Surfacing... just a nightmare

I have come back to Rhino to have another stab at surfacing vehicles. I gave up years ago because I was unable to accomplish this after at least 100hrs of youtube videos, trial and error and the manual (well written)

Perhaps I am expecting too much from a CAD tool, but these examples I see of vehicles are completely beyond my ability to grasp.

I suspect that the people that make these models have years of experience edealing with the issues I encountered trying to accomplish even simple surfacing tasks like:

Draw a horseshoe with the curve tool in x and y only. Connect the two ends with a second curve. Impossible to surface.

Draw a circle in x and y only. Impossible to surface.

Draw a complex curve in x and y only that, like a circle, encompasses an area. Impossible to surface.
(it can be extruded in the z plane) I

Now using the points of this complex curve, drag some in the z plane.
Impossible to extrude

No duplicate this curve and drag the duplicate in the z plane. Attempt to surface using 2 curves. Nope. join the two curves with one perpendicular straight curve. Nope. two straight cuves… now onw half can be surfaced, the other half just cannot be surfaced. Add a third stright line. Nope urgh.

Creata a curve network Make sure all the curves touch. Make surface. yes. yeay! but, surface curve and curves that surface were created from have different curvature ???

In face the further along the vehicle you get with the curves, the more mismatches between adjacent surfaces occur. Using the previous surface as one of the curves prduces odd effects and wrinkles.

This is just too hard

I do not mean to minimize the incredible work that must be required to manage objects in software that define all these elements and connect them, but CAD is just one tool of many required in my project and I cannot take 3yrs to master Rhino just to create a surfaced vehicle !

Any workflow tips that someone can give me wouldbe greatly appreciated.

I tried Tsplines but it was not able to represent the shape
I dont know how to use a mesh or even if it is a better method
I use curves because the splines that govern them are great for vehicles, but surfacing is a total nightmare.






Surfacing a vehicle is definitely something that takes time to master - there are some experts in here that do this every day that can chime in - so if you’re looking for instant gratification, it’s not going to happen (with any software I think). That being said, from the above, it sounds like you still need to master some of the basic surface creation tools in Rhino. there are lots of tutorials out there on the subject, including some car tutorials, but I would suggest maybe starting with something simpler…

I might add that if you have a particular shape you are trying to do and can’t seem to manage, if you post some input curves with a description of what you want to achieve, someone here will probably be able to help you.


You must have been watching to many of those “Everyone can … , even a child” - advertisments. :slight_smile:
Especially in CAD and Programming there is a big gap between doing basic and doing complex things. Without a teacher, learning at least 3-5 years is a realistic time frame. Especially on car modelling. If you want faster results, give it up doing it in CAD and use a Polygonmodelling software instead, or invest in specialized surface modelling software for automotive design (such as Alias or Icem Surf) and get a good, local teacher.Cheapest way is getting a job in the industry.
Still the learning curve will be long!
I think start with baby steps, and be realistic about a humans learning curve, otherwise you will becoming frustrated very fast.



I just want to say I feel your pain! I have been using Rhino on and off for the last 15 years, usually to model the external surfaces of buildings and cities. Trimmed surfaces have been a particular pain point for me at various times. I now feel quite productive with my usual workflow but I still grind to a halt when trying something new. It is particularly frustrating when you get 95% of the way through a complex model and realise you probably have to start again with a different approach!

Good luck! I am sure you will get some more good tips here.


Well…yeah, you do. What’s the context here, what are you doing? If you want a low-poly model for a game that’s a bit easier but it’s a completely different thing and probably not a good fit for NURBS.

What’s your end goal?

I’d start smaller modeling splitters, cannards, spoilers etc.

This is an excellent tutorial I’ve used myself.


Good luck with your quest… :sweat_smile:


I think that there are very few true polymaths out there. Most people can do one thing but not another. I’m practical and can make things in all sorts of materials but I just don’t get electronics. Lots of people can grab a handful of components and make a radio. I can grasp some of the theoretical concepts but I still have no idea how to do that.

Maybe you need to come to terms with the idea that surfacing and you isn’t going to happen. Focus on producing your “three curves” and hire someone to surface when you have an adequate outline of your concept. Instead of trying to learn surfacing focus on how to communicate your vision so it remains your vision (good practice for dealing with the venture capitalists).

Good luck


I indeed did professional car modelling and CAD automatisation for Volkswagen, so it hopefully qualifies me. Alias or Icem Surf are the tools of choice in automotive design, because they offer better surface matching tools and surface analysis. Alias has a very bad UI, but thats not the point. No it is not the program, it is knowledge about how to model and which tools lead to the desired change. Car bodies are particular difficult because they require to model a shape to return perfect surface reflections looking visual appealing from multiple perspectives. Beginners, usually totally underestimate the knowlegde involved to get a quality surface model. Just to give a rough estimation. A real car body skin(ready for production from design on), needs at least 6-12 months of fulltime CAD work, done by at least 3 skilled surface technicians/designer. And we are talking just about the skin, not the constructive parts behind. A skilled concept surface designer needs about 3 days for a concept skin. Its good enough for concept rendering.

