How to build a human-like robot in Maya

Hi, my name is Alex Novitskiy and I'm a CG artist from Kiev, Ukraine. In this article I'm going to tell you how I built a sci-fi rusty human-like robot.

Idea

I'm a big fan of old sci-fi movies and books. I spent a lot of time reading books of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley, Kurt Vonnegut, Strugatsky Brothers, and watching movies like Terminator, Blade Runner, and so on. I looked for a good idea to practice hard surface modeling combined with an advanced texturing techniques. I thought it would be great to make an old-fashioned sci-fi robot.

Style

I decided to develop my own concept for this idea, which I based on an old-school heavy design from VHS movies from 80s and 90s like Terminator and Judge Dredd. I mixed it with a chopped polygonal style I love very much in franchises like Deus Ex and Dishonored.

As any old-fashioned mechanism, this robot should look like a mess of raw metal parts, cylinders, hoses and wires, covered in rust, of course. It's a brutal style that I like. This rusty robot is a bad guy. So, let me ask you: what do you know about war? Which associations do you have? Feelings? Death? Fear? What else?

Tip: Try to systemize your references into different folders: mood, style, construction, form, and shape ideas.
It will help you a lot

Model

This old junk is not a simple rusty tank. It's an old, human-like, perfect killing machine. He can run, catch you, kill you, but he is not too fast. For maximum variety of movement his body was made close to a human anatomy. On the other hand, he is a heavy guy, his armor is designed to stop bullets and handle small explosions.

I used the human skeleton and muscles as reference in my work. I researched T-600 and T-800 as well as many other robots from old sci-fi movies for understanding of how they were built. It helped me to combine flexible human shapes with heavy solid pieces.

<strong>Tip:</strong> All humanoid robot designs are based on human anatomy, so understanding this helps to create a believable model

Tip: All humanoid robot designs are based on human anatomy, so understanding this helps to create a believable model

Head

Let's talk about construction first. The skull is the core element of character representation. So I tried to combine both design and functionality. I think the skull (not a concept, but the final model) and chest were the hardest parts. The head has many holes and sockets; you can see what each hole and socket means in the images below. The head is a main object. It's a container of the positronic brain! So it should be solid and look well protected. To make my character more alive, I decided to make a movable jaw, so I designed a hydraulics system for it.

Tip: Elements like movable jaws can make your character more interesting. It can't be used on the battlefield, but it's a good idea to make a robot more human-like

Body

This part gathers the head, arms, and pelvis into one structure. It's a heavy, massive, and brutal piece of cast metal. The chest has three main tasks: protection, movement, and design. I tried to achieve brutality in the design, while having all the necessary functionality robot should have.

To achieve a believable look, it's necessary to understand the meaning behind each detail, even if it's only a design element. For example: if you are creating a hatch, you should understand what this hatch should hide from our eye.

<strong>Tip:</strong> Before creating parts like this, think about how it will move. Create a simple blockout first, and then try to animate it

Tip: Before creating parts like this, think about how it will move. Create a simple blockout first, and then try to animate it

Pelvis

This is third most important part of the iron bad guy. You can see below how his leg connects to a pelvis with ball hinges. At the back I made some hatches for quick service and for easy access inside pelvis cast piece. I tried to support the main shapes of the head and body with raw, brutal lines in design. This thing is less massive and more acute then the chest.

<strong>Tip:</strong> To make details more interesting, you can think about different types of similar joints. As an example, my robot has silent blocks in some places and different types of joints

Tip: To make details more interesting, you can think about different types of similar joints. As an example, my robot has silent blocks in some places and different types of joints

Arms and Legs

Hands without armor look like skeleton hands as you can see below. Armor makes it feel more solid and heavy. Armor should not look like design elements only. Its function is to save the hand from damage in battle. The design of the legs is close to other parts of the body. It's raw, acute, and looks dangerous. The hydraulics made here were very similar to a T-600 from the first Terminator.

Tip: If you model the foot, think about how the robot will use it. Add an amortizator (shock absorber) on the heel, and think about how it will handle the weight of the robot

Materials

Materials here represent the history of the machine - how it was used and where. I like it when textures can speak for themselves. It's a story of the object. I worked with a PBR pipeline (Spec\Gloss) on a BRDF shader in Mari. I created mask stacks and shared it with all the channels for each material to make a workflow flexible and comfortable. There are a total of six materials on the model: metal, coating, paint, rust, dirt, and oil. I used gradients in albedo to highlight the main parts. It was a black falloff from legs-to-head, and orange gradients with color spots on the top of the edges to each part.

Tip: All scratches should vary. The robot is a complicated mechanism, so different parts of him have different wear and tear. Some places can be more scratched, some - less so. The type of scratches can vary too

Mesh and UV

An accurate mesh is highly desirable for a cool, final result. I like a precise topology and clean meshes. It will be much easier to work with UV if your model is accurate and understandable for yourself. Do not forget to make the same texel for all the UVs, and pack it well!

<strong>Tip:</strong> A nice mesh can be a work of art. You can use it for additional stylized renders

Tip: A nice mesh can be a work of art. You can use it for additional stylized renders

Rendering

All renders were made with Marmoset Toolbag. Light here is a clue to character representation. I chose a scheme with a Spotlight above (main light), two Directional sources at the back, and one Omni at the front for ambience. I moved the lights for each render individually. Try not to use HDRI when it's applicable. In my case I used HDRI sometimes for stylized renders with shiny metal to enhance reflections. I hope this article was helpful! Wishing peace for all of you!

<strong>Tip:</strong> Do not make all the lights with the same color and temperature. Vary it a little. It will make the final result more live. Use warm colors at the front and cold in the back.

Tip: Do not make all the lights with the same color and temperature. Vary it a little. It will make the final result more live. Use warm colors at the front and cold in the back.

Related links

Alexandr Novitskiy on ArtStation
Making of "The Worm's End"
Create photorealistic cars in Maya
Grab a copy of Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya