Maya Modeling: Body Blocking

This week we start modeling our character by blocking out the major forms.


Modeling is where everything begins. Without a model, we have no object to rig, animate, texture, light or render. Because of this, it is important that the model is suitable for the needs of the project. Before starting a model we need to know its purpose, and thus its criteria. Is it for game or film? Does it need to be animated or is it for illustration only? How close do we get to the model? The list goes on.

For this set of tutorials, I am going to create an asset that will be suitable for film. In this first part, we are going to bring some references into Maya and begin blocking out the model, making sure the proportions are roughly correct with big, broad moves.

Step 1: Bringing in the Reference

For this tutorial, I have been given permission by the awesome folks at 3dscanstore to use a couple of images from their Male reference library. If you haven't, I suggest you check out what they have on offer, as they have some fantastic resources. For this tutorial, we'll be using two reference images, one for the front view and one for the side. You can download the references and Maya scene files here.

Open up a clean scene in Maya and navigate to the front view. Go to View > Default View to reset the camera. Next go to View > Image Plane > Import Image and select 'maleRef_front.jpg'.

In the Attribute Editor, scroll to the Image Plane tab and reduce the Alpha Gain to 0.8. Repeat the same steps for the side view, only this time, bringing in 'maleRef_side.jpg'.

Once both images are in, line them up using the Center attributes under the Placement Extras tab and push them back along their corresponding axes so we have some space in the center to work in.

Create image planes in Maya

Create image planes in Maya

Step 2: One Half Only

Start by going to Create > Polygon primitives > Cube, making sure Interactive Creation is unchecked so we get a cube that is centered in World space.

With the cube selected, go to the Channel Box and click on polyCube1 found under Inputs. When it opens up, increase the Subdivisions width to 2.

Go into the Front view, hold the RMB over the cube, go into Faces mode and select the entire screen left-hand side of the cube and delete it. Hold the RMB over the cube once more, go into Object mode and then go to Edit > Duplicate Special (Options). Change the Geometry Type to Instance and pop a -1 into the first Scale box and hit Apply.

We should now have our complete cube back, only now if we edit one half of the cube in sub-component mode, we will affect the other. Please note that editing the cube in Object mode will have no affect on the duplicated half.

Working with half a model to save time

Working with half a model to save time

Step 3: Blocking the torso

Go into vertex mode and start pushing the points to roughly match the form of the torso from the naval to the line of the clavicles.

Next, use the Insert Edge Loop tool and add a loop just below the nipple line and then using the front, side and perspective views, move the vertices to sit nicely against the reference.

Select the face on the underside of the cube, use the Extrude tool to pull out the lower abdominal region and then extrude again for the pelvis region.

If you view the geometry from the inside, or hit F3 to smooth the model (I find this a great way to help reveal issues), you will notice some internal faces. This is not good so make sure to delete it.

Next, take the bottom outside edge and push it in to form the crotch region. Again, make sure to check all your pushing and pulling of points against the reference in every view.

Extrude out the major forms of the torso

Extrude out the major forms of the torso

Step 4: Hips and Legs

To pull out the leg, select the bottom outside face as illustrated in the image and use the Extrude tool. Pull it downwards to the top of the patella and use the Scale tool to flatten off the face in the Y axis.

With that face still selected, perform another extrusion to the bottom of the patella followed by another to the ankle region and one more to the sole of the foot. Go in and rearrange all the points to better match the reference.

Next select the front face at the bottom of the leg and extrude outwards in the Z axis. Pull out to the ball of the foot and then perform another extrusion to the tip of the toes.

Shaping the arms and adding twist to the forearm

Shaping the arms and adding twist to the forearm

Step 5: Shoulders and Arms

Select the face as illustrated in the image and once again use the Extrude tool to pull it out. This section will form the deltoid region.

Next select the underside face from that region and extrude downwards to the top of the elbow. Perform another extrusion and pull the resulting face down to the middle of the forearm.

To mimic the twisting of the muscles of the forearm, select the end face of the arm and rotate it around 45 degrees. Re-shape the geometry and then perform another extrusion to the base of the wrist. Rotate that face a further 45 degrees and again re-shape the area to better match your reference. A final extrude for the palm and we will leave the hand here for now.

Step 6: Neck and Head

Select the face at the top of the mesh and use the Extrude tool to pull out the neck, followed by another extrude to form the mass of the head. Then select the front face from the head and do one last extrude for the face.

Check for any internal faces and delete them if they exist and then make sure to use the front, side and perspective views to line up the model to the reference. Next time, we will break up the model, ready to work on each section individually.

Pulling out the neck and head

Pulling out the neck and head

Top Tip 1: Line up your References

Having references that are not correctly lined up when modeling can cause many headaches. Something that may feel right in one viewport can feel wrong in another. Making sure that the references are lined up beforehand and that the images have the same dimensions will help reduce this.

Take the images into Photoshop or a package of your choice, place the front and side views beside each other and use the ruler for accuracy. You could also paint some feint reference lines in to help guide you when in Maya. You may not get the images to be lined up perfectly, but it's worth putting in some time to get it as right as you can.


Lining up the reference as best we can

Top Tip 2: Plan Ahead

Before going into the realm of 3D, I like to plan my approach on paper or in a drawing package such as Photoshop beforehand. A quick draw-over on top of your reference images can pretty much lay the foundations of what you will need to do on the computer and can save you plenty of time when it comes to problem solving any troublesome areas. Plus there is nothing like the feeling of pen on paper, though perhaps I do need to get out more. At this stage, I'm just blocking out the major shapes. Later on, I will develop this into a more thorough topology draw-over.


Lining up the reference as best we can

Click HERE to see the previous tutorial in this series.

Want to start from the beginning? Click HERE to see the first tutorial in this series.

To see more by Jahirul Amin, check out Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya
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