A friend of mine pointed me to this video of a designer creating an anime character in Maya. Time is speeded up so that the whole process takes 4mins. The soundtrack (Japanese techno?) adds to the sense of speed.
I know nothing about 3D design. (In fact, the old developer in me occasionally has a hard time with the timeline in Flash, which is why I prefer Flex.) From my naïve standpoint, the video is a demonstration of how backward 3D design tools are. It looks like it takes a huge amount of work to create a basic character. What about animating the character? What about accessories, such as clothing and other gear? What happens where the character gets a haircut?
Why does this matter? Because the high cost of 3D artifact creation limits the supply of cool artifacts in virtual worlds. When building something cool in 3D becomes as easy as, say, building something cool in 2D we will reach a tipping point that will lead to significant improvement in the sophistication and, I hope, the use of virtual worlds.
You should check out the work of Takeo Igarashi, especially Teddy and Chateau.