Seriously, how does anyone learn surface modeling at a professional level?

I’m really struggling here. I’ve recently completed a few Udemy surface modeling lessons for Rhino (in which you surface model 3 types of oil cans… woo!) and I handled it without a problem.

This was certainly helpful in the very beginning, and it’s extremely well presented, but… this is the best the Internet seems to offer. It’s seemingly impossible to go deeper than this. I understand the basics, I’ve read all of Rhinos documentation, and I’m trying to watch as many workflow videos as I can.

I just don’t understand how anyone advances their own training/workflow beyond a beginner’s level. There seems to be an extreme lack of intense training available online. Just look at these other types of video lessons that come up on Google:

I mean this as respectfully as I can, but these are kind of a joke for anyone with aspirations to eventually achieve a “professional” level of skill like, for example, this guy:

Besides Grasshopper tutorials (which I have no interest in), anything involving surface modeling or the design of complex shapes is virtually non-existent for Rhino.

So instead I’m desperately trying to emulate the VERY few Rhino workflow screen recordings that exist on Youtube, like this one:

I’ve tried to create this Xbox One controller a dozen times and fail miserably every time. The fact that the interface it’s in Korean (I believe) doesn’t help, of course, but it’s really about not understanding the process of building shapes, creating smooth and organic technical transitions, etc.

I can actually emulate this process quite well now up until around 6:30 minutes in, then everything falls apart. By the time the video hits the 11:00 minute mark, my head is quite literally exploding. It’s not even the use of creating a temporary pipe to help transition two surfaces in that one particular moment. It’s just every aspect surrounding this entire process, and how this designer is clearly able to break every aspect of the design process down into clear, procedural, technical steps. There’s even a second video ( where the complexity continues to grow.

This is just one example.

I’ve tried Googling for rogue college courses I could take in the SoCal area that might provide intense industrial design lessons in Rhino, but for some reason I can’t find any.

This is particularly frustrating because I feel like the only way to really break past these conceptual barriers is through intense training.

So my big question is… where is the best educational material (or places) that really help take one’s game to the next level?

1 Like

Do you have a certain model you are thinking about doing. It sounds like you have gone thru the first level of training. Many times after this early stage, then move toward the type of object you want to model.

There is also our Level 1 and Level 2 training classes, both online and on demand:

Or there are our project based training:

There are also a series of recorded project videos here:

So what type of model you want to build? What other 3d software have you used?

We might be able to focus the training material down with more information.

Thanks Scott. I’m actually trying to model the Xbox One Controller from the 2-part series I posted above, because it’s a great example of a well-designed object with fluid/smooth/organic yet technical surface and interesting details.

Well, actually, some product designers here would cringe at the workflow in that video, it’s not how you would actually go about DESIGNING such a thing in Rhino,which is a different thing from “making a model from 3-view drawings.” Of course that’s the thing, what do you actually mean by “professional?” There’s more to becoming a car designer than knowing how to use Rhino.

Anyway, back in the day I made a few increasingly elaborate tutorials that were intended to help with the more advanced issue of okay I know how to use Rhino, how to I actually think about how to figure out what I want to do?


Jim makes an important point. There are major differences between designing a new product, refining the surfaces of a design, and creating a digital model which looks like an existing product. There are also differences between industries.


Ooofff! I feel for ya brother! Seriously - part of the problem is that there is an ocean of material out there, and there’s no way to evaluate when you are starting if it’s good or bad advice - and in my opinion the bad advice outweighs the good by a HUGE margin. For real, not to make everything more complicated for you, but the vast majority of the advice given on YouTube (and to a lesser extent…here) should not be heeded in my opinion.

My advice would be to:

  1. Realize that this is a process - even for the pros. If you are curious and care about the work you do, you will always always always be getting better. You’ll feel like you hit a plateau, like you’re banging your head against the wall, and then you hit what I call an “inflection point” where suddenly things will click. Accept that this will happen on its’ own timeline, not the one you set.
  2. Find a subject you enjoy modeling, because part of this is repetition. For me, it was airplanes when I started. You’re going to be staring at whatever it is you like modeling a lot, likely making many iterations, so it’s better if you actually are passionate about that particular thing.
  3. Related - realize that you might not be able to model the whole thing at first. So maybe practice on parts of the thing you want to make. For me, it was wingtips and bubble canopies because I thought making truly flawless versions of those would be easy.
  4. Realize that the things you thought might be easy might not be easy lol. See, bubble canopies and wingtips.

