Introduction: Sculpting Critters in Fusion 360

About: I teach STEM electives (engineering, robotics, and computer aided design) to 6th through 8th graders at North Middle School in Everett, WA.

I teach computer aided design to 8th graders (12-14 year olds) as an elective class. When I first started to teach this class, using Fusion 360, I was just learning the tools too, and I loved the adorable GHOST intro to sculpting by Desktop Makes. It was simple, quick, and cute. This sculpt tutorial is a riff off of that. We originally did this as an extension after the ghost for the early finishers, but now my kids do this activity instead of the ghost.

This is a fun introduction for everyone to using the sculpting tools in fusion, with tons of room for creativity. The goal: Make an adorable "animal" (real or imaginary). When we are in-classroom we 3D print them, and they are just the right size to fit over top of a tea-light LED "candle".

**Note: Right now, My students are distance learning due to covid-19, and our class 3D printers are enlisted by a local group printing PPE for first responders, so I do not have 3D printed examples- the kids right now are instead using Fusion 360 to render photos of their designs**


  • Autodesk Fusion 360 (free download)
  • Computer
  • If printing, 3D printer
  • If printing, filament for 3D printer
  • If desired, tealight LED candle

Step 1: Enter FORMS, the Sculpting Environment. Make Your Base FORM.

The Forms Workspace

Fusion 360 has different work spaces. The one that we will be spending most of the time in today is called "Forms". In the Forms workspace, you manipulate your model by pulling, pushing, and stretching the material. You are sculpting it almost like a piece of playdough. This is has a very different feel from the SOLID MODELING workspace that we have spent most of our time in so far in my class.

To access the FORMS work space, you will click on the purple rounded cube that is in the top toolbar. Once in FORMS, the top toolbar changes, and now have a variety of different purple shapes along the top.

Base Form

In Forms, you do not begin with a sketch. You begin with a base form. Today we are starting with a PLANE. (Other options include a sphere, a cynlinder, etc).

  1. In the TOOLBAR, above CREATE click on the PLANE tool.
  2. Place the PLANE on the origin of your workplane. Dimension it to 50mm x50mm.
  3. In the pop up menu, give the plane 5 length faces and 5 width faces.

*note: sometimes the menu does not pop up for my students (unclear why) if this happens and your plane ends up with the wrong number of faces, just hit delete and try it again.*

Step 2: Ready to Go?

We are going to make your creature by pulling and shaping this plane.

Some basics/tips before we start:

  • Your form has VERTICES (points), EDGES (lines), and FACES. Make sure you can identify them!
  • You can move any of the above features individually or in groups.
  • RIGHT CLICK --> EDIT FORM allows you to access the ability to shape your form (move the features)
  • Holding ALT key while you shape ADDS a section to your form
  • You can make more faces or smaller faces to work with by using INSERT EDGE or SUBDIVIDE
  • IMPORTANT! When making your form, it is easy to get carried away and make something impossible (a face that crosses itself or twists for example). Fusion WILL let you do this. You won't realize your mistake until the end when you try to "Finish". Move slowly, check frequently. Use "box mode" to look for issues.

Step 3: Shape the Basic Body

Our basic body is going to be sculpted by simply pulling up on a few parts of the form.

  1. Select the 9 faces (boxes) in the center of your plane
  2. Right click-->Edit Form
  3. Select the Up Arrow and pull those 9 faces up by 30 mm.
  4. Now select only the Center Face.
  5. Pull the center Face up by 30 mm
  6. Still with the center face selected, select the tool handle that looks like a circle with three triangles.
  7. This tool will scale (change the size of) the face. Scale the face so that is bigger. (See the image)
  8. Pull up the center face 10 mm more.
  9. Hold ALT KEY and pull up the center face one more time, about 10 mm more- this will make a new section at the top of the body shape.
  10. Click on each of the 4 corner vertices at the bottom for the body and click delete. This will round the corners.

Step 4: Add Some Limbs (arms, Legs, Flippers, Tentacles?)

In this step, you will begin to make your body look like YOUR CHOICE of creature, so you will want to adjust as needed.

Many creatures are symmetrical, meaning that they have the same features on both sides. Some creatures have radial (circular) symmetry-such as an octopus or jellyfish. If your creature has symmetry, you can add a symmetry line now, and fusion will automatically apply changes that you make to one side to the other side. If you don't want symmetry, skip that step.

1. Add symmetry if you would like:- In the symmetry menu, choose "Mirror Internal", select two matching opposite faces and click OK. This will apply symmetry to two sides of your creature.

2. Make a smaller face: The FACE on the side where we want our arm is too large. We do not want our arm that large, so we are going to need to add and EDGE. Choose the INSERT EDGE tool. Click on the edge in the middle of the side of your creature, then slide up the new edge to about the middle of that face.

3. Pull out your arm: Click on the new face you just created. Right click, Edit Form. HOLD ALT KEY while you use the arrow to pull directly away from the body a little bit. This will make a new section that sticks out.

4. Add more sections, stretch them, etc: Here is where you need to be creative and play a bit. (While in Edit Forms) You can pull to stretch the sections, use ALT while pulling to add more sections. Use the other arrows to move the arm/limb up and down, forward and backward. Use the scaling tools to narrow or widen the arm. You will need to shape this to make it look like the kind of arm that your creature should have.

5. What about fingers or toes? You can use the SUBDIVIDE tool to split a face into more sections, which will give you small areas to work with. Those can then be pulled with the ALT key to add material (just like how you added arms!)

6. Don't stop there! Go ahead and go add legs, or a tail, etc. It all works the same way.

**NOTE** Although it LOOKS weird, it can help to work while in BOX DISPLAY mode, because you are less likely to get errors at the end.

Step 5: Shape Your Head and Snout

Using the same procedure that you used for the arms/limbs

1. On the front of your critter is a face near at the top. Use ALT while pulling the arrow straight to pull this out for the snout. You can also use the scale tool handle to widen or narrow this, depending on your creature (this shark for example needed a hammerhead)

2. For MOST creatures, we also click on the top face and use ALT while pulling it up to make a forehead. (Did not do that on this shark)

Step 6: Thicken

Before we "Finish" our form, we need to give it substance.

Use the MODIFY--"> "THICKEN" tool to add a tiny bit of thickness to the form. If you can make it thicken to 2 mm, that is best, but that will sometimes throw an error, so you can reduce.

(Forms builds in a way that the sheets actually have "0" thickness- which gets weird once they are converted into our solid modeling area)


The moment of truth! (Okay, this part actually can be scary). When you are happy with how your sculpture looks, click "FINISH FORM".

Two possible things happen:

1. Your form converts into a standard body in the MODEL environment! Hooray!

2. You get an error and some (hopefully not many) areas of your form highlight red. These are areas that need to be fixed. They may have crossing edges, etc. Repair seems easiest in box mode. There is an auto-repair tool. I have yet to see it actually work.

  • Go to each red area and look for the issue. Try to untangle crossed lines. Sometimes it is very simple (pulling a limb out more or sliding something over).
  • After each change you make, click the little yellow box next the the BODY name in the side menu. It will check to see if you have fixed everything.
  • Sorry.

Step 8: Details, Details

In Model mode, you can add some finishing touches- some physical and some digital.


  • You can model spheres and move them into place (Create--> sphere and then use the (M key) move tool) for eyes and nose
  • You can also sketch eyes on a flat plane and then extrude/cut them out ( My students--> You know how to do this!)


  • Sure why not? Model whatever other things you want (the same as you did with eyes and noses.)
  • Anything you model can be combined with the Sculpted Model in the same ways as usual (cut or joined)

ADD COLOR (digital)

  • Use the MODIFY APPEARANCE tool
  • You apply an appearance by dragging your selection onto the spot you would like it.
  • First, Apply a BASE color (whatever your main appearance is) with "apply to Bodies/components" checked.
  • Then, check the "apply to Faces" bubble and you can apply detail color to each individual section

Step 9: Render an Image

RENDER (digital image) -->My students: required to turn in!

If you want to see how your sculpture looks "in the real world" *without the edge lines etc*, head over to the render workspace.

To get there, click on the word MODEL in the upper left and it will bring up the menu of workspaces. Choose RENDER.

In render, you can change the appearance of your sculpture (which we just did), you can also set up the scene/environment with different lighting conditions and backgrounds, and move your character around within the space.

Once you are satisfied with how it looks, you can click render, and then let it go for a bit (getting higher quality as it goes) and then save the image.

Sculpting Challenge

Judges Prize in the
Sculpting Challenge