A step-by-step guide to modeling the base mesh of a low-poly game character - Part 2
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In this portion of the series we are going to cover creating a base mesh model. A base mesh is the model intended for sculpting and ultimately is the beginning of what our high poly model will be. For this project, the base mesh will include organic sections such as the face and body, which will then be sculpted and used as a basis for armor design in future sections. Using this workflow is a great way to increase speed and really get your ideas into 3D quickly, worrying about overall aesthetics first and clean topology second.
Catch up with Part 1 here!
When it comes to hands, treat them as if they are an entirely new object. Rather than working from a character's wrist to the fingertips, begin building a finger. The first step is to simply make a cylinder and delete the end caps. Add a few edge loops around the finger to retain mesh fidelity when it becomes subdivided. This initial piece can be as complex as you need it to be - whatever works best for your workflow. Some artists are fine with a four-sided finger; I like to go a little heavier and use around eight edges. The reason for this is that I want the fingers to retain their shape when I'm sculpting, without the need to build the shapes back up or use creasing techniques on specific areas before sculpting. In my opinion it's just easier this way (Fig.28).
From here use the edge extrusion method to begin building out the rest of the finger. Rather than modeling the finger straight, try to give it a slight curve. This will give the finger a more natural feel and help you visualize the bends. For the knuckles I cut into the faces that would need a protrusion and push the center loop out just a touch. Changing the silhouette ever so slightly in this way helps get rid of the "sausage fingers" look (Fig.29).
Put fingernails in your fingers by selecting the faces near the tip of the finger and in-setting them with a bevel. After this grab the edges closest to the nail base and overlap the nail geometry, creating the mass near the cuticle. I usually stay away from this type of detail in a base mesh, but it can be easily flattened out in ZBrush.
Next take the finger you created and duplicate it three times. In general try to keep the finger that you created as the middle or ring finger, and then adjust the different fingers' lengths. You'll notice that the fingers on a human hand are not the same length. In Fig.30 you can see the right hand, so the fingers will increase in length from the pinky to the middle finger with the index finger's tip lining up with the last knuckle on the middle finger.
After this fan out the fingers as if they are stretching apart by rotating each one, much like the previous step. Also stagger the fingers to offset the knuckle placement. You'll notice that when you make a fist, your knuckles are not perfectly in line. Connect the base of the fingers to create the thin webbing that stretches in between fingers near the knuckles. To give the hand a little more life, bend the fingers slightly at the knuckles, as if there is a little tension. This helps set landmarks on the fingers for sculpting and makes the fingers look less boring. Add in more loops for the webbing near the knuckles to retain the model's shape when it becomes subdivided.
Next you can begin building the hand by making the knuckles and connecting them to the fingers. Try not to go too overboard here and try to fan out the border of the finger at the knuckle, and join them with the webbing geometry created earlier. This creates a loop around the finger at the knuckle that helps isolate each finger and defines the knuckle protrusion. If this hand were to be weighted in a game scenario, the palm is generally weighted to one bone with three bones for each finger. So try to model with that in mind, leaving a defined edge that would be dominated by the hand bone with enough geometry between the hand and first knuckle on the finger to retain the shape when bending during animations (Fig.31).
Using the edge extrusion method, begin to build out the palm and back of the hand. Follow the same rules as you did for the fingers. You don't want it perfectly flat and straight. Try to show the meat of the hands by forming pads on the outer edges with a dip in the center where it is mostly flesh on bone. For the back of the hand, you want it to be rather flat (as in not defining veins, knuckles and the metacarpals), but to curve down towards the palm slightly on the inner and outer edges (Fig.32).
From here, continue extruding edges to build out the back of the hand to the wrist. On the palm try to begin the edge loops for the thumb as soon as you can. The thumb will affect a large part of the hand as it has a wide range of motion that requires it to collapse and compress on the palm and back of the hand. Defining the flesh that creates the base of the thumb, reaching into the center of the palm, can be greatly beneficial for this deformation. Try to keep the same edge that would run down the center of the fingers, as if it were cutting the finger in half, into the thumb. This helps define the webbing and muscles between the index finger and thumb, which will do most of the stretching and squashing as the hand spreads apart or makes a fist.
Next create the thumb. Try to make the base of the thumb have the same amount of edges as the fingers so that you can duplicate a finger tip, move it into place and easily connect it to the rest of the hand. By duplicating the faces of a fingertip you can modify it quickly to create the broader tip of the thumb, as well as the more bulky knuckle. From here, connect the thumb's tip to the hand by bridging edges. Divide the thumb with a few edge loops, creating a taper from the hand to the knuckle (Fig.33).
Finally connect the hand to the rest of the arm. The key part to keep in mind is how the hand tapers into the wrist and how the heel of the palm drops down from the inner forearm. Next extrude edges out of the wrist and continue to the elbow area, usually defining the subtle twist and bulk of the muscles that the forearm would create (Fig.34).
This is a good time to place the hand roughly where it should sit in a relaxed position. For the most part the character's elbow should touch the bottom of the ribcage and the fingertips should rest near the middle of the upper leg when fully relaxed. This helps you visualize the character's proportions quickly and will allow you to easily piece together the rest of the upper body (Fig.35).
