In the captivating realm of 3D rendering, polygons play a pivotal role as the fundamental building blocks of digital landscapes and objects. Whether you’re a budding 3D artist or simply curious about the world of computer graphics, this blog will demystify the concept of polygons in 3D rendering. We will explore what they are, why they matter, and how they contribute to the creation of stunning visual experiences.
What is a Polygon in 3D Rendering?
Polygon definition: A polygon, in the context of 3D rendering, is a flat, two-dimensional shape with straight sides that exists within a three-dimensional space. It is defined by a set of vertices (corner points) connected by edges (line segments). These vertices are arranged in a specific order to form the polygon’s boundary. The most common type of polygon used in 3D rendering are squares (also known as quads) which have four sides, but polygons can occur in different shapes, such as triangles (three sides), pentagons (five sides), or even more complex shapes.
Why are Polygons Important in 3D Rendering?
- Simplicity and Efficiency: Polygons simplify the representation of complex 3D objects. By breaking down an object into numerous polygons, 3D rendering engines can process and manipulate these smaller, flat shapes more efficiently than dealing with a continuous, curved surface.
- Shading and Lighting: In 3D rendering, the appearance of objects is determined by how light interacts with their surfaces. Polygons allow for the calculation of lighting effects, such as shading, shadowing, and reflections, by dividing the object into discrete facets.
- Texture Mapping: To make 3D objects look realistic, textures are applied to their surfaces. Polygons serve as the canvas for these textures, with each polygon “wrapping” the object’s surface to display images or patterns accurately.
- Rendering Speed: Rendering a 3D scene is a computationally intensive process. Using polygons allows rendering engines to optimise the process by only focusing on the visible polygons, thus speeding up the rendering time.
- Real-time Rendering: In applications like video games, real-time rendering is crucial. Polygons are essential for rendering 3D scenes quickly enough to provide seamless interactive experiences.
Challenges and Considerations
While polygons are immensely useful in 3D rendering, they come with certain challenges and considerations:
- Polygon Count: The more polygons used to represent an object, the higher the computational cost. Balancing visual quality with performance is a constant challenge for 3D artists and developers.
- Visible Edges: Sometimes, polygons can create visible edges or artefacts on curved surfaces. Techniques like smoothing and subdivision surfaces are employed to mitigate this issue.
- Texture Distortion: Mapping textures onto polygons can lead to distortions or seams. Skilled artists need to manage these issues to maintain visual integrity.
- Optimisation: Optimising polygon placement is crucial for efficient rendering. Techniques like mesh simplification and level of detail (LOD) are used to reduce polygon counts when necessary.
Why Understanding Polygons is Important for Marketers and Business Owners
Often, when ordering product 3D models, marketers don’t know whether they need high-polygonal or low-polygonal 3D objects. In turn, 3D studio managers need to know exactly which option the client goes for so they can make preparations for a project. But what are polygons in 3D modelling, really? To be honest, not so many non-professionals know that.
Due to unfamiliarity with 3D modelling terminology, marketers can order the wrong type of 3D models. As a result, the finished 3D objects won’t work for their purposes. Therefore, they have to re-order them and spend extra money on a new round of 3D modelling.
To establish productive cooperation with a 3D modelling studio, one first needs to figure out what polygons are. In order to help manufacturers and marketers, we narrowed the whole 3D polygonal modelling topic down to 5 essential facts they should know. Without further ado, let’s get into reading!
Understanding Polygons: 5 Must-Know Facts for Marketers and Business Owners
1. Polygons Are Basic Geometry Components of a 3D Model
The polygon geometry consists of straight edges and vertices. The formed plane is called a face, which is usually a four-sided geometric shape, or a “quadrilateral polygon”. Also, there are three-sided “tris” and “n-gones” with multiple vertices. Each polygon is connected to other polygons, and together they create a polygonal mesh that is essentially a 3D model. So answering the question “what are polygons in 3D modelling?” we say they are the key components of any 3D object.
The number of polygons in the mesh is called poly-count, and the polygon density is the resolution. Those parts of a 3D model that have lots of details—for example, fittings, handles, and decor elements—are of a higher resolution. And big plain surfaces such as a tabletop or cabinet door are low-poly sections of the mesh.
2. With Polygon 3D Modelling, CG Artists Can Create Any Shape
Now that we’ve explained what polygons are, it’s time to talk about the creative freedom they provide for this type of 3D modelling. First and foremost, the polygonal mesh can be of any shape. Even when it comes to complex product designs with curved surfaces and carvings, polygons make the perfect mesh of quads and n-gones to follow the shape of the object.
However, even with this flexibility, CG experts try to avoid making super complex meshes with billions of polygons. Instead, they create intricate 3D items using a smaller number of polygons. This way, 3D modellers can be sure that there are no polygon protrusions or knots in the mesh. Any error made during the 3D modelling stage will show up later in 3D rendering, so CG artists simplify the geometry as much as they can.
3. Each Polygon and Polygon Mesh Are Easily Modifiable
After the mesh is ready, 3D modellers can still transform it by manipulating its polygons. For example, by pulling a vertex or edge, they can split or extrude the face of the polygon and twist and stretch the mesh as they need.
Such properties of polygon 3D models allow CG artists to use basic figures like cubes, cylinders, and spheres as a foundation. By tweaking the vertices of the polygons, they can sculpt any shape from them. Naturally, with polygonal modelling, it takes skills and experience to create objects of accurate proportions. So it’s best to use professional 3D modelling services to get it all done on point.
4. There Are High-Poly and Low-Poly 3D Models
So what’s the difference between high-poly and low-poly 3D modelling? The more polygons an object consists of, the better its detailing and quality. Therefore, high-poly objects work best for highly photorealistic 3D visualisations such as product silo renders and lifestyle 3D images. The quality is extremely important for such visuals because they are necessary for print magazines and outdoor advertising — billboards, banners, city lights, etc.
In turn, low-polygonal 3D modelling allows CG artists to create 3D objects for interactive CG solutions such as a 360° view, 3D product configurator, VR/AR apps, games, etc. The fact is that the fewer polygons there are, the faster the engine can render a 3D item in real-time. As a result, every object looks realistic and moves smoothly on the app or engine.
We cover this in more detail in our 3D model preparation guide.
5. CG Artists Often Do Retopology to Optimise 3D Models
What are polygons in 3D modelling, and how important is their quantity? It’s time to talk about 3D model retopology. Retopology is the optimisation of polygonal objects that allows CG artists to reduce the number of polygons in the mesh and transform high-poly items into low-poly ones. This way, they can adapt top-quality 3D models to game engines, applications, and 3D product configurators.
As we mentioned above, manufacturers often need both high- and low-polygonal 3D models for different tasks. So CG artists start by creating a high-poly object for top-quality 3D renders and 3D animations. Then they retopologise the same 3D items and turn them into lightweight and easy-to-render 3D objects for apps.
In the world of 3D rendering, polygons are the unsung heroes that make the magic happen. They are the backbone of digital landscapes, providing a means to represent complex objects efficiently, calculate lighting and shading effects, and create immersive experiences in real-time applications like games. Understanding polygons and their role in 3D rendering is essential for anyone interested in this fascinating field, whether as an artist, developer, or enthusiast. The next time you marvel at a stunning 3D animation or explore a virtual world, remember that it’s all made possible by the humble polygon.