Category Archives: 3D Modelling Studio 1

Character Model- plans for further development


For the most part, I am pretty happy with this model, but there are some things I would like to enhance/fix to feel that it is complete and ready to use as part of a full ‘showreel’ production. Probably easiest to list these in point form-

  • integration of the shoulder through the chest – I need to somehow re-run the geometry from the shoulder down into the chest so that these body parts are more integrated. When Ava lifts her arm it should pull vertices from the chest area upwards.
  • A more complete eyelid solution – I would like to start using blendShapes for eye blinks. This requires eyelid geometry that will deform well. This is not the case as yet.
  • A shirt that is more ‘cowboy’ –  I would like her to be wearing a shirt that buttons right down the front with press studs.
  • The belt on her waist is currently integrated into the main geometry, this was a quick fix rather than a permanent solution. I need the belt to be a separate object.
  • Details – although details are less important than form and structure, there are still plenty of accessories that will enhance a character like this. Here are some extras that I am planning to build and add: belt loops, holster and guns, spurs on boots, filigree detail on boots, scarf around neck, skull and crossbones belt buckle.

I look forward this having this complete for further and more complex rigging in the new year.


Modelling Studio 1- Critical Reflection

Critical Reflection –

Most good articles and tutorials on organic modelling begin with a statement about the importance of understanding form and structure and holding back on detail.

Glen Southern, in an article for 3D world magazine suggests that the ‘two big mistakes modellers make are adding too much detail too quickly and not getting the form and volume correct (2010).’

After a modelling semester mainly focused on organic modelling I can now attest to this fact. Learning how to study an organic structure and ‘feel’ how it is put together and how it moves is critical to being a productive modeller. As somebody who had only modeled hard, non-deforming, man-made objects before, I quickly realized the importance of topology in how something moves.

Personally, a turning point was a class project modelling and rigging a penguin. It was impressed upon us the importance of studying not just how something looks but how it moves and the underlying structure of its anatomy. When it lifts it leg to take a step, which parts of the body move with it and where do we see definition lines from the tension of muscles. This is the driving force behind ‘flow’.

After building the ‘box model’ for the penguin and thinking the model was 90 percent complete, I found that many times those hours could then be spent tweaking and re-running edges to get the structure to ‘flow’. I don’t pretend to have ever got it right, no matter how many attempts. Like traditional sculpture, I have realized that it may take years, if not a lifetime to truly master this art.

But I did make some leaps forward with regard to being able to see the patterns of edges and how they ‘should’ look and what it is that I am striving for when modelling. I guess being able to see that is a start. Some ‘visualisation’ techniques were explored to help with this, such as colouring up rows of faces with a shader, taking a screen shot into a paint program and drawing edge loops or even a printout and a texta can work wonders.

These ideas were re-enforced when the human anatomy lectures began. I started to feel more confident with body parts and the best methods for building them, especially as we tackled the most difficult anatomy like hands and faces. I personally find the face the most challenging and this proved true with my final character model. The face is such an expressive part of the body and there are a great deal of underlying muscles that need to move correctly to form convincing expressions.

Perhaps what I took out of this class most was the knowledge of how much I do not know yet and hopefully the patience to push through some boundaries. The class made me realize that in the balance between learning the tools and learning the art, it is the art that really takes time. To quote Erick Miller (2006) ‘I’m from the school of thought that you should be an artist more than a technician’.

I definitely feel motivated to practice more traditional sculpting and more Maya modelling and eventually start to explore dedicated sculpting software like mudbox and Zbrush.

3D world 2010 Tips and tricks for organic modelling
accessed 28 November 2012.

Miller, E 2006, Maya Techniques:Hyper-Real Creature Creation, Autodesk, California.

Organic Character Modelling Project

Stage 1 –  Character Design

I have made the decision on what type of story to tell for my animatic. Having recently been on a spaghetti western binge, watching the ‘Dollars’ trilogy by Sergio Leone among others, I was taken by the cinematography techniques and simple story telling power of the genre. It would translate well to a very short- one minute sequence

Rather than a burly, unshaven, male hero my story will involve a character called ‘Ava’ that is the antithesis of this image –  a young girl who does not ‘appear’ fit to be in the mans world she is entering. The current vision of her in my head is doll-like and frail. She has very skinny limbs and walks a little pigeon-toed. She is a gun-slinger, but in her world everything is man-sized. Nobody manufactures equipment in her size, hence everything is too large for her including her guns, hat and boots. This influences her gestures as she always looks weighed down and about to trip over herself.

I have started on some simple gestural drawings to try to flesh out who she is:





Have spent some more time thinking about ‘Ava’ and how she will look and move. Some random things that are influencing me at the moment:


Rango – I just love his proportions and how awkward he is, and that wavy bottom lip that contributes to his ‘dazed and confused’ nature.