Polygon models and Sub-D surface technologies are good for concept and rendering purposes, not for production. But again, you completly underestimate the theory behind surface modelling. You can compare a CAD software to a pen. It allows you to write and draw things, but the even best pen won’t make you a good writer or painter…


Could you describe in broad terms the processes that these three skilled surface technicians complete in their work over 6mo?
I suspect this is more than I will ever need, but I am very curious.

Kid: … and I want a phone that has no wires, and is a small computer with no keyboard or mouse, you just touch the screen… and I want to be able to surf the internet and see maps on it and post pictures for all my friends to see and write many and for many to be able to reach me and take pictures with this phone with a lens that is smaller than a dime that are better than all the consumer cameras right now and even shoot a movie with it that is released in movie theaters!
Father: heh heh… keep dreaming son

Thanks for that but 600 pages… wow. I wonder if he would use any of the new plug ins today? Is he a member here? Perhaps I can ask him…
Obviously I am naive when it comes to this topic, but I see high quality renderings done in days for concepts all over the place.

I also note that he uses 3DSMax I have seen some very nice renderings of vehicles from that app too. As said, its not the brush its the artist, but I am still not clear why someone would choose a polygon modeling tool over Rhino.

I think you misunderstood me.
I said the concept renderings do indeed need around 3 days if someone is skilled. Even with surfaces. The reason someone need less time with a polygon modeler like 3ds max, is because they do not mathematical describe a shape, whereas a Bezier/Nurbs representation does. A Nurbs-Model actually contains more information, relevant for multiple engineering processes.

None of the car models shown on fancy rendering satisfy a visual quality to be produced in 1 to 1 scale.The process of rendering itself is actually full of visual tricks and manipulation.
However I doubt you will ever see a production model, if you not actually working in the industry. Industry models are extremely precise. Of course, a lot of the time is spend on actually changing the model for technical or design related optimization. So you do not build one single car actually.

A „concept“ model does not satisfy technical demands, nor they fulfill any safety regulations.

Anyway, I was actually telling you about these high time frames, because I want to point out that surface modeling indeed is not trivial, and can get very complex. I further don‘t know about your actual intentions. But no matter what you demand is, it is not easy. The earlier you will accept this, the faster your will produce something useful.


I dunno. I went through this book back when it came out, it helped a lot to learn surface modeling. I find Rhino one of the easier softwares compared to others.


As a fun fact, if you ask a modeller why he prefers software A over B, there might always be arguments for or against, but people always tend to prefer the software they know well enough. Same with programming languages… So its kind of impossible to get an unbiased opinion on it. Any software makes kind of sense and is easy to use if you just know it good enough to make something useful with it… People in a Rhino forum obviously have some very positive attitute towards Rhino…:wink: Me either, but I couldn’t think of using Rhino for the work I had to do back then, when I’ve used Icem Surf. But that doesn’t mean its not possible. The book is kind of a partial proof. Saying Alias and Icem Surf might be better tools for that kind of work is simply related to industrial standards. Automotive surface engineers /designer usually need to know Alias or Icem Surf, no matter if BMW, Tesla or Volkswagen. That however can be based of biased thinking as well…:man_shrugging: Who cares, as long as you get paid for your job and you have fun with it… :+1:

Regardless of the incredible amount of information given in this thread by professionals like @TomTom (which is priceless and very hard to find outside)
I think you first need to practice basic modeling to understand how the program works and why works that way. You can’t expect the program to make everything for you. is just a tool and has its own language.
While doing simple modelings you will learn tiny but important tricks for example, how to think in macro surfaces, which describes the overall shape and then work in details and transitions. The cleaner macro surface, the better and easy detail workflow.
in the other hand, if your curves are a mess, the surface will be worst.
As pointed before, Rhino is not the best for the automotive industry but I think is the best for a middle-range industry and provide strong tools to sculpt surfaces freely like no other in the market in no time.
I use Rhino for Toy Design for a couple of years and I will not change it anytime soon. I’m very happy with it and what I can do with it, from hard surfaces like robots to organic shapes like MOTU action figures.
the learning curve is not so heavy if you have passion and fearless to make mistakes. there are no shortcuts, you want it good? spend time on it.


@Proterio, allow me to share with you some of the tutorials that I found to be a good starting point on how to approach surface modeling (at least for me)! That I hope you might also find them useful and hopefully I don’t break any rules!

I love Kyle Houchen tutorials and on this one he shows step by step how he approaches to model a Key Fob:

For more advanced surface tutorials that I have found very useful in understanding how to approach modeling and I was inspired are sourced by Handlebar3D channel using mainly Alias

Maybe worth checking out these:

Speed modeling in Alias: Space Ship part 1

Speed modeling in Alias: Space Ship part 2

Electra Wheel part 1: Finding the form in space

Electra Wheel part 2: Refinement and details

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Thank you for those links. I will study
Thank you for all your responses.
and to the person that flagged my post as inappropriate, good luck in trying to make the world conform to your values. You take yourself WAY too seriously!


That smartphone metaphor is perfect… because the cameras on phones are nowhere near as good as standalones, because you can’t actually create a pro quality movie on one, and because you can read basic maps on them but they can’t do serious cartography or analysis.