I realized NURBS is similar to the type of file format I'm looking for. However, it seems to specify 2-D curves, whereas I'm looking for a surface embedded in R3


Original post:


I am trying to model human bodies based on pictures taken of people at various angles theta and phi. To that end, I would like to reduce file size by representing different parts of the body by 16 parameters: 10 from a quadric equation and 6 from boundaries

In the most general case, the 10 paramters A-J come from the equation


Ax^2 + By^2 + Cz^2 + Dxy + Exz + Fyz + Gx + Hy + Iz + J = 0

and bounds

x = [x_lo, x_hi], y = [y_lo, y_hi], z = [z_lo, z_hi]


Is there a file type that stores 3-D models as these continuous, algebraic objects rather than as polygonal meshes? Polygon representations take more space

  • $\begingroup$ Based on a cursory glance at the Wikipedia article, I think NURBS is for specifying 2D curves. The quadric surface specification you seem to be looking for is more detailed. I'm still looking for a file format that does what you want. I'm trying to solve a similar problem $\endgroup$
    – Nathan
    Jul 9, 2018 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


I don't know enough about math to interpret your specific math requirements but generally speaking mathematically defined models are as far as I know specified either as NURBS or in ACIS Solid format.

ACIS solids are used in many 2D CAD applications in the style of AutoCAD alikes and similar clones, but also in applications like FreeCAD or OpenSCAD.

It is generally more geared towards "hard suface" modelling, for geometric shapes like mechanical parts, engineering and industrial design.

On the other hand, NURBS is generally used for the same ends but where more organic or flowing shaped are required, like automotive industry, nautical design, aerospace engineering, aircraft design, etc.

Contrary to what you state, NURBS can be used for 3D models, while NURBS curves can be two dimensional they can also describe splines in 3D space, and NURBS surfaces are its extension to describing actual surface shapes.

Now it is not common to model human form in NURBS, most people do it using mesh based geometry mostly for a variety of practical reasons (like availability of software, animation capabilities, common tools and workflow, texturing, among others) but it has been done before.

To answer your question directly about a file format the two open standards that come to mind are either IGES or STEP, as far as open formats go that is all I know.

A better question would be What tools to use? since Blender is very poorly suited to deal with NURBS. Not only are its tools vestigial and its bare capabilities minimal at best; it cannot, as far as I know import or export any NURBS based data.

As for alternatives, the list of open source or free tools is sadly non existent, as far as I know.

The best known NURBS software is probably Rhino and CATIA, both of which are more geared towards CAD and mechanical work.

Software like Maya and 3DS Max have builtin tools for NURBS work, but it is not its main focus. They use just proprietary formats to store their data, though most can export in both IGES and STEP.

For alternatives you may look into MoI, which is a far cheaper alternative and a very capable software, more focused simplicity of workflow and designing small parts (rather than full blown projects). It is closely related to and has workflow highly compatible with Rhino.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your detailed response. With respect to the specific quadric equation I mentioned, however, is there a file format which describes a surface using the equation Ax^2 + By^2 + Cz^2 + Dxy + Exz + Fyz + Gx + Hy + Iz + J = 0 ? If not, that's fine. It wasn't entirely clear from your answer. But if you've been doing 3-D for awhile and that's the list of formats you know about, it's unlikely such a format already exists $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2018 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ As I mentioned math is not my strong suit, not sure what equations those formats use, but as far as formats go I believe these are the ones available. You can probably find more info in their respective specifications. $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2018 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ Note: I found a simpler solution to this problem here $\endgroup$
    – Nathan
    Aug 6, 2018 at 23:02

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