Before you can start learning, you will need the bare essentials:
- A capable computer - 3D programs are pretty demanding and will require your computer to be up to speed, hardware-wise. Internet communities like tomshardware.com and partpicker.com are great for getting advice on computer configurations.
- 3d programs - As far as programs go, it is a matter of both preference and what you want to accomplish. I personally think that AutoDesk 3ds Max and Maya are good programs to start out with, as they are both industry-standard and are very comprehensive with what they can accomplish. These programs are pretty expensive, so I suggest trying out the the trial version, or getting a hold of a student version, to see if this is something you want to pursue.
- Time - and a lot of it. If you are really serious about learning 3d modeling, you may have to stay in a Saturday night or two.
Training yourself to learn 3d modeling is like going to the gym. If you go in the first day expecting to get ripped, you'll probably find yourself getting discouraged fairly quickly. I suggest aiming for small steady improvements to create "quality muscle." Like muscle memory, some of the things you'll learn will take a few days to click in and become useful. Your practice routine in the first few weeks can make or break your interest, so make sure you create an environment that will allow you to learn efficiently, and dedicate a good amount of time to being in it. Another important thing to keep in mind is eating properly, getting a good amount of sleep, and taking breaks. My learning curve increased exponentially when I started to take those three things more seriously.
Now that you are setup, the next step is getting familiar with the programs. Before you dive in, it is very important to become familiar with the interface and tools. Luckily, there are a lot of people out there that dedicate their time to making tutorials.
- Youtube - My first step was going on youtube and simply typing in "Cinema 4D tutorial" or "3ds Max Tutorial". Here is the actual video that got me started (from the picture above): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhuqSO_kaLI. As you become more advanced, you will realize that there area lot more 3d tutorials on youtube than you originally thought.
- Tutorial Sites - If you are really serious about learning 3D modeling, you should check out this site: digitaltutors.com. You have to pay a monthly subscription to access most of the content, but I found it to be well worth it. They have very in-depth tutorials and learning paths for almost all of the 3D programs out there.
One thing that you will realize over time is that your skill in creating 3d objects is more of a culmination of your comprehension of the tools, rather than what you already know how to model. In other words, you will reach a point where your approach to modeling will be the same regardless if the object is familiar to you or not. The approach that I usually take is starting big then working my way down to the details. I try to visualize all of the "simple" shapes within objects, and then refine them. With that said, your most important objective at first should be learning the tools to manipulate 3d mesh. In order to learn the different tools, you need to practice making different types of objects. Tutorial sites like the ones I mentioned above are great because they go through the entire spectrum of categories. I recommend doing as many different types of tutorials as possible: interiors/exteriors, hard surface objects, cloth objects, curved objects, etc. This will give you confidence to tackle any 3d projects that comes your way.
It is inevitable that you will run into a wall here and there. One of the most important things in learning 3D modeling is having a place to go to for help. One thing to remember is that there is/was always someone else with the same problem. Become a member of the forum communities for the programs that you use, as well as the general 3d forums such as cgsociety.org. However, the best way to search for solutions will always be to simply search Google with keywords relevant to your problem. You will more likely than not see forum posts by people with the exact same issue your having. I've gotta say, there are very few things that make my nails shorter than spending hours searching the internet for a solution. However, I've come to the conclusion that these aggravations are part of the learning process and should be embraced. These are what will make you better. You'll notice that over time that your searches will become shorter and shorter as you become savvier with searching the web. These little hiccups are what separate the ones who progress and the ones who quit.