There is truly no substitute for putting in the hours, and patience!

FWIW - I think there is a huge hole in what is out there in terms of teaching material, and so the problems you’re having are also a result of a lack of decent training materials beyond level 2. Level 1 and 2 do a decent job getting you acquainted with the interface and some basic commands used for surfacing, but they also put people on a path where they are overly dependent on trims and very dense surfaces. I, and some other folks have complained about this for years, so I decided to do something about it. I’ve been putting together a whole series based on higher level primary surfacing, because I’ve seen over and over and over that so many of the problems that people have are created by bad primary surfaces, and simply not understanding basic patch layout. The series is not complete but the bulk of the theory and understanding sections are up, and it won’t cost you a thing:

(and yes, I see the irony of saying that most people post terrible advice on tutorials and then send you to ones I’m making. Such is the internet)

PS - @JimCarruthers how long ago was it that you helped me with that wingtip?!?!!? 10 years?!?!?


Yes, Xbox one controller are tough. Learning this in stages is important. For instance can you first draw the curves accurately? Then, can you create some of the surfaces, that are close. Then get to details.

The reason most tutorials start with a background drawing is to remove the design process from learning modeling.

Have you had a chance to try curves first?

The earbuds and toothbrush have a similar process:

This is simplified process:

Do you have an existing model you have that you can show here? Perhaps we can help you past the points that you are stuck on.

@JimCarruthers tutorials have always been great.

1 Like

You see learning a CAD platform is not teaching you to do professional stuff. Its a brush and you are the painter… That analogy hits it quite well. I also believe that online tutorials are totally overrated. Tutorials give you entry points to a topic, but nothing more. And obviously this already worked for you.

Learning by doing and constant questioning of your doing is the key. This is a very generic answer, I know. But it is how its. The best way to do become professional is by working in a professional environment and learning from other professionals there. If you can’t do this, you’ll need to do model a lot of things. But as I said, mastering your CAD software doesn’t help you in becoming a better designer or engineer.

What helps me most is to understand why things had been developed for. Why do you need a curvature graph at all, and what will it tell me about my model? If you find no answer, then ask such questions here.


Well, At professional level…The learning is “on the fly method”.

@theoutside recently posted a time-lapse video on the Rhino YouTube channel showing how he modelled an iron using the subd tools in the R7 wip. The most revealing aspect is just how many times he iterated over the process to get the surface to reflect his design intent. And that didn’t take into account any constraints such as fitting to specific dimensions. And he has been doing this for years.

It isn’t trivial, it takes near-endless repetition, but over time you learn and get better (or recognise that this isn’t for everyone!).

Note also that the subD workflow is completely different from Nurbs surfacing, which is quite a bit more complex imho.


Yes, try to model something in subd for injection moulding with the proper draft angles :grimacing:


The Rhino manual. Look no further. Seriously!

Different strokes for different folks, and I’m viewing this through my own lens and experiences, but I never quite understood the ‘tutorialization’ of learning complex systems: It’s disjointed. Tutorials do have their place, but…

The Rhino manual is extremely concise. (Aside from efforts to make it wordier.) Before you try and create anything, understand the tool — what EACH tool does. Forget drawing an XYZ object initially. Turn off the YouTube!

If you have the ability, read the manual end-to-end whilst looking at or trying each manual topic, in a vacuum, in Rhino. If such seems too daunting, just focus on the 2D drawing and 3D surface tools to start. (go back to other sections in future) Understand what each does at a basic level FIRST.

Draw a line, a arc — finish the 2D tools. Create a loft, sweep, network surface — finish the 3D tools. It matters not what you create at first — you’re creating nothing but snippets. Your brain is processing what each tool DOES.

After you’ve absorbed the 2D and 3D sections of the manual and feel you understand and can create the ‘base blocks’, in a vacuum, that each manual element explains, THEN try and ‘create’ something. This will be days or weeks down the line.

You want to be a pro? This is what worked for me. But again, different strokes…

Good luck. You can do it!


