Modeling a character

From TOI-Pedia


The character

Before you start modeling a character it is convenient to have already decided most of the creature's looks. You can start designing your character by drawing it first. By sketching you can also explore the positions, movements and expressions your character should be able to have. When you have sketched and decided on the basics of the character you can model it in clay to get a better view on how it actually is build up in 3D. The pose in which it is easiest to model, is the so-called T-pose. In this pose the model is standing straight up with its legs next to each other under its hips and the arms spread wide (like a T).

When you have defined your character in sketches and/or in a clay model you can use this for your model. Make at least a front and side view of your character and if necessary also a back and/or topview, so you can use them as references in your scene. If you have made a clay model you can take pictures of it (use a tripod to keep the position of the character the same on all pictures). If you have sketched the character take into account that you may have some inconsistencies between the different views you drew.

Also think of what you are going to achieve through modeling and what through texturing.

The scene

Create planes with the views of the character on it. A brief explanation on how to do this can be found in this section, for a more elaborate explanation on how to assign a texture to geometry we refer to the page texture mapping.

If the views of your character are not digital yet, scan them.

Because we are going to work with a texture you need to work in a project, so start a project first (if you don't know how to do this and/or how to work with projects, have a look at the page projects). Put the scanned images or pictures in the source images folder of this project.

Create a polygon plane in Maya and give it the right orientation and the same proportions as the image you are going to use (if your scanned image is 766 by 766 pixels, create a plane of for instance 10 by 10 units) and place it on the grid.

Now open your hypershade (window > rendering editors > hypershade) and create a new lambert (create > materials > lambert) and use the front view of the character as its color (double click on the lambert you just created, double click on the checker box next to color, choose the 'file' button, click on the button with a folder thumbnail on it and choose the right file).

Assign this material to the plane (if you don't see it, press '6' on your keyboard).

If the image is not projected correctly, use a planar projection to make it right.

Go through the same process for the other images:


Make sure that your planes are placed in a way in which your character will be at the origin of the scene, later on this will prove to save you a lot of trouble.

Modeling the character

An easy and clean method of modeling a character is 'blocking'. With this method you start from a cube and by using the split polygon tool, the insert edge loop tool, extrude and smooth tools you create your character.

Try to keep your geometry build up out of quads. This will make the texturing of the character a lot easier.

The torso

We are going to start from the pelvis. Create a cube, give it 2 subdivisions in the width (click on polycube1 in the inputs of the cube and change the subdivisions width to 2) and place and scale it to the location of the pelvis:


It is convenient to use the x-ray shading mode and the wireframe on shaded mode for the front and side views. Like this you can see the image through the cubes.

Now start to create the torso roughly by extruding the top faces and editing the components:


Because you are probably going to use the 'edit mesh' menu very often you can detach it from the menubar and always keep in your view by going to edit mesh and clicking on the double line at the very top of the menu.

Creating a mirrored instance

Because our character is symmetrical we can save ourselves a lot of time and effort by only modeling 1 half of the character and using a mirrored instance as second half. To do this, select the left half of the faces and delete them (you can easily do this because we started from a cube with 2 subdivision to begin with):


Now select the half you have left and make sure that its pivot is placed at the origin of the scene (0,0,0) and so also at the left edge of the half you have left. Go to edit > duplicate > special > optionbox. Choose 'instance' as geometry type and because we want to mirror this half we put in '-1' in the scale x entry:


Now the torso consists of two halves again. Because we duplicated the geometry as an instance, all the adjustments we make by either extruding, splitting (using the split polygon tool) or adjusting the components of one half will be automatically also done on the other half:


The arms and legs

You can now extrude the arms and legs in the same way. If you need more faces to get the overall shape you can use the split polygon tool or the Insert Edge Loop Tool. Because we are using a mirrored instance we only have to split, extrude and move components on one side of the character:


Don't move the vertices on the edge of either half away from the center, this will cause a gap in the middle!

Adding detail

If you have the overall shape ready, you can start to add detail. For this you can use the same tools as used before. Try to achieve the best result with the lowest amount of polygon faces, because the more faces, the heavier the model. Also try to achieve an even spread of the polygons, this will make the character easier to apply texture to, it will prevent too much stretch of the texture and the binding of the skin to a skeleton later on will be easier.

After refining the model more with the split polygon tool, the insert edge loop tool and by editing the components, the character looks like this:


From a distance this looks quite ok, but if we look a bit more up close we see that the mesh is not completely smooth yet:


You can use the smooth option of the Mesh menu to smoothen the character, but this will not give you a lot of control on the more detailed level. The Sculpt Geometry Tool with its different operations may be a more useful tool to smooth the character. Especially the 'relax; operation can be very useful, because it smooths out the division of quads with preservation of the basic shape. After doing some more editing with the mentioned tool, the character looks like this:



Sometimes the center line will still be very visible after smoothing. if this is the case, first combine and merge the vertices of the two halves of your character before smoothing.

Cleaning up the geometry

When you are satisfied with your character, you have to combine the two halves into 1 again. To do this, select the two halves and go to mesh > combine. Now the two halves are 1 surface again, but at the center the surface still has 2 vertices at 1 spot (the one from the right half an the one from the left half). You have to merge these vertices into 1, so select the mesh and go to edit mesh > merge.

Check your geometry one last time, and if everything is as it should be, delete its history (select it, edit > export selection) and export only the mesh to a new scene to get rid of everything that you don't need. You can now start texturing your character.

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