Vector -> Relief modeling workflow

I recently picked up a job where i’m meant to model and render pre-existing bas reliefs (think faces of coins and medallions). For a lot of these, I have vector art supplied to me. For some, I just have photographs. I will be doing this enough that I want to spend considerable time trying to automate this process as much as possible.

Is anyone out there doing this type of modeling effectively without the use of expensive plugins or is that the only option?

I see a few avenues to take here to create “puffy” reliefs:

  1. Displacement/Heightfield
    I would need to draw up displacement maps to make this work or find a way to automate it. The results can be a bit finicky and unpredictable as we’re dealing with raster data.

  2. Sweep surfaces
    Would likely create the most ideal geometry but would be the most hands-on solution, especially as base geometry gets more complicated

  3. Patch surfaces
    These work really nicely when the work, but sometimes they just don’t. They can be pretty finicky and the geometry isn’t ideal

  4. SubD
    This seems like the way to me, but I’m not sure how to convert nurbs extrusions to SubD or to extrude curves to SubD, all the tutorials I’ve seen seem to focus entirely on freeform modelling. Am I missing something or not trying hard enough?

Apologies if this is a dumb question! Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

I have had good success using photographs and heightfield to create coin like objects. Try it out.

If you want you may look into my project here:

I’ve created it in Modo (subd) + Zbrush (sculpting) but subd part could be done in Rhino or Blender without problems. The shield was milled (CNC machine) and I’ve made it in MoI3d CAD. All cloth 3d printed parts plus muscles of the horse were sculpted in Zbrush. The rest of the hard surface modeling was done in Modo (subd modeling). All black parts were printed in HP Multi Jet Fusion ( Transparent part I’ve milled in local CNC service. I’ve glued it together and I`ve found traditional foundry in my country which pressed my template into the sand and filled it with bronze. It was one item production as a gift.

Even if something is sculpted I like to model subd object of the overall shape first and then sculpt details over it. I`ve done crown cloth like this, horse muscles, horse tail and the wrap-up of the horseman.

In that project I wanted to mix new (MJF, CNC) and old technology (sand casting is one of the oldest techniques of crafting things). It was prepared to hang in old rooms so I don`t want it to have modern look.

It was about 130 hours of digital work to go from vector file to final model which was ready to 3d print it.

I`m looking for a job If someone would want subd/sculpting modeling services like this (remotely, B2B also).