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In Modeling a Character in Maya, join author Ryan Kittleson for a thorough demonstration on how to create a professional, realistic 3D character from scratch in Maya 2011. The course illustrates how key concepts and tools such as Soft Select and polygon extrusions apply to character modeling, and provides a simple step-by-step approach to building character anatomy, including the torso, limbs, hands, face, and hair. Also included are tutorials on modeling clothing and shoes, and refining character features to reach the final product. Exercise files accompany the course.
Recommended prerequisites: Maya 2011 Essential Training
So we've got the basic block out of Hank going right here. What I need to do now is start fleshing him out. We're going to add detail and we're going to tweak it to fit the reference. But what I really want to get into with this is the artistry of what's going to make this character look good. Whether you're designing your own character or you're basing it on an existing concept, there are some methods that you can use to think about the shapes that you'll be modeling in an artistic way. What I want to show you is that there are some principles of good appealing character modeling that will really help you make the best model that you can.
When it comes to artistry, don't think in terms of rules because rules are always going to be broken. These are some principles that will help guide you to make the best model you can. In order to start shaping out this character we need to add some more geometry. Let's go into the Edit Mesh menu and grab the Insert Edge Loop tool. Anywhere that the character looks a little undefined or un-detailed you'll probably want to add some more geometry. This character is really blocky right now, so pretty much anywhere you want to add an edge loop will probably help it out.
But we can look at the reference to see where we really need some more help. I am just going to turn on the Smooth Preview mode, so we can see these black lines. In some places that's really not matching up with the reference, especially right here in the chest and the back. So I just want to insert an edge loop right here to help us flesh this out. So I put in an Edge Loop, I just want to use the Scale tool to help this fit the reference a bit better. Now there are lots of other places on his body that could line up with the reference better. I am just going to go into Vertex mode and use Soft Select to tweak some of these into place.
Let's see in the Front view how this is working out. So we can see right away that the armpit and the shoulder are way off. So I just want to move this around a little bit. Now at this point, it really comes down to where you see the need for more detail and how you see the need to shape it out. The exact way that I'm doing this might not be the same way that you want to do it, but the basic principle is to continue adding detail and tweak it until it looks good. But what looks good? That's where your artistic judgment comes into play.
So what I am going to do is skip ahead to an Exercise File where I've already added all the extra geometry and I have already tweaked it till it looks good. So let's take a look at this entire body as a whole. So looking at the geometry you can see that there is a lot more Edge Loops here, a lot more detail, and it's been shaped into a more pleasing form. Now I want to talk about the artistic decisions that I made to bring the model up to this point. Following the reference is one thing, but the reference is a two-dimensional image.
In 3D, there is a lot more complexity to the shape that you have to think about. That's where your artistry comes in. The first thing I want to talk about is silhouette. Now if you press 7 on your keyboard, you'll go into Silhouette mode. This shows simply the outline of the character without any of the internal detail to get in the way. In a TV show or a movie, the audience might only have a second or two to see the character on screen and they won't be able to take in all the details. A well-defined silhouette will help the viewer to instantly recognize the character by its overall shape.
So if we look at hank from all different angles in this mode, we can see that his personality is really coming across. We can see his big protruding chin. We can see his barrel chest. We can see his small legs. It makes it really easy for the audience to tell what this character is about just by the way his overall shape as seen in silhouette. I am just going to hit 5 to go back into Shaded mode and talk about another artistic principle that helps me make decisions while modeling this character. That's simplicity.
You want to ask yourself when you're adding detail form or shape, is this really necessary? What is this adding to the design of the character? Think about the saying "less is more." Don't just add things because it looks cool. Add things because without it the design wouldn't work as well. So you can see in the Hank model as it is right now, I didn't add a lot of muscular detail to the chest or the arms or the abdomen. I could have put a big six pack on his abs and I could have given him big biceps that are separated from his triceps and all that, but it really wouldn't add to the character very much.
What's important about him is the size of the chest, and the size of his head, and the size of the legs in comparison to everything else. Adding all those extra details would detract from the impact that this character has in its simplicity. Playing into simplicity is the artistic principle of focus. Think about features that are most important to the character and emphasize them; then de-emphasize things that aren't as important. So the focal point to Hank is really his big upper body and his big chin.
Other parts like his hands and his legs and his feet are less important. That's okay. Not everything needs to be built up to the same importance of everything else. You want to have a focus that makes the character easily identifiable. Some other things that I've done to help bring focus to the chest and the face are the way I used hard lines. So let me look underneath this character and see how I built this sharp line underneath the pectoral muscles. This helps to frame the upper body. It helps to separate the upper body from the rest of the body.
The last principle I want to talk about is rhythm. Now you might think of rhythm in terms of music or dance, things that are moving and changing over time, but a still image like a painting or a sculpture also has rhythm. Your eyes moving across the model actually creates a sense of rhythm. Let's take a closer look at how this works. Hank is made up of smooth sections punctuated by hard edges. The eye moves very easily across the smooth chest, and then it comes to hard lines, and then there are smooth sections, and then there is an area of detail again, and then more smooth sections.
This creates a visual rhythm that helps identify the character and make it seem more solid. Especially for cartoony models, you can kind of think about modern car design. A lot of cars on the street are designed with impeccably smooth surfaces punctuated with crisp sharp edges. A cartoony character like Hank can benefit from thinking in this way. So as you get more experienced to character modeling, you'll find yourself drawing on these principles as you work all the time. It becomes second nature to evaluate the forms as you model them and ask yourself if these artistic principles could help guide you to improve the character.
Don't get frustrated if at first it's not coming out the way you hoped. This is a skill that can be learned with practice. The important thing is to keep trying, and you'll find yourself improving over the course of time.
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