Tag Archives: character modelling

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) <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcYrUHRIqsE>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.