3D models expire

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What to do when your meshes grow mold?

Every 3D model has an expiration date. That’s the moment it doesn’t serve its purpose anymore. Many things can trigger a 3D model to expire. For instance the hardware it was meant to run on is out of date, it doesn’t look good anymore compared to other 3D models or the engine it’s running in has evolved or disappeared. Every 3D model expires one day. It’s up to you to throw it away or repurpose it.

Purpose

3D models are built with a purpose in mind, e.g. engineering, visualisation or design evaluation. Wouldn’t it be great to reuse the hard work you’ve put into that model? This is not always easy. A 3D model built for engineering won’t run smoothly on your smartphone. If it’s built for online use it won’t look pretty in a render. Even reusing a 3D model for the same purpose can cause problems. 3D models built for a flash website might not run on a similar website built with html5. Even though both sites use the same hardware and have the same purpose in mind, the specifics could be totally incompatible.

On the left a detailed engineering model intended to run on heavy workstations, on the right a light game model intended for the web or mobile devices.
On the left a detailed engineering model intended to run on heavy workstations, on the right a light game model intended for the web or mobile devices.

Investment

A “purpose lock” doesn’t matter that much if we’re talking about redoing a few 3D models. But if you’ve invested in thousands of models you’ll think twice about repurposing them by hand. This just takes too much effort. It would be a shame though to let model libraries like these go to waste because of mere technical issues. There are many ways to convert and revitalize models, breathe new life into them and get more bang for your buck.

Upcycling

If a 3D model isn’t good enough anymore you can upcycle it. You can make the model “next gen” by adding details, improving the textures or adding shader features. This happens a lot in movies or games when a sequel is released. Old 3D models are revamped to keep up with the competition. As long as the artistic quality of the old model still stands, it’s worth it to technically enhance it. Most of this has to be done by hand although some upcycling can be automated.

Left to right: the upcycling of the Lara Croft 3D model from the Tomb Raider games.
Left to right: the upcycling of the Lara Croft 3D model from the Tomb Raider games.

Platform hopping

Another road to a new purpose is to search for a new platform once the model has expired. If a 3D model doesn’t look that good anymore in a PC game, it might be just perfect for a handheld game. Or if a model becomes a bit awkward in a webplayer, it will look fantastic on your smartwatch. In those cases you convert the models to hop over to the new platform. This is mostly technical: shaders are converted, meshes are compressed and different fileformats are used. This process can be automated in many cases. It’s the ideal way to treat large model libraries to keep them alive and relevant.

As hardware evolves your 3D models can hop from platform to platform.
As hardware evolves your 3D models can hop from platform to platform.

Compression

Finally you can compress your models. This is your ticket to a bunch of new platforms. Platforms like smartphones, tablets and webbrowsers benefit from light and small 3D content. It will download faster, display more fluidly and gets your message across just fine. Why not compress your library of heavy, renderquality 3D models and publish them to a wider audience? Check out this example of a leading online roomplanning platform doing just that.

Compressing a model makes it suitable to run on many lightweight platforms.
Compressing a model makes it suitable to run on many lightweight platforms.

Sustainable

A good 3D model is a sustainable one. Using one of these methods on your 3D models will have you enjoy your investment much longer. You don’t even have to wait for your models to expire in order to get the most out of 3D models. Start right away!

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