Much as you did with the face and body, mirroring the hand as an instance gives a nice quick preview (Fig.36).
Create a quick approximation model of where the character's feet will go. This doesn't have to be perfect or detailed, as in this case we are going to create the boot as a high poly when we do the sculpting. This is simply a way to make the character not look goofy as a character with no feet can really trick the eye into thinking that the proportions are off (Fig.37).
Now the process of connecting the arm to the body begins. Keep an eye on the boundary edges of each piece (the forearm and the arm hole) as you want them to be even. Now is a good time to add or collapse edges as you see fit. You can select a boundary by pressing 3 on your keyboard. This will select any open edges. In the case of my model I need to add edges to my torso (Fig.38).
To make the amount of edges equal for the arm and torso you need to collapse a few edges around the wrist. Once the edges are collapsed, this will create an undesirable triangle that can be corrected by connecting two triangles with a horizontal edge that runs around the wrist (Fig.39).
Next extrude the boundary edge of the forearm to roughly where the character's elbow will be, checking all angles of the extrusion to make sure that there is no awkward bend in the arm (Fig.40).
Extrude an outer edge to meet the tip of the deltoid area. The idea here is to block out the length of the upper arm and elbow. I find that it is easier to keep the base mesh clean if you do not factor the twist of the arm into the geometry. The twist of the muscles can be shown in the sculpt later and propagated into the low poly much later down the line (Fig.41).
The next step is to attach the body to the arm. First select the body and navigate to Attach in the Modify panel. Select the arm and right-click to exit out of the Attach function. This will add the arm geometry to the body and will allow you to properly connect the two. As you can see, this will also carry the change over to the instanced half of the body (Fig.42).
Next use Weld to connect the recently created edge to the nearest edge on the torso (Fig.43).
Since the arm and torso have the same amount of edges on the boundary, it is easy and simple to create the rest of the upper arm by selecting the Bridge function to connect them with a new polygon. Continue this process around the entire arm (Fig.44).
To soften up the elbow area and to avoid any pinching when the model is subdivided in ZBrush, select the loop of vertices that make up the actual bend in the arm.
Next expand your vertex selection by clicking Grow while in Vertex mode. This will add adjacent vertices to your selection around the arm. With all of the vertices selected in the elbow region, apply a Relax modifier, which will average out the vertices around the elbow and give us a smoother transition (Fig.45).
Now move onto the legs. For this character (as mentioned earlier) we're just going to focus on the actual legs and not the feet, as this character's design shows that almost everything from the knee down is covered with armor plating, which will be covered in the high poly modeling section. Grab a few edges on the hips and extrude down to where the knees would roughly be. From here, begin to build a loop around the leg, using the front and side reference shots as a guide (Fig.46).
Do the same for the inner thigh, extruding an edge from the crotch down to roughly the same area as the opposite side, adding the same amount of horizontal edges so that both sides can be easily connected (Fig.47).
From here, use the Bridge function to connect both sides of the leg that you have created. Also add a few vertical edges to pull out and add some bulk to the upper leg to roughly match the side reference (Fig.48).
Now add vertical edges running down the front and back of the leg to match the amount of boundary edges on the hips. This is basically the same process we followed for connecting the arm, just that the amount of edges for the body shouldn't be changed (Fig.49).
Roughly block out the shin area, extruding edges from the upper leg/knee area. I suggest extruding the edge fully down to the ankle, and adding horizontal edges to round out the shape and even out the polygon distribution. Again this area is mostly just to assist your eye in seeing the character's proportions and will be modified heavily in future steps (Fig.50).
Just like you did with the face, make one half of the body unique and attach it to the other half. Grab the center edges and weld them together to create one consecutive mesh. Check your mesh by entering Boundary mode (3) and pressing Ctrl + A to select all of the open edges of your model. The only edges highlighted should be the neck and the holes near the ankle. If not, make sure that you weld these other edges together before moving on as it could cause problems when subdividing in ZBrush (Fig.51).
This completes our base mesh modeling section. From here, we will export the model to be used in ZBrush where we will quickly sculpt a roughly armored character, build these armor pieces more cleanly in 3ds Max and move on to polishing our sculpt (Fig.52).
SidebarTip: Quick and Dirty Base Meshes
Once you get comfortable with sculpting in ZBrush, you can use the DynaMesh tool to help block out models quickly from primitives, without causing too much distortion. Designed specifically for more medium range sculpting and block-in modeling, DynaMesh essentially uses a primitive to begin with (sphere, cube, cylinder, etc,) or you can create your own custom shape. Once your original model is put into DynaMesh mode, you can use any of the tools you normally would within ZBrush for regular sculpting. When your mesh becomes too distorted to work with, simply hold Ctrl and drag on any open area in the ZBrush document. ZBrush will then automatically retopologize your model - without adding any geometry - so that you can continue working efficiently.
Once your work in DynaMesh is done, you can disable the mode and begin retopologizing the model in ZBrush or an external 3D program.
Catch up with Part 1 here!
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