Common modeling tools

While the names of modeling tools, and how to access them, may vary between programs the basic function of each is largely the same. Here is a quick survey of the most common so that you can recognize the keywords for each.

Before Name / Description After

Cut / Knife

"Cutting" a polygon will not remove or add geometry to the mesh, but divides it into smaller pieces, such as one face into two. Typically this can be restrained to your selected area if you so wish.

Slice

This name is typically given to a cutting action that is executed across an entire plane, cutting either all polygons in a mesh or just those selected.

Inset

"Inset", sometimes "Extrude Inner" will take a polygon (or polygon group) and add polygons around the original so that the selected polygon becomes smaller. Unlike "extrude" or "bevel" the polygon remains on the same plane.

This and the proceeding functions typically require you to Click & Drag to position the result.

Extrude

This function will move a selected polygon (or polygon group) away from its initial position (in either direction) and automatically generate polygons that join it to its previous neighbors.

Most programs allow you to use this function on edges as well to make single polygon extrusions. They may even contain shortcuts to do it without selecting the extrude tool first (holding "Shift" for instance).

Bevel

"Bevel" works much like "Extrude" but typically has options to widen or thin the polygon (or polygon group) as it moves away from its original position.

It might also contain options to generate more than one row of polygons around the original to make a "smooth" shift from the surrounding polygons to the selected polygon.

Hinge

Does not add or delete polygons. This is a tool for adjusting polygon position by rotating them along one edge (picture lost in a fire).

Close Polygon

Also called "cap" in some programs this is a simple function to fill in a hole in a mesh. It will only work if the empty area is completely enclose by connected polys. Watch out for whether or not an "ngon" option is on if you don't want one large polygon.

Bridge

Bridge is used to literally make a bridge of polygons between two selections. This tool typically works in edge, polygon, and sometimes even point mode depending on your program. Be aware it also usually requires you to "draw" the bridge between the desired edges and will not be automatically create connections.

Weld

Weld typically combines the selected vertices into just one and connects all the neighboring polygons to each other at that new point. This is typically an automatic function whereas the irregular "target weld" might require you to select the individual vertices for accurate picking.

Remove / Dissolve

Often can be used with all sub-elements. This function removes any currently selected vertices, edges, or polygons. Be aware that depending on your program it may make unexpected new edges such as the diagonal edges in the example image. Also, depending on the program, just because you removed an edge doesn't mean the points were removed as well! Which is super frustrating!

One thing to remember about cutting and combining polygons. I remember when I first started messing around with 3d and thought that just placing the points over each other would make them into one point, like moving pixels on a 2d image. This is not the case, you must use some kind of weld or bridge function for 2 points to become one.

Modeling with selections

The above examples show the simplest forms of each tool. One operation done on one polygon. The key to using these tools is not only in knowing what they do but how many polygons you should be applying them to in a single action.

Editing multiple polygons with one action is also useful in that it lets you ensure consistent measurements in the result.

Modeling Exact Coordinates

When modeling it will often, very often, be useful to manually change the coordinate of either an object axis (and hence the entire object) or an individual elements of that object such as a vertex or edge.

How this is done will change between programs but any good program worth using will have an easy to read coordinate box that allows you to type in X, Y, and Z values on your own.

There is something to be aware of however. Some programs will use the same fields where you can type for other purposes as well. For instance both Autodesk 3DS Max and Autodesk Maya (in the modeling toolkit) will allow you to use the boxes that display coordinates for position to also change rotation and scale values. Which property of your current selection it displays is usually dependent on what tool you are currently using. Select the rotation tool and entering your own values will change the rotation, etc, etc.

Below is the timeline / coordinate menu for 3DS Max. Note the three boxes in the center where you can change values for X, Y, and Z measurements. What these measure will depend on whether or not you have the Move, Rotate, or Scale tools selected.

To the right is the modeling toolkit that can be opened in Autodesk Maya. In this menu you see a similar set of coordinate boxes (which again are tool sensitive) at the bottom where you can enter exact values for moving, rotating, and scaling object components.

The toolkit is probably not open by default when you open Maya however. To open it look for the quick access toolbar at the top right of the program (the small strip of four icons shown below) and click the left-most icon.

Keep in mind that once you move back to the attribute view you'll have to go back to the modeling toolkit via the vertical tabs on the far right of the screen.