There are design CAD / CAE / CAM packages that involve the creation of models of parts and structures, their calculation and the subsequent formation of programs for CNC machines and 3D printers.

Such packages do not even always allow the user to operate the 3D model directly, for example there is an OpenSCAM package, the model in which is formed by the execution of a user-generated script written in a specialized language.

Anyone who at least works at a computer, somehow encounters three-dimensional graphics. Many simply did not pay attention to it: the presence of beautiful design elements, 3D models and animated scenes has long been considered the norm in almost all commercial software packages, Internet applications, presentations and commercials. This is not surprising – after all, we live in a world measured in three coordinates. We are surrounded by three-dimensional objects with their own visual characteristics: color, transparency, gloss, etc. It is natural that the creators of computer applications try to bring the interface elements and the image on the screen closer to the conditions of the real world as much as possible – so it’s prettier and more customary for perception .

Today, the use of 3D graphics has gone far beyond the scope of information technology. Cinematography, computer games, engineering, architecture and construction are far from a complete list of areas in which 3D graphics are widely used. Some branches of human activity (for example, design, engineering calculations, animation, games) are simply impossible to imagine without realistic 3D images. It seems that it was always so, but high-quality graphics, available to a wide range of PC users, appeared not so long ago.

Behind the scenes 3D is hidden very serious mathematical apparatus, implemented in the core of the graphics system and producing three-dimensional images. Mathematical dependencies describing the formation of a digital model of real objects, as well as algorithms for calculating illumination of three-dimensional scenes (areas of virtual space containing three-dimensional objects and light sources), were developed back in the 1960s. However, weak hardware capabilities did not allow at that time to create even very simple 3D images. The first computer programs that form simple three-dimensional models based on sketches were created in the 1960s at the University of Utah (USA) by Ivan Sutherland and David Evans. Since the mid-1970s, their followers, Ed Catmull, Jim Blinn, Bee Tung Phong (all three were students of the same computer graphics department in Utah) continued to develop technology for working with 3D graphics and animation. At first few people took seriously student and post-graduate work on the formation of three-dimensional images on the computer screen. However, the fundamental research conducted during this period was the beginning of the development of the most powerful technology, which fundamentally changed the idea of ​​the possibilities of using computer graphics. So far, Blinn’s Blinn material, a special Phong Shading lighting model, based on the calculation of the light intensity at each point of the surface of the object and developed by Phong, and so much more, are used for visualization.

Over time, the geometric shapes of the models created on the screen became more complicated: along with simple geometric primitives and their combinations (cube, sphere, torus, various bodies described by simple algebraic equations), the possibility of surface modeling appeared. In this case, the model being formed is a surface that can consist of many polygons (most often triangles). The development of surface modeling was a big step forward and allowed the creation of models of almost any form, including models of living organisms: humans, plants, etc. In parallel with the complexity of the forms of 3D models, the question of their realism always stood. In addition to the actual mathematical description of the geometry of the model, which would most closely correspond to the shape of the modeled and displayed object, its good visual representation was required. Here, the achievements of physicists studying optics and various forms of radiation came in handy. The results of their work, relating to refraction, reflection, absorption of light rays, were used as the basis for various methods of visualization.


The steady growth in the performance of personal computers in the early 1990s gave impetus to the development of relatively inexpensive applications for 3D modeling. The appearance of such software packages made 3D accessible to ordinary users. Simulation itself has ceased to be a privilege of small groups of scientists engaged in boring research, or filmmakers with access to powerful graphic stations. Easy to learn, relatively small hardware requirements and truly amazing capabilities of such systems provided them with rapid distribution and great popularity. In addition, the development of graphic libraries significantly contributed to the popularization of programming 3D applications, which further accelerated the development and dissemination of three-dimensional graphics. In the field of design and animation, along with producers of such well-known programs as 3ds Max, Maya, SOFTIMAGE / XSI, LightWave 3D, companies developing specialized highly specialized modules (plug-ins) (Digimation, HABWare, etc.) appear on the market. In engineering 3D modeling in “heavy” CAD packages (CATIA, Unigraphics, Pro / ENGINEER), the initiative is intercepted by more “easy” and easy-to-master 3D-packages of a new generation: SolidWorks, Solid Edge, Inventor.

Following the design, 3D graphics imperceptibly penetrated into engineering design. Historically, the scope of industrial design is strictly limited to the requirements of standards, which relate only to flat drawing. For this reason, the transition to three-dimensional modeling in engineering or architectural design was not painless. However, a wealth of opportunities to create models of complex shapes, ease in design and layout, much better opportunities to identify errors at the design stage and, most importantly, a more visual representation of the design object did their job. Since the mid-1990s, three-dimensional graphics have become widely used in engineering.

The lion’s share among software tools for automation of engineering design is occupied by graphic CAD-systems (Computer Aided Design – semi-automatic computer design). They serve for the creation of three-dimensional models of machine-building units, products, buildings, etc., the formation and processing of a set of drawings together with a full set of design documentation required for the release of the product or the construction of the object.

In addition to a better visual representation (compared to a flat image), three-dimensional models are very convenient to use in engineering calculations. To do this, there is another class of engineering systems design – CAE-system (Computer Aided Engineering – automated engineering calculations). Calculation of strength, kinematics and dynamics, shedding of molds, aerodynamic and hydraulic calculations, simulation of crash tests and much more became simple and accessible with the advent of programs of this class. The design engineer gets a fantastic tool: three-dimensional representation of stresses in the product, volume distribution of temperatures, spatial modeling of gas flows, mixtures and liquids. And all this is simple and obvious – no “three-story” formulas, flat charts, diagrams or approximate calculations! In addition, any three-dimensional model always describes the object more accurately than the most detailed two-dimensional image. Yes, and the formation of a set of drawings based on the model you build will take you no more than two or three minutes in any modern CAD-system.

History of the development of three-dimensional modeling updated: March 13, 2017 by author: Rollin