3ds Max Character Creation - Chapter 1
My name is Andrew Hickinbottom and I am an experienced character modeler, with a preference for stylized pin-up characters.
I will be using 3ds Max, V-Ray and Photoshop for this series, though the steps can be adapted to suit your preferred software. Basic knowledge of modeling tools and general program functionality are required.
Concept and Reference
During a comic convention I was exhibiting at, a girl called Olivia was my table neighbor. She is an illustrator, and she also does some modeling/photography work. I decided to base a personal piece on her.
Fig.01 shows the main reference photos I took myself. I had a rough idea of the theme and scene – a cheeky life-drawing session, using a nude model in the foreground, a large canvas, and a bright window as compositional elements to frame Olivia.
Fig.02 shows my early attempts to block out some rough pose ideas using ‘Suzie', a character I made in 2006. I get frustrated trying to sketch my ideas on paper, so it made more sense for me to quickly pose a previously rigged character and take screenshots.
Blocking out the Head
As with most organic things I model, I begin with a box primitive. A TurboSmooth modifier is applied and collapsed, so I am left with a low poly ball made of four-sided polys. I cut it in half, and apply a Symmetry modifier so I only have to work on one side. I select the edge rings around the sphere and use the Connect tool to create extra edges, which smooths it out.
Next, I begin the eyes by chamfering a point to create an eye hole. I use the Cut tool to create a hole for the mouth. The Cut tool is also used to create the basic form of the brow and nose. I cut extra radiating edges around the eye hole to make it rounder and extrude the nose/brow polys. I add an extra edge loop circling the face to smooth it out and to begin a jaw line, and define the mouth hole further (Fig.03).
Continuing with the head, I use the Cut and Edge Connect tools to increase the mesh detail around the eyes, nose and mouth. Eyelids are extruded from the eye edges and the vertices are pulled into shape. The mouth hole is filled, and formed into lips. A neck comprising of an eight-sided cylinder primitive is added and positioned.
It is important to establish tidy topology and an edge loop system as early as you can, so I use Cut to create radiating edge loops from the mouth, which converge at the nose corners. It can be a messy process, with lots of edge removing, pulling of vertices and edge cutting, so be sure to move and collapse any untidy vertices clusters left behind.
I want a very specific crease around her mouth, so the topology is a little unconventional in this instance. I add a sphere primitive with a simple poly color material assignment and positioned it to shape the eyelids correctly. I'll make the eyeballs properly later on.
Next, the nose is smoothed out, simple nostril holes are extruded inwards and shaped, and I start defining the creases around her mouth and cheek. Generally, the whole head is smoothed out and extra edges are added where detail and definition are needed.
A short cylinder primitive is added to form a placeholder for the ears, which I'll model later. The neck is attached to the head by cutting a matching hole on the underside of the head, then attaching the neck object, before finally collapsing the matching points of the two surfaces (Fig.04).
The head is starting to look pretty good now, and is reasonably defined, so I'll add a TurboSmooth modifier to subdivide it. For the purposes of showing the topology on this image, I'm using Isoline display on the TurboSmooth modifier. Using the same methods as before, as well as Vertex Soft Selection manipulation, I gradually shape and build up the head to how I want it to look.
The eyelid edges are extruded inwards, as are the lips, and creases are sharpened up with the addition of closely placed edges. The eyebrow polygons are currently assigned a temporary sub-object material color, just to help visualize it. Eyelashes are made by extruding the upper eyelid edges outwards, detaching the polys, shaping the points manually, and giving them thickness by adding a Shell modifier.
The ear is shaped and attached using similar techniques to the neck, but I won't go into detail as the headscarf covers most of it, and we barely see it.
The hair comes next. A sphere primitive is placed to form the bulk of her hair. A cylinder begins the form of her headscarf, and a symmetrical strip of edited polys form her front bangs. A bow is made from more edited poly strips. A Shell modifier is added to give thickness. Temporarily adding a Shell modifier above the TurboSmooth modifier allows you to see the subdivided model's edges sharply, before you add any extra loops to tighten up the edge subdivision. The main hair sphere is rotated and bent, so that the hair ‘flows' from the crown, and the bangs are shaped into curls using manual point manipulation (Fig.05).
Starting the Body
I'm happy with the head at the moment, so I'm moving on to the body. I will revisit it once I build up the whole model. I begin with a twelve-sided cylinder, which I flatten slightly. I turn it into an editable poly and delete the caps.
Next, I scale and move the edge loops on the body to create a waistline, hips and chest. I add edge loops using the Connect tool to create enough vertical sections to create the shape I need, but I'll keep things simple for now. The left half is deleted, and a Symmetry modifier is added to make it easier to work with. Edge loops are added to increase definition around the chest and shoulders, and a four poly selection is extruded out to form the base of a breast.
Another four poly selection is extruded out and shaped to resemble the shoulders and an eight-sided uncapped cylindrical primitive is positioned to form the arm base. The underside crotch edges are extruded to bridge the gap and the open hip edges are extruded down and shaped to form the thighs.
