Today we’re extremely excited to welcome veteran 3D artist, character modeler and author, Antony Ward to the site as we launch an amazing new software independent tutorial series, for all you aspiring character modelers and game artists.
Over the course of this extremely in-depth series, you’ll learn the techniques and theory behind creating a stylized, high quality female character for modern games. Focused on traditional poly-modeling, rather then digital sculpting techniques, this series will help you build a solid foundation and a true understanding of the character creation process.
With nearly 20 years of production experience in some of the game industries top studios, Antony offers invaluable insight into the various aspects of professional character creation. Staring from the very basics, you’ll learn how to prepare, gather reference and get started in your 3D app of choice. Before moving onto the fundamentals every good character artists needs to know, including understanding anatomy and the importance of working with correct topology. Finally you’ll learn how to add additional detail and bring your character to life by creating clothing, hair and accessories.
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It’s been over a decade since I released my first book, “Game Character Development in Maya” and as you can imagine, the process for creating game ready characters has moved on quite a bit. With that said, I have to point out that many of the techniques shared in the book are still relevant to today’s game character developers, riggers and animators.
With this tutorial we will bring the game character process up to date as you work through an updated process for creating a re-imagining of one of the book’s main characters, Kila.
In this, the first part of the course, you will begin by generating a high resolution model to use as a base, not only for generating detail maps but also for your actual game model.
The first step on any project should be some degree of preparation. Even the most experienced of artists will take some time to assess what needs to be done, and the ideal approach.
Part of this could include evaluating the best application to use, or it could simply involve gathering reference material to work from.
With this project you already have the following concept to work from.
Even though she is quite stylized it’s just as important to refer to real world anatomy rules so search out some good anatomy reference, as well as clothing images too so you can refer to cloth and the way it hangs on around the body.
3d.sk is a great source for reference imagery.
Once you have your reference gathered and ready, your next decision is how you’re going to create this first version of Kila.
Every artist has their own approach to creating high resolution characters. Some will dive right into a sculpting application like ZBrush, while others are more comfortable beginning with box modeling. In this tutorial we will use Subdivision Surfaces, why? Well, we are doing this for a number of reasons.
- 1. Using Subdivision Surfaces can give your model a high detailed look, while keeping the topology low and manageable.
- 2. Building Kila from the ground up with Subdivision Surfaces will not only give us a high resolution model, but also the foundations for your game model.
- 3. Subdivision Surfaces can be found in most major 3D applications meaning anyone can pick up and follow this tutorial, no matter what your application of choice may be.
With all that in mind let’s dive in and start building.
2. Blocking in the Upper Body
It’s never a good idea to rush ahead and focus all your efforts on a single area of your character. This can lead to proportion issues as you lose a sense of how everything balances out. Blocking out the main forms early can eliminate the need for any major changes further down the line.
Let’s start by blocking out Kila’s torso, arms and head.
Begin with three primitives which will give you the foundations for Kila’s torso, left arm and left breast.
- 1. First create a Cylinder with 12 divisions around the axis and roughly 8 divisions high.
- 2. Add to this a Sphere with 6 divisions both around and along the axis.
- 3. Finally create a second Cylinder, this time with 8 divisions around the axis and 6 divisions high.
You are only creating one arm and breast because the idea is to concentrate on one side of Kila and then mirror this across. You can do this because at this stage both sides are symmetrical, so there is no sense in doing twice the work.
- 1. With those ready you can now adjust each edge loop in turn to give them a little more shape.
- 2. Next reposition the arm and chest so they lie roughly where they would naturally be.
- 3. Make sure you rotate the sphere so you have an edge loop running vertically. This will make it easier to attach to the torso next.
The next step is to combine each element so you have a single model and then begin welding them to create a single seamless mesh.
- 1. Working on the torso, next remove the geometry which lies in the same area as the sphere.
- 2. Now delete the back half of the sphere.
- 3. With the space opened up you can now begin welding each vertex on the sphere, to the closest vertex on the torso.
You may need to stray outside the immediate area, especially for the upper chest, and don’t be afraid to adjust the overall shape as you work so it looks more natural.
- 1. Now move around to the arm and follow the same steps, welding the vertices which are closet. This will help to keep the topology clean, and organized.
- 2. Once you have one side pretty much ready, delete the left side of the model, and then mirror and combine to make the upper body whole.
3. Blocking in the Head and Hands
With the main torso in place it’s relatively easy to add the head and the hands. All you need to do is Extrude, and Reshape.
At this stage you may also want to add a subdivision to your model so you can see how it will look once smoothed.
- 1. For the head, add extra geometry to close in the open area around the upper body, making sure you leave a circular area to form the base for the neck.
