene with a perspective view where lines of convergence have been highlighted to emphasize the perspective intensity (how "quickly" surfaces recede into the background).

While it can help to describe an orthographic view as being "similar to a lens that is extremely zoomed in" it will be important to realize that this is not necessarily the same thing as a true orthographic image.

Many 2D games made using sprite art make use of orthographic projection and are probably the most widely seen examples in popular culture.

The term "orthographic" does not indicate the angle or distortion of a view.

The simplest way to think of it is that lines that are parallel on the object itself will also be parallel in the view.

Games like "Final Fantasy Tactics" (PS1, pictured) and "Monument Valley" (Mobile systems) make use of orthographic views. You could even call older side scrolling games like the original "Super Mario Bros." orthographic as the blocks that make up the world are infinitely projected towards the viewer.

In this scene notice how the lines following the wall in the background are perfectly parallel to lines following the carpet edges in the foreground. This is an indication of an orthogonal view.

Camera Controls

The "camera" of a 3d space is the point from where you are viewing the world from. There are severel different kinds of cameras but all of them will take into account their own position and rotation (what direction they face in).

Remember that most programs will have "default" cameras which are invisible to each other and are do not appear in any object list. They are the actual window through which you see ever new scene upon opening the program and may or may not be given the same orientation as actual camera objects that you choose to create.

A camera will likely never have a size or scale property. Cameras in 3D programs are massless objects. Even though the ones you make might have a visual representation in the world this visual is for your own benefit, they do not actually have dimensions, can not "bump into" other objects, and will not be seen when the scene is drawn / rendered.

That said, controlling the different types is very similar, and is done with specific tools that take their terminology from real world movie sets. Terms like "Zoom", "Dolly", and "Panning / Tilting" are common.

  • Zoom involves the camera not moving from its position while the lens adjusts to view objects closer.
  • A Dolly motion on the other hand involves the camera moving forward or backward while the lens maintains its zoom level.
  • Panning typically refers to the camera staying in the same place while adjusting the view horizontally.
  • Tilting typically refers to the camera staing in the same place while adjusting the view vertically.

Click play on the clip below to see a visualization of these different movement types.

Let's look at the commands to move the mouse around a 3d scene (These commands will require you to hold the mouse button down while moving the mouse itself).

Maya 3DS Max Cinema 4D Blender
Translate Camera Alt-Middle Click Middle Click Middle Click  
Rotate around center Alt-Left Click Alt-Middle Click Alt-Left Click  
Rotate (pan / tilt)        
Dolly Scroll Wheel Scroll Wheel (hold Ctrl + Alt while middle clicking to smooth scroll) Scroll Wheel  
Zoom Alt-Right Click      

Object organization

The vast majority of programs will use a simple list interface to show all of the individual objects within one project. This can be confusing when learning a new or several 3D programs because they will not all consider the same things to be worthy of a spot on this "master list".

For instance one program might consider an function that duplicates an object to not be a simple "one and done" action. It may create an object that is seen only in the object list that is representative of the action of duplicating a actual object that exists in the scene so that you may have two of them. Another program will simply add a duplicate of your original object and place a tag or attribute on that object to show that it is a duplicate without changing the master list at all. Knowing how to view your chosen program's list and what can be found there will be very important as you can imagine.

Showing the object list in your program

Thankfully opening the object list in most programs is as simple as an icon press.

  • In Autodesk Maya the object list is referred to as the "Outliner" and can be shown by either selecting "Windows > Outliner " or by clicking the icon indicated in the image to the left by the red arrow.
  • In Cinema 4D the object list is referred to as the "Object Manager" and can be shown by either selecting "Window > Object Manager".
  • In Blender the object list is referred to as the "Outliner" and can be shown in any window pane by selecting the editor type icon (typically in either the upper left or lower left corner of an individual pane) and selecting "Outliner" from the resulting list.
  • In Autodesk 3DS Max the object list is referred to as the "Scene Explorer" and can be shown by either selecting " Tools > Scene Explorer " or by clicking the icon indicated in the image below by the blue arrow.

If you are using them, both blender and max have the ability to have multiple object list windows open at once. This can be beneficial in some situations where you are working on two objects seperately and need to see how they are similar or different than one another.

Object Hierarchies

Objects in any given 3D program can have parent / child relationships whereby the children objects are attached to the parent objects and will move with them and be affected by some modifiers of the parent object. This relationship will be explored further on in the organization and hierarchy sections of this site.

Translation No, we're not talking languages here. , Rotation, Scale

Obviously the first thing to get comfortable with when working within a 3d space is the navigation of said 3d space to begin with. Whether talking about the objects that you see within the viewports, the "camera" which denotes the position of the viewer, or even a non-visible force (like gravity or wind) you will need to be aware of the position and orientation of each.

The Origin of an object is the reference point in 3d space by which all translation, rotatio, and scaling operations for that object will be computed.

Before changing an object you need to be aware of where the origin of the world coordinate system is, and also that the object itself will have an origin within that world coordinate system.

World coordinate origins are easy enough. They are almost always denoted by large origin arrows (or "gizmos") with arrows extending out from a single point.

Translation is the vector that a coordinate is changed from a point of origin.

In computer science we make the distinction between "movement" and "translation" because "movement" often has a connotation of rotation as well as a change in position while translation does not. While it's true that most programs use the word "movement" for their tools it's important to remember that they will in fact be referring to "translation". So going forward both translation and movement will refer to changing the coordinates of a position and do *NOT* refer to a change in rotation. An object can be "moved" up and down, left and right, forward and back, but it will still face the same direction when only the movement / translation tool has been used.

Rotation is specifically the angular movement of an object that specifices an orientation.

Unlike "translation" which often takes into account both ending and starting positions (typically the world origin) the "rotation" of an object pretty much always referrs to the direction an object is currently facing.

If you've studied geometry then you might know that rotation can often be a confusing subject because it may not always be measured in degrees. You should not worry about that. Even though some 3d programs allow you to measure rotatio in quaternions and radians most all major programs will default to degrees.

Scale is the ratio of an object's current size over an initial measurement or reference.

Scaling of course refers to the general size of an object. It can be tricky however since, like "movement" what we often used the "scaling" tool to change the "size" properties of our models.

Again this property is measured from a point of origin. For instance if you have a model of a human and the point of origin is at the feet then scaling the model 200% will make the model twice as high while the feet remain on the ground. As you can see in the image below, if we move the point of origin around, then the scaling directions change.

In a 3D environment these things can all be changed relatively easily. You'll always be able to grab a handle of an axis indicator and adjust your object as you wish. Just keep in mind that if you want an "exact" movement to an exact position that you should locate and utilize the coordinates window in the UI (user interface) that allows you to manually type in the desired numbers.

Below is a table of the keyboard shortcuts for various programs to activate he Translate, Rotate, and Scale tools for that program.

Maya 3DS Max Cinema 4D Blender
Translate W W E G
Rotate E E R R
Scale R R T S

It can be very beneficial for someone looking to get into 3D modeling and animation to get used to have their hand floating above the left side of the keyboard. Most programs will also put the shortcuts for object components around this area as well so that you can edit individual objects as needed quickly and effeciently. Every program listed allows you to edit the keyboard shortcuts however so if you find yourself slowed down by the default arrangement don't be afraid to reassign them to your liking!

While Blender is not fully integrated into these pages there are no shortage of tutorials around for those wishing to use it.

Follow this link for the rest of the Blender tutorials on the Big Rock Games Youtube channel.