Making a Face


Why did I decide to do this tutorial? Good question! Still trying to answer it to myself. As a modeler I think I have little secrets, like little tricks to do certain stuff quicker or better than other people. And this is one of them. I kind of fell like I'm giving away a personal trick or secret by doing this. but hey. I have to try harder, right? Can't just live under a shadow of one trick.
While discussing with other game artists, I got the general idea that the method I use, but it isn't used much. I think it's in fact, very rare to find any one who uses the same method I do. So, I decided to share. Don't know why, maybe I've been watching to much Teletubies... well what you know... Microsoft Word does note recognize "Teletubies" Let me try "money" Yep, it recognizes money. Lots of people do faces for their models. But there just isn't enough face modeling tutorials. Once, showing my method to a friend of mine, I did one face, from scratch, while talking to him, in about half an hour or less. He was quite surprised and said "I never thought of that!" and then "but it's very cool how fast you did it". So, the trick is: instead of planting vertexes around, or dividing edges from a box, or moving vertexes around on a patch. I use a different thing: SPLINES. Yes, splines. Don't go away just now. I've taken away all the hard bits in this process. Lots of people don't like to work with splines, because they can't "see it" in 3d. Others never get surface tools to work because of the tolerance thingies. And others simply don't like besier handles. Well, I assure you, this process is 100% problem free. Well maybe 99%. It's not newbie proof ;)

Stuff needed

To start, we will need a reference, maybe a drawing, or a photo, whatever you like. As long as it's a face, in front view. "OH no, front view?" we will get to that. So, pick it up, and look at it. Look. A lot... more........... A good artist, has I've been told (since I don't call my self a good artist) has a ratio of 75% observation -20% working - 5% cleaning up mistakes. (Eh eh eh, so much for "good artist"!) So that's what you gotta do, when you want to do something right. Just pick up a drawing or photo and just look at it. Now try to visualize it in 3d. Desiccate it into edges. See what is important about it, and so you will be able to work a lot faster. Trust me on this.
Pre-visualisation can help avoid mistakes.

Setting up

A lot of people hate spline modeling and surface tools, because even though they get a good spline model, when they go into surface tools, it just goes berserk. A lot of this is because the vertexes aren't fused together or welded. You may not want to weld them, nor fuse them, but there's still a way to get them in the same position. Snapping. Oh yeah... snap rockz. So... right click the snap icon and go to "Snaps" and select vertex.

This is the Grid and Snap Setting dialog. Checking "vertex" will enable snapping to mesh vertexes

Be sure to deselect every thing else, since you won't need them. Also, on the Options, deselect the "use axis constrains".

Disabling Use Axis Constraints helps positioning vertexes in the same coordinate for each axis, and not only the active ones

Alright then. Now your cursor will snap to previously placed vertexes, making sure they fit nice and together. Not only when you create lines, but also when you move them.

Why do it in front view?

"OH no, front view?" A lot of people believe that starting out with the profile is better because the profile has a lot more detailed than the side of the face. This is... obviously (I hope) true. So why don't we do it on the left or right view? Simple. The front view doesn't have a very detailed shape. But it has a lot of content; eyes, mouth, nose, cheeks. Oh sure, they're also there on a side view... half of them. In fact, only half of each one, and in wrong sizes... So to avoid size mistakes, it's better if we do them in the view where they look about as big or as long as they really are; front view. Also, the detail concentration is going to be around the face contents. On the side of the face, there won't be that much detail. And in fact... there's not much detail needed on a cheek.

Why with splines?

Ok, now why the hell with splines? They're simply better! Instead of just placing orphan vertexes on the drawing and then creating the polygons from scratch (time consuming), why not place the vertexes, yes, on the drawing, as you would normally do, on a 2d plane, and then be just a click away from polygon creation? It will happen, it is true, it is written by be! (I just love Pastor Richards) So, after you have a "spline mesh", that you do just by placing vertexes, all that you have to do, is a apply surface tools to it, and viola! It's a mesh!


So... roll up you sleeves, and let's get to it. Pick up you photo or drawing, and place it in the background. I usually do it on a plane, which I set up with the pixel size of the image (this case, 256x512). I usually tint the image and make it darker, so it won't blend with the white splines.

This is just a simple plain for placing the reference drawing on the background.

Now, all you have to do is go to Create>Shapes and click on "line". Start out by doing a vertical line in the middle of the face. You can do this easily just by pressing shift before you click on the other vertex. Ok, so now, keep adding vertexes along the side of the face, just like if it was a low polygon model. It's that simple. Don't make smooth vertexes. We don't want besier handles remember? You have to make only corner vertexes. This will save you from trouble latter on. Once you got the basic outline, you will notice that you have no detail for the faces profile, where the forehead, nose, lips and chin are. Therefore, you will have to refine that hole segment with additional vertexes. To do this, go to the modify panel and activate vertex sub-object. There, click refine. With the refine option active, just click on the vertical segment where you think you will need vertexes.

Be careful when placing the initial spline. It can dictate your poly count If you don't feel comfortable about it, try adding detail inside the face, and then combing with the outline.

Once you're all done, you will start by doing the content; the eyes, the mouth and so on, and so on. One thought about the surface tools. Surface tools will only fill areas limited by a maximum of 4 segments. I always like to make 3 segment areas. Pretty much like a triangulated polygon. So when your doing your contents, make sure you don't leave any hole in the spline mesh. A hole would be an area limited by 5 segments or more. Ok, click "create line", to start a different spline inside the original spline. Fell free to make the contents separate. We will connect them latter. Has the snap tool come in handy already? It's handy, isn't it? It will be a lot more.

Don't be afraid to make isolated line, it's good for reference, and you can always reposition them later.

Ok, now you're done, right? Got all the contents? Cool. To connect them together, just "create lines". If you didn't have snap tools active, you would see a different cursor when creating a line from an already placed vertex. Since snap is on, all you will see as a light blue cross. This guarantees that you will have the new vertex right in the same place as the other one that was there. Once you're done, just exit the sub object mode, and make a reference of it, to the side.

This is my final spline, and you can go and add all the additional .

Reference it

Why a reference? Why not just apply the surface tools on the spline and presto! Well, I've done a lot of faces using this method, and I still forget stuff. Like, some of the faces are more that 4 sides areas... or some vertexes where badly positioned. Since I'm probably going to have to correct little bits in the model, I like to do it on the original one, so I don't have to go back and forth on the modifier stack. I know I can preview the result. But it's just a bit confusing to be working with two different things overlaying. So, reference it, and apply surface tools to the reference.

I find it easier to make a reference and change it as i go, than going up and down on the modifier stack.

Surface Tools

Ok, now, on surface tools, and depending on the scale you using, just set the tolerance to the value that shows more of the model. Set the Steps to 0 (Patch Topology), for NO extra detail If you don't se any thing, try flipping the normals. You may get a huge change just by changing one vertex, because that may represent a change on the orientation of the spline, and therefore, changing the normals. So be keen to this. A slight change on the original may make a BIG difference on the reference. Usually solved with minor adjustments on the surface tools modifier settings. Ok, now, once your spline mesh is filled with happy polygons, all you have to do is collapse it to an editable mesh. "Oh no, editable mesh?" Yes yes, I know lots of you like editable poly. But has for me, and I like my polygons nice and counted, I prefer using editable mesh, since it gives me an accurate polygon count. I believe that Editable polygon was actually created for high polygon modeling. I'm talking, of course, aiming to a mesh smooth modification afterwards. Enough mumbo jumbo. Is it done already? Good. Let's move it on the Y-axis.

Ok, go back to the snap setting and select the "use axis constrains". This will make the vertex not snap to the absolute position of another vertex, but to the same coordinate on the currently used axis. This is good for vertexes that are on the same plane. Here comes the fun part, in case you didn't have fun before. Here you start applying depth to your model. It's easy. Just click on the Y-axis, and move around! You can also go into soft selections to get a bigger amount of vertexes moving.

Softselection are very helpful when you're starting to add depth to the model. From then on, you're on your own.

Moving in the Y axis

I usually do this for the face side. So I can get a lot of vertexes out of my way right there. Get a basic shape out of it, and now, go to the polygon surface properties, and clear all the smoothing groups. Oh yeah, nice and flat! You should always model in flat view. It's just more honest! You can really see what light will do to your model, and you can already see what set of faces will need to have the same smoothing group. Make sure you press "Q" to have that little polygon counter on the corner of the view port (this would be on the max 4 key set). But of great importance, is light!

I've already moved some vertexes, but try and keep track of your poly count as you go.

Adding lights and materials

There's this gray that I like... it's a warm gray. And it makes my model "look so good". Still I like to have black wire frame on the model. So how to do it? Easy. Make black the color of your mesh, and than create a warm gray material on the material editor. Apply it to you model and than you will have a gray shaded, black wire frame model! (Yeah, I'm losing it...)

A good material can make a great difference as to shading on the view port. It helps viewing the model's shape more accurately

Now get some lights. Make a top left yellowish light, and a bottom right bluish light. Place them a bit to the front of the model, and set their intensity to something like... 0.7. Is cool. Can you see the changes already? Look nice, doesn't it?

Two lights have been added. A top-left yellowish light and a bottom-right blue one.

Choosing point of view

In order to progress with your model, you will need to choose a good viewpoint, to make sure it looks good. Usually perspective views from below, or from top are good. Here are some of the ones I like the most

There is no such thing a general point of view for modeling. It depends on the model. In a face, i'd suggest this three, as they seem to have worked for me.

Apply the symmetry modifier (Max 5) and just go down in the modifier stack to editable mesh, and then click the preview result button. if you'r not using Max 5, just make a mirrored instance of your model.

Symmetry is fundamental to work out proportions. But when done, you should "unsymmetrical" the model, it will look more realistic.

Smoothing groups

Now it's a matter of just keep moving the vertexes into their correct Y position. You know that you don't have to move them in any other plane, because you already did so, when you were doing the spline mesh.

Smoothing groups are your friends. Dedicate it some time. Don't just apply the same smoothing group to the hole thing, try it out, blend some together, have some fun!

Mesh smoothing it

If you want, you can mesh smooth your model. Just go into relax, and "de-relax" your model. Make it a bit rough. And then, just apply mesh smooth to it! Tune it up and you have your self a fine high detailed mesh. As you would imagine, this is as far as I go in this subject. I'm not going to deep in this, since it's not the main focus of this tutorial.

Meshsmoothing is optional. If you do so, play around with the separations and with the low polygon model for extra detail and shape. Don't just press the button.

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