Mark Ryden – I have always been a huge fan of the art of Mark Ryden. I have decided that Ava would be a young frail girl and many of his paintings have popped into my mind. I would say that his greatest strength as an artist is the way he walks the line between strength and frailty with his young female characters.



In Ryden’s work, the facial features are always positioned very low on the face. Noses are tiny, eyes are huge and quite wide apart. This gives his girls a slightly alien-like but ethereal quality that I would love Ava to have. I made the below ‘mood board’ on facial design and expressions that might help me make some decisions when placing the facial features – getting the face right on Ava is crucial to capturing her personality.


Preliminary modelling

I have thought a lot about Ava and who she is. I have sketched her more times than I care to recall and have made some ortho drawings of how I want the face to look so I think its time to jump in and start modelling.

I am starting at the head because its the biggest challenge for me personally. Most of the modelling I have done in the past has been hard-shell, man made objects. Yesterday, as part of a class lecture, I built an extremely detailed human hand model and that has given me a lot more confidence with organic topology flow.

I loaded my ortho face drawing into an image plane and am beginning to build edge flow out:


I started with a single quad at the mouth and extruded edges out. The basic idea is to have an edge ring circling the mouth and another circling the eye.


Although this looks weird and I have not really begun getting the shape right, the basic flow for the facial structure is there.

This is the side ortho plane I am using to help me get the shaping of the back of the head and the flow down into the neck.


With the head starting to come together, I have started on the body so that I can block out proportions and get a feel for how it is looking as a whole.


Started with a cylinder, then extruded arms and legs in the traditional ‘box model style’. This is where it is at now that I have ‘socked’ the head on.


After some more class lectures about edge ‘flow’. I have decided to play around some more with the head on my model. A recurring problem is that the number of edge loops coming down into the neck is way too high. A technique we have been discussing in class is to terminate some of these at the back of the head, especially useful for my model as she will be wearing a hat.


One of the other methods I have been exploring on the advice of my teacher is to decide on where I want the ‘poles’ to be (areas with valency greater the four).

Here I have re-directed the flow so that I have a pole to define the jawline. At the same time, I am starting to think about the termination of loops into the ear and how many edges would be optimum for attaching the ear.


I have decided I want the style of Ava’s ears to be quite realistic as opposed to overly simplified and cartoony.

I have been digging around online and found a tutorial that looks quite helpful and simple for building a human ear.

Modelling the human ear made easy (2008) <>accessed 02 November 2012.

Followed along with this tutorial today using the ‘2 interlocking loops’ method. I used a new scene for this and set up image reference using photos of my wife’s ear. I matched the number of edge loops to the number of loops terminating at the area to ‘sock’ in which is 14. Once I was happy with the results:


I exported and imported back into my Ava model scene.

Spend some time today refining the ear, nose and mouth areas, getting them shaped out a little better:


After experimenting, I have decided that the ‘no nostril’ look was best for Ava. This complicated things a bit as the nostrils can normally be used to terminate edges but this cute little button nose, slightly upturned was something that was important to the cuteness of the character.

The last basic element left to create was a hat. Starting with an 8 sided cylinder, I extruded the top edges in and the base edges out. The idea here was over-sized and a bit clumsy. I shaped it out freehand rather than using reference as t was important that the look fit in with the current head model.


Refining and Testing

I have created all the basic geometry I need now, so I am moving on to the refining and testing stage.

The most obvious starting point for refining the geometry was to make her  appear to be wearing clothes. I am surprised at the amount of improvement that I have made here in a relatively short period of time using a step-by-step method that goes like this:

  • Move vertices to define the outer borders of garments and accessories.
  • Select all the contained faces for that garment.
  • Extrude those faces to create ‘definition’ creases.


This method also worked to create the hair. This example shows how I have re-positioned and shifted the edge flow to create a hair-line and also extruded out a pony-tail and hair-band.


So for now and for the purposes of this semester, the final geometry design is now complete. Here she is in all her glory:


Rigging for deformation testing

After an exhausting rigging refresher-course with my teacher on Friday night, I spent the weekend constructing a basic rig with a set of control curves that could be used to manipulate Ava to do everything I needed her to do for my animatic.

Using the ‘Interactive Skin Bind’ method, she is now fully rigged and attached to her skeleton system. Now it is time to have some fun with her, contorting her into the most extreme poses to see where the geometry flow breaks down.

Revisions made –

Through deformation testing, I have gone on to fix the issues listed here:

  • Armpit – I realized that some of the geometry under the arm had to be adjusted and pushed up to create space for deformation when the arm moved down by her side to prevent surface overlaps.


  • Knee/Elbows- some tightening of edges was required in the deformation areas of the knees and elbows. I found that three loops was a good number to help the geometry cope with limb bend as below:


  • Hands – when testing the finger curls on the rig I decided to completely rebuild the hand according to box/flow method I had revised in a modelling lecture. A complete circular loop is built into each knuckle to provide distribution of geometry for smooth knuckle deformations.


Report- Modelling

Creating 3D models in Maya is a unique and evolving art form that requires the understanding of many disciplines including form, anatomy and mechanics.
While Maya supports 3 surface types – NURBS, Polygons, and Subdivisions. This report will focus on aspects of Polygon modelling.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Polygon models are versatile, intuitive to model with and are well suited to hard surface and organic forms. They are the most common surface type used in the film industry and are the ‘backbone’ of all game art (McKinley, M 2005, p13).

A polygon ‘mesh’ is constructed using flat faces that share edges and vertices. A standard workflow is to create a low resolution or ‘proxy’ model for ease of UV layout, rigging and animation, then to ‘smooth’ the model toward the end of the project, whereby the geometry is subdivided to the level required. Each level of subdivision quadruples the number of poly faces (Palamar, T, Keller, E,  2011). Faces with 4 vertices are known as ‘quads’. It is best practice to keep models to quads wherever possible as four-sided faces respond well to subdivision and deformation. 3 sided faces (tris) and n-gons (faces with 5 sides or more) tend to cause pinching in the model (Miller, E 2008).

© 2012 Jimi Green

There are some limitations, boundaries and rules an artist must be aware of.

Polycount – your software/hardware combination is only capable of displaying a finite number of polygons. As ‘polycount’ increases, the computers ability to process and display them reduces exponentially. Careful planning is required to only increase the density of polygons where and when it is necessary (Miller, E 2008).

Geometry To Avoid

© 2012 Jimi Green

Non-planar – It is best to keep all vertices of a face along a single plane. If a vertex is moved off that plane, it becomes a ‘twisted’ or ‘bent’.

‘Lamina’ – where faces share all their edges- in other words one or more faces are directly on top of each other.


© 2012 Jimi Green

where a third polygon is extruded from a shared edge or

where two polygons share a single vertex (bow tie)

© 2012 Jimi Green

The above problems can be remedied with the ‘cleanup’ command which will delete the bad geometry.

Non-conformed Normals – normals determine which side of the surface will face the camera for rendering.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Correct normals appear like the above, facing in the same direction.

© 2012 Jimi Green

this next example (with normals displayed and without) has some faces pointing in toward the model.

The remedy is to select all the faces pointing the wrong way and apply the ‘reverse normals’ command (Palamar, T, Keller, E,  2011).


An advantage of poly modelling is that very few tools are required. Some of the most used include:

© 2012 Jimi Green

Split polygon– probably the most simple and widely used of all the tools, it creates a split through a one or more face(s) to add geometry.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Insert edge loop – allows you to select and then split the polygon faces across either a full or partial ‘edge ring’ on a polygonal mesh.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Extrude – Pulls new polygons out from existing faces, edges, or vertices. (Autodesk Maya 2013)

Techniques and workflow

While the tools are relatively simple, an understanding of what you are building is perhaps the most important aspect of any kind of 3D modelling. If you are building a complex mechanical form, then it is important to know its function, form and how it works. Are the forms smooth or hard-edged and to what degree?

If the form is human or another living creature then you need to know how the masses make up the form. The first step should be sketching and research to solve these questions. Giovani Nakpil suggests the next stage should be modelling in clay as ‘touching something tangible’ helps to figure out how the masses interact with each other, the rhythm and movement of the forms. (Dacol Jr, C, Van Beek J, Nakpil, G, 2009)

‘Image planes’ allow importing of orthographic reference into Maya before building. This, combined with the ‘box modelling’ method – starting with a poly primitive and shaping and extruding limbs and other body parts, is a common technique.

© 2012 Jimi Green

© 2012 Jimi Green

If the character is symmetrical, only half the model needs to be created.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Then duplicate the model and scale to -1 in x

© 2012 Jimi Green

Use the ‘combine’ command to form one mesh.

© 2012 Jimi Green

Then most importantly – marque-select all the overlapping vertices and use the ‘merge vertices’ command. This ensures proper geometry.

The results from this box modelling method can be quite pleasing, however they will not necessarily be adequate for deformation under animation controls. The model will benefit from ‘retopology’ or changing the ‘edge flow’ of the geometry, based on the regions and divisions of the body, emphasizing the relationship between the various structures (Miller, E 2008).


McKinley, M 2005, ‘The Game Artist’s Guide to Maya’, Sybex, San Francisco

Palamar, T, Keller, E,  2011, ‘Mastering Autodesk Maya 2012’, Wiley, Indiana

Dacol Jr, C, Van Beek J, Nakpil, G, 2009, ‘Character Modelling 3’, Ballastic, Adelaide

Miller, E 2008, ‘Autodesk Maya Techniques- Hyper-Realistic Creature Creation’, Autodesk, CA

(Autodesk Maya 2013) Autodesk Maya 2013 onscreen help menu.