- 2. Now use an Extrude to pull the geometry up and form the neck and the base for the head.
- 3. Continue to Extrude the geometry, first out and then up to create a basic head shape.
- 4. Finally close the top of the head, making sure you use only quads. It’s important to keep the model quad based at this stage to retain a smooth and even surface as you add more detail.
With the base for the head built you can now move on and create the hands. Again you can use Extrudes to help form the fingers.
- 1. First add a few extra extrusions to the wrist to give you some topology to work with.
- 2. Next, Extrude three quads, keeping them separate. This will form the base for your first three fingers.
- 3. Add another two Extrudes to these fingers to flesh them out. Each segment should correspond to a joint in the finger.
You now have a basic hand, but with only three fingers. Good for some characters, but not Kila.
- 1. Focus on the wrist area again and use another Extrude, but this time pull the geometry out to the front giving you 8 new quads.
- 2. This will act as the base for the index finger and thumb, which you can now form by using more extrusions, just as you did with the fingers.
With the hands added you now have a great base mesh for the upper body, and in its current state this could easily be taken into a sculpting application to be subdivided and worked further upon.
At this stage you could move on and begin working more detail into the model, but before you do spend a little time adjusting the shape and the proportions to match the style you are after.
4. Torso Detail
Now that the foundations are in place you can start to flesh out, (pardon the pun) the upper body.
This is the stage where your reference material is crucial as you will be focusing on building in muscle masses, as well as key anatomic structures.
As you are using Subdivision Surfaces you need to keep an eye on the topology. You can`t simply slice the surface and move the vertices. Every polygon counts and will impact on how the model looks.
This may seem like a nightmare way to work, but you will find it challenging, and in a weird way relaxing, sort of like a virtual jigsaw puzzle.
- 1. Start by adding in a few extra edge rings around key areas like the stomach.
- 2. Continue to work in more geometry, but only where you need it, to help define more major muscle masses and skeletal structures.
- 3. As you work you will find that the edges begin to flow naturally into each other, which is exactly what you are looking for. Just go with the flow.
- 4. Remember to keep the topology to a minimum, so feel free to revisit an area and optimize it if you are experiencing pinching or bulging on the surface.
- 5. When your happy with her front, turn around and begin working in the shoulder blades and her spine using the same method.
- 6. As a final step, push her chest up and together slightly. You are doing this because Kila is wearing a shirt, so we need to adjust the anatomy to reflect the fact her chest is held by the clothing.
At this stage you don’t need to worry about sticking to a purely quad based model. To get the right amount of detail you will need the odd n-gon to achieve the correct surface shapes.
5. Arm and Hand Detail
You are probably starting to get to grips with Subdivision Surfaces now, and no matter which area you work upon the rules stay the same. Basically keep your topology clean and to a minimum, and remove anything which is not needed.
At the end of the day if you are not sure how to approach an area, experiment. So long as you build up the details in stages, or layers, you can’t go wrong.
You can follow the same steps as you did with the torso now on the arm and hand.
- 1. Working from the shoulder, move down the arm adding in the main muscle details. You begin at the shoulder because this will no doubt have some stray edge loops left over from the upgrade of the torso.
- 2. For the hand begin by adding in extra edge loops around each knuckle, this will give you the topology to begin shaping these major joints.
- 3. If it’s easier, why not focus on one finger and when it’s fully constructed duplicate it for the others?
6. Head Detail
The final major area to work on now is the head, and again we can follow our simple rules to add some much needed detail here too.
- 1. Focus on the face first, slicing horizontally and vertically to give you more geometry to work with.
- 2. For the nose use an Extrude to literally pull it out of her face to give you the main nose and nostrils.
- 3. Start reshaping as you work to mold the head into Kila.
- 4. When you are happy with how things are looking, create three holes. One for each eye and one for her mouth. Make sure these are enclosed by edge rings to help retain their shape, and avoid poles.
- 5. Now you have the main cavities you can continue to reshape the head as a whole. Adding a temporary sphere for each eye will also help as you form her eye lids.Be sure to also keep referring to real muscle reference as you work. How the topology is constructed around the face will dictate how well you can achieve facial expressions so form your edge loops around natural muscle lines.
7. Building the Ear
The torso and head are built, but she still needs her ears so let’s focus on those now.
- 1. First create a hole in the side of Kila’s head. This sounds dramatic, but don’t worry, it won’t hurt her.
- 2. Now Extrude the edges of the hole out to form the foundations for the ear.
- 3. Fill this hole and begin carving in the major areas of the ear, staring with the outer Helix and working your way inwards adding more detail as you go.
