I’m No Modeler!

When it comes to level design, there is one thing I have the most difficulty with: limited models. Depending on which editor you are using, you’re generally restricted to their models, which can be excruciatingly frustrating when you want to build a specifically themed level. For example, I recently came up with a design for a desert level, but when using UDK, I am largely restricted to using only their static meshes, which do not include any desert-themed meshes. This is one of the most annoying aspects of level design if you don’t either know modeling yourself or have a team of modelers at your will. So today I will be looking at how to get custom models into an editor, specifically UDK in this case, without having to model them yourself!

First off, there are hundreds and hundreds of free models out there, just waiting to be used. The internet is a great place to find models, and I have a few web sites I’d recommend using. There are a few things, however, to make sure of when using other people’s models:
1) Make sure it’s actually free. The internet is full of awesome creations, but most of them are not allowed to be used in other works. Be sure to check the restrictions before using a model to see if you can use it in your work. Some artists have a one-time fee for using their models, while others are entirely free with no strings attached. Be careful when using others’ work and to not interfere with any copyright or trademark laws.
2) Check the author’s restrictions. Every artist has their own specifications on who can use their work and for what purposes. Some artists will not allow their work to be used in specific genres of games, while others only allow you to use their work for non-commercial games or personal uses only. Every artist is different, so it’s extremely important to check if you can use that model in whatever you’re creating.
3) Check the file type. In my own searches, I have found free models with obscure file types. Make sure that the file you are downloading is compatible with the editor you are using, or that you can at least convert it to something usable.
4) Ask permission. Some artists require you to contact them for permission before using their works. If this is true for you, be sure to do so before incorporating their work into your level. Also, if you have any questions regarding their work or using it, just ask. If you’re concerned about the number of polygons on a model, ask the artist, as not all web sites have that information readily available.
5) Credit, credit, credit! Not all artists require you to credit their works, but it is common courtesy to do so. Crediting the artist is required by many authors, so check with the artist if they have any specifications on how to credit them.

And now onto the free models! The list below details the web sites I have found which offer free models. Be sure to check each artist’s policies on usage and accreditation before using!

3DXtras: http://www.3dxtras.com/
This is my personal favorite of the bunch, as it provides 3D models for use in 3DSMAX, Maya, Softimage, and Lightwave. Although the site’s home page states that all models are absolutely free, not all are, as some require a minimal fee. It’s also a good resource to see what types of models are out there. You do have to create an account to download any models, but the account is free and gives you access to over 8,000 models.

3D Studio: http://www.the3dstudio.com/
This is a great site for 3D models, along with textures and stock photos. They offer over 1,000,000 models, textures, and stock photos for 3DSMAX, Lightwave, Maya, Vue, Blender, Photoshop, and many more. However, it is rather difficult to find the free models. Most of the models cost, and unfortunately most of the prices are not very low. There are free models posted, but they are not easy to find.

Artist-3D: http://artist-3d.com/
This site offers several libraries of different 3D models, all of which are free. Before downloading, be sure to check the copyright usage at the bottom of the page! Most of the models are meant to be used for educational purposes only, so those out there working on serious games should check it out.

CADalyst: http://www.cadalyst.net/
This is a pretty cool site because it offers over 3,000 3D models as well as tutorials. However, the site is out of date and requires a monthly or yearly fee, which is kind of pricey. Unless you have the money and plan on using lots of models throughout the year, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Huntfor: http://www.huntfor.com/3d/links/freemodels.htm
This is an interesting section on an art web site, that gives a list of sites providing 3D models. Each site includes a link and a short description of what they have available. There are no models available on this site, but instead links to where to find them.

Digital Dream Designs: http://www.digitaldreamdesigns.com/3DModels.htm
This is another resource site, including a lot of links on where to find models. Not all of the models are free, but the ones that are have “free” listed in the description.
That’s all of the links I have for now, but if you know of any others, let me know! I’m always looking for new resources, so just leave a comment with a link if you have one.

Now if you’re like me, you are most certainly not a modeler, so learning how to import your models into your editor is just as important as finding the models to use. Most game editors are set up to easily import models from 3DSMAX or Maya, so it should run fairly smoothly in that aspect. Now what I’ve been doing lately is just doing a quick search on what I need to do to import the model, but searches can end up very.. unhelpful. The internet can be a great resource but at the same time is full of nonsense, so be careful using what you find. A great place to start are the forums for your preferred editor. Since I use UDK mostly, I always check the Epic forums to see if anyone else has the same questions I do.

One helpful video I found can be found at the link below:
This tutorial details the process of importing a complex static mesh into UDK from 3DSMAX.  The video shows how to set up the mesh in 3DSMAX so it’s ready to go in UDK, as well as actually importing it into UDK and how to set it up once imported.

A few other good tutorials on importing custom models can be found below:

Well, that’s all I’ve got regarding models. It can be pretty tricky if you have a specific idea for a level but don’t have the models to bring that idea to life, but hopefully this post was helpful! Let me know what you think or any suggestions! I’m no modeler, but giving my levels the life I envision them to have is an important part of my design.

  1. Good stuff Pralie! When I started with my first project in UDK, I was actually looking for websites which provide custom models. This list would be of great help to people who want to try level design.

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