The thing that just isn’t apparent when you see a great piece of work that someone else did is the creator’s level of experience. No-one ever says along with their work that it was done “by Sam Jones: 10 years of working professionally with Rhino”. It is tempting for a new user to assume that with a few weeks of watching videos and reading tutorials they will be able to accomplish the same level of greatness, but it just isn’t going to happen, no matter how much they’d like it to.

Like so many professions that require a mastery of the tools, there is no substitute for the lessons learned from trial and error. Lots of trial and lots of error. As TomTom pointed out, working among a group of more experienced professionals can speed up the learning process a lot. Working full time helps a lot.


Thanks Jim, and I think I know (in general) what you mean, though I am curious to hear some examples of what you mean in the Xbox controller video I posted.

As another example, there’s this Rhino sneaker designer I’ve seen on Youtube who posts quick workflows like this:

I’m just a beginner but I get the sense that he’s doing a ton of quick, dirty, “technically wrong” things here because he’s just trying to focus on look & feel. It just looks like he’s ripping apart and bashing into surfaces rapidly to develop a concept design. And that makes sense, it feels appropriate for what he’s trying to accomplish.

In the Xbox video though, what are some of the things you think are “cringe level” on a highly technical level? I’m very curious. Is it that the designer isn’t necessarily building 5 degree curves everywhere, analyzing surface normals, and other sorts of fundamentals I’m always reading about? Or does it go way beyond this?

Edit: Forgot to mention, the Hydraulic Design tutorials you shared look incredible, and are already exposing me to how certain basic tools (untrimming, for example) can be woven into workflows in very interesting ways. Thank you!

You are right. That video tutorial with the sneaker modeling was totally wrong from a design perspective. It’s especially obvious around the 9th minute where he built those wavy surfaces at either side. They were badly distorted at the middle-low area and were impossible to edit due to the extreme amount of unnecessary control points. The same goes for the main body of the sneaker that was built with too dense surfaces that were additionally edited with “Cage edit”. The same shape but consisting considerably lower control points (and easy to edit at any time without “Cage edit”) could be achieved with manually adjusted rebuilt surface with something like 10 control points in the horizontal direction and 6 control points in the vertical direction. And that simpler surface is not only more convenient to edit, it also helps to keep low number of control points for any surface related to it afterwards.

1 Like

Yeah, here’s another example of his:

I do have to say… there is something kind of endearing about this process though, where he’s just unapologetically shredding things in order to generate a concept as quickly as possible. I’m frankly amazed at how well the render holds up if you jump to the end of the video.

It’s almost as if he’s using Rhino more like Sketch, where there’s zero attention to the control points / surface / or “mesh” in general, and it’s really just about raw profile/features/silhouettes/ideas.

I do feel like there’s some merit in being able to rapidly generate ideas like this even in a tool like Rhino, but I can persoanlly already do that well with pen/paper, so right now I’m definitely way more interested in how you’d purposefully build a concept like this in an intentional, technically sound way

I think a lot of product designers (and probably other fields as well) use Rhino (or similar tool) in that “hack’n’slash”-way, early on in the design process, in order to get concepts out the door. I sure have made my share of phase 1 presentations with geometry that would have made an engineer scream and cry. I hardly ever do final marker sketches anymore, as the rendered result of these “3D mockups” look great and the underlying 3D file can often be used for further refinement in the next phase. And you can’t cheat in 3D, meaning there will be no unpleasant surprises with components that don’t fit (Unless the client changes them, of course, but then it’s on their money). Sometimes it’s just faster to use cage or sweep2 with 15 cross sections than to get that surface looking good enough (for phase 1), and then as the design is getting closer to being finalized (and needs to go downstream for ME), you pay attention to all the fine details. Just my 2 €-cent :+1:


While tutorial or modeling videos like this one could give some basic idea for inspiration to beginners in NURBS modeling with Rhino, they lead to a negative effect, as well. The problem is that those beginners try to follow the same approach and they live with the wrong perception that it’s no problem to use quickly made surfaces with countless control points each. They believe that Rhino is a set of magic modeling tools that do all the hard work automatically and perfectly fine with just a few mouse clicks.

Unfortunately, very few of them will eventually realize (usually after years of struggling with NURBS modeling) that the aforementioned “quick approach” is all wrong. Its shortcomings get most obvious as soon as there is a requirement for good surface continuity and ability to conveniently edit the model.


28 years and counting… :wink:

1 Like