I love video tutorials as much as the next guy, but books do have some definite advantages over DVDs and streaming video services like Digital Tutors and Gnomon Workshop.
You can use them anywhere, even when you don't have an internet connection available. You can have them open in front of you without needing to switch between windows on your monitor. And (especially with subjects like anatomy), books are often better at slowing down a process and providing step-by-step illustrations that show how something was achieved.
Here's a list of six really solid books for someone looking to further their 3D modeling skills. I chose these specific titles because they're up to date, and because I've either used them personally or (in the case of the Blender book) because it came very highly recommended from peers.
This list is far from exhaustive—there are literally hundreds of 3D oriented books out there, but I tried to narrow the selection to include "best in class" resources only. If you do decide to look elsewhere for training, the one thing I'll say is this—for modeling and rendering related training try not to buy anything published before 2009. Preferred workflows change absurdly fast in this discipline, and chances are anything printed before 2009 will be significantly outdated.
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case it actually makes sense—if the render on the cover looks ancient, then the content probably needs to be updated.
At this point, it doesn't matter whether you're doing character modeling or environments, hard-surface or organic—most modern workflows lead through ZBrush these days.
That's a good thing. Pixologic is easily one of the most innovative software companies this side of Y2K, and a solid knowledge of ZBrush's sculpting tools will speed up your workflow ten-fold if you're still using traditional modeling tools for character development.
There are a lot of really talented artists offering quality ZBrush training (see: Ryan Kingslien), but Scott Spencer is the undisputed champion when it comes to print resources. I dabbled aimlessly in ZBrush for months before I eventually picked up the first edition of ZBrush Character Creation, and that's when it finally started to click. Can't recommend this highly enough.
What's that? You've mastered the ZBrush basics, but your anatomy knowledge is still... lacking? Well here's the resource for you, and unlike most other anatomy guides, this one relates the information specifically to ZBrush.
Anatomy is one of those subjects where books can actually give you a level of usability that video training just can't match. Watching a master like Ryan Kingslien or (Avatar character designer) Scott Patton sculpt is a thing of beauty--it's like poetry in motion. But those guys are so efficient and subtle with their brush strokes that it
The results that Scott Patton produces are no less fantastic, but part of what makes him such a great instructor is that his clay tools workflow makes the process much more explicit and easy to follow.
It's not a perfect guide. The world is still waiting for a single ZBrush book that covers both male and female anatomy in depth, but if you're looking for a step-by-step guide for sculpting a heroic male character, this one goes above and beyond the call of duty.
There's even a chapter at the end of the book that shows how to use mesh extraction to create clothing and props without ever leaving ZBrush. You're on a roll, Scott.
Blender has come a long way in the last few years. Significant UI upgrades, and the addition of integrated sculpting, painting, and game development tools have made it one of the most expansive 3D applications on the market.
Using character development as a backdrop, Jonathan Williamson takes all these improvements and boils them down into a thorough exploration of modern modeling workflows in Blender 2.5.
Covering the character development process from start to finish, this book will leave you with a thorough foundation in modeling for animation & games. The content is perfectly suitable for beginners who are just starting out in Blender, but offers plenty of helpful nuggets to satisfy the needs of intermediate and advanced artists alike.
Todd Palamar & Eric Keller
I don't care if you're a complete beginner—if I were you, I'd avoid the Introducing (Maya, Max, Lightwave, etc.) books at all costs. It isn't that they're not helpful. Books like that cover a lot of topics, but they don't really give you anything you can't find online through a five minute Google search. I fell into that trap twice when I was just starting out, and it's money I wish I could have back.The "Mastering" series is much, much better.
At 992 pages, you won't see anyone criticizing this book for a lack of depth—this one is an absolute tome. But don't let the length fool you into thinking the content won't be engaging. Unlike the (equally comprehensive) Maya manual, Mastering Maya 2012 uses project based walkthroughs to give you an in-depth picture of how Maya is used in a typical production workflow, but gives you enough theory to apply the concepts and techniques to your own projects.
Andrzej Sykut, Fabio M. Ragonha, Zoltan Korcsok, Richard Tilbury
There are countless reasons you need to have a good handle on Photoshop as a 3D artist. Concepting. Texturing. Compositing. Post-production. Presentation. It doesn't really matter what discipline you choose to pursue in CG—at some point you'll probably need to rely on Adobe's flagship graphics suite.
The reason this book is fantastic is that unlike virtually every other Photoshop resource on the market, this one was designed with 3D in mind, meaning you won't have to wade through 200 pages of material written with Photographers and Designers in mind.
Instead you get specific information on pre-visualization techniques, texturing and post-production workflows, and a slew of project based tutorials, all of which are incredibly relevant for someone wanting to work in film or games. Sound good?
Mastering Mental Ray has received nothing but rave reviews—the book carries a five star rating on Amazon, and 3DArtist magazine awarded it a lofty 9/10. Jennifer O'Conner is someone who clearly knows her way around Mental Ray, but even more important is the fact that she knows how to illustrate her knowledge in a way that makes even the most arcane MR node (and trust me, there are a lot of them) seem clear as day.
Especially if you're doing architectural rendering, thorough knowledge of your render engine is probably the most surefire way to improve your final images. This book covers all the major concepts in modern rendering (irradience, importons, IES lighting, global illumination, etc.) and leaves very few stones unturned.
**More than anything else in the CG pipeline, rendering can be very application specific. This resource focuses on 3ds Max with Mental Ray, but also covers CAD and Autodesk Revit. The publisher offers a similar resource for VRay users here.**
Automotive modeling requires a very specific skill-set that combines some of the most challenging aspects of both organic and hard surface modeling and requires a level of precision rarely seen in other aspects of entertainment design.
Andrew Gahan's guide takes a difficult subject and makes it accessible, but perhaps the best thing about this book is that he's structured it in a way that makes it applicable no matter what software you're using. Whether you're modeling in Max, Maya, or XSI, the information presented in this volume will be relevant.