I then attach the arms by snapping the vertices of an eight-edged hole in the shoulders to the top of the arm cylinder, attaching the object, then collapsing the points along the join. More edges are added to the breasts and hips to smooth them out, and the arms are shaped slightly by adding edge loops (Fig.06).
I spend a while pushing and pulling points around the body to shape it how I want it. Soft Selection is useful, as well as edge constraints, so you can move vertices along edges without disrupting the volume or surface of the model too much.
Once I am happy with the shapes and level of definition, I subdivide it and begin blocking out the boundaries that the clothes will occupy. Her hot pants are defined with colored polygons in a Multi/Sub-Object material assignment. The neckline of her top has been defined with the Cut tool as neatly as I could and separated from the head/shoulders. The torso is looking pretty good now, so I'll move on with the rest of her and come back to it once I see the bigger picture (Fig.07).
The next thing to tackle is the hands. I make a box with four sections (one for each finger) and one length section to help place the thumb. An eight-sided cylinder forms the finger base. Next, I copy and position the four fingers as instances, so I only need to work on one of them. The thumb is a copy (not an instance), as it will be a different shape to the fingers. Each finger's object scale is adjusted to resemble actual finger sizes; object transforms won't affect the instancing here.
The hand is shaped and smoothed by adding edges with the Connect tool. The wrist is extruded from a hole in the end of the box and shaped. I add more detail to the fingers, such as three edge loops around each joint to aid deformation, and the fingernails which are created by extruding four fingertip polygons downwards to create a recess, then upwards and beyond the fingertip's length to create the nail.
Edges are cut into the hand to form knuckles and accommodate the extra edges we will need to attach the fingers and thumb. Once the hand and thumb holes are matched to the finger and thumb ends, I delete the Cap polygons on the fingers, and begin attaching them one by one and collapsing the points to seal the gaps. Finally I subdivide the hand and fine-tune the shape and topology (Fig.08).
Legs, Feet and Shoes
The finished hands are attached to the arms and the edges are joined. Her legs are made by extruding them downwards, then adding and scaling edge loop sections to shape them. You can see the development of the foot in Fig.09.
The foot profile is extruded from the leg edges and built up by capping the polygons, and then cutting new edges on the sides. The shoe is made from a separated extrusion of her sole, and two edited poly strips for the straps. The toes are cut edges that are extruded inwards and shaped. The toenails are made the same way I made the fingernails.
Next, I spend some time fine-tuning the body with Soft Selection/Point Manipulation until I am happy with the shape of it.
Now that I am happy with the body, I can start modeling the clothes properly. I start by clone detaching two polygon selection groups from the base body and assigning simple materials. These selections should represent the boundaries of the clothed areas. I add a Push modifier to inflate these new objects away from the body slightly, and add a Shell modifier to them to add thickness. I now begin adding detail by moving, cutting, extruding and chamfering edges. I don't worry too much about detailing the back, as we will never see it.
The belt loops on her hot pants are made with separate poly strips. When I am happy with the t-shirt, I collapse the Symmetry modifier and begin to make it asymmetrical. I pull it over one shoulder and create a bunched up area with a knot, like in the reference photo. The knot is made from two modified cylinders. I make a bra strap from a poly strip (with a Shell modifier on) to give a bit of layered detail.
Fig.10 shows the progression of her clothes, with her arms hidden to make it easier to work with.
Finishing up the Model
The last thing to do is the hair and the bandana. Using previously covered techniques I make the rear hair strips, add a Shell modifier, then edit and sharpen them to give them a chunky, sculpted feel. The bandana is given creases and the knot is remade to look better. Again, I use poly strips with a Shell modifier on. The eyebrow polys are clone detached, given a thickness, and shaped. The eyes are made into a ‘death star' shape by extruding and curving the colored part inwards.
Fig.11 shows the un-subdivided and subdivided wireframe of the finished head, hair, eye and bandana.
Rigging and Skinning
I like to rig/skin my models as soon as I'm done modeling, so I can check proportions, shapes, and to do some test poses to see if I need to change anything on the model. I create a 3ds Max Biped rig and position it at the center of the grid. In Figure mode, I adjust the rotation and scale of the limbs to match the model, and then apply a Skin modifier to the meshes, assigning them to the relevant bones. I keyframe some test/calibration poses and adjust the skinning envelopes until I'm happy with it.
Two null/point objects parented to a dummy object have been used as look-at rotation targets for the eyes, and then parented to the rig's head. Fig.12 shows the Biped rig in its resting pose with the mesh wires overlaid on top, and it also shows my calibration pose with the thigh's skin envelope being adjusted.
That's it for part one! Feel free to experiment with proportions and shapes; this is just a guideline to how I made this specific character. You can adapt these steps to begin most human characters of varying styles and levels of detail (Fig.13).
In the next part, I will cover UV'ing, texturing, lighting, the creation of the background and the composition.