With the ear built the upper body is now completed. Well, I say completed but I am sure you could tweak and adjust it a lot more.
Now you have a torso and head fully built why not put this to one side. Having a pre-built model means you can reuse this on a future project, saving you precious time. All you may need to do is add legs and feet.
8. Adding the Base Shirt and Jeans
Because you have taken the time to create Kila`s torso first, you can use it to kick start how you build her shirt. Looking at the concept image her shirt is almost skin tight, which is good for us as we can pretty much duplicate the torso and use it directly.
- 1. Create a copy of the torso and delete any geometry you don’t need. So anything outside the surface of the shirt, including the head and arms.
- 2. Continue to work on the overall shape now, refining it until you have a nice even model which is more of a “shirt” shape.
- 3. With the basics in place, and just like we did with the torso, you can start to layer up the details. Adding in folds and creases, plus the seams around the fabric.
You don’t currently have any legs to kick start the creation of her jeans, but each leg is basically a cylinder, right? So it shouldn’t be too difficult to generate a good starting point.
- 1. Form the base for the jeans by creating an initial cylinder, and then working down. You only need basic geometry at this stage.
- 2. It’s then a case of following the same procedure as we have with the rest of the model. Adding geometry steadily, working in the natural folds and creases of the cloth, and removing any topology you don’t need.
- 3. Working in layers will allow you to build up the details gradually, so start big and then go smaller before finally building any extra’s you may need like the pockets and seams.
9. Building the Shoes
The body and clothing are all in, and pretty much complete, but she is still missing a few key areas. The first of which are her feet, which are tucked into sneakers. Now, I realize in the concept image Kila is wearing boots rather than sneakers but in this instance you can steer away from the concept as these will look much better, and are more in keeping with the original Kila.
This time you are treating the shoes as a separate element, so they will need building from scratch.
- 1. Start with a cube and adjust this, while also adding more divisions, to form the basic shape of the sneakers sole.
- 2. From this you can duplicate key polygons and reshape them to form the main panels which will lie over her feet.
- 3. With the basics in place you can then begin adding more details, like the studs the laces will be threaded through. These are simply formed from cylinders.
With the laces we don’t literally need to create a single long piece of geometry and thread it through each stud. All you need is the illusion that the laces are a single piece when in actual fact they will be made up of lots of detailed cylinders.
- 1. Again, use a cube to define the main shape for the lower three sections of the laces, making sure they are tucked into the studs correctly.
- 2. Now add some details to these, making them look flatter and also wrinkled where the fabric is being compressed.
- 3. You now have a choice. You can repeat this process all the way up the top of the sneaker, or cheat a little and duplicate the section you have already created and reposition them.
- 1. Continue to add as much detail as you like to the shoes, but once you are happy bring them into the same scene as the rest of Kila and position them under each opening of her jeans.
- 2. You will also need to rework the base of the jeans so they sit nicely upon each sneaker.
10. Adding Hair
The next key area to add is her hair. As this model is destined to be used to generate normal and diffuse maps on a game model, building the hair may seem a little redundant as it will eventually be replaced with polygon strips.
At this stage it is up to you, but feel free to skip this step if you like. Adding in some basic hair geometry will help as you review the model as a whole. Plus it may give you the opportunity to experiment with a few different styles.
- 1. For a quick hairstyle begin with, you guessed it, a simple cube.
- 2. Adjust this to gradually form a single strip of hair.
- 3. Once the basic shape is in place add a few edge loops to help give the smooth surface some variation and detail.
- 4. Once you have one piece of hair, simply duplicate this, reposition and reshape until you cover the head.
Like I said, this isn’t a final and polished hair style, and will most likely be discarded in the next stage, but it helps to form Kila as a whole and possibly highlight any other issues with proportions or basic body shapes.
11. Adding Extras
Through this tutorial you have created all the main elements of Kila, from her upper body to her sneakers. In this section it will be up to you to work on the accessories and further detail the model.
Below are a few key areas to focus on, but remember the main rules as you work.
- 1. Start simple.
- 2. Work in more geometry only where you need it.
- 3. Keep the topology clean, and remove anything which is not used or needed.
12. Final Review
Your high resolution model of Kila is now complete, and at this stage you are free to continue adding in more details to get the model as polished as you can.
The idea behind this model is you will use her to give you the major surface details, which will be transferred through a normal map onto a lower resolution model. The plan being to then add in a finer detail pass through textures, which will allow you to give the cloth even more detail like fabric patterns, finer folds and creases.
So this is just the beginning, you still have lots to do before you complete this real time model, but for now continue to tweak and refine the model and get ready for Part 2, where you will take what you have created and chop it right down to a much lower polygon limit.