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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
The structure of your polygon mesh can be thought of like the structure of a bridge or a tower. In both, you want to get the most use out of the fewest pieces. The arrangement of the polygons in a model, like the arrangement of beams in the Eiffel Tower, needs to relate to the shapes and forms that they're contributing to. The way in which edges relates to anatomy and to each other is called edge flow, and it's a crucial concept for making characters that bend and move in correct ways. So we're at this picture of the Eiffel Tower here and we can see how the different structural members contribute to the overall shape of the tower.
There are these large curving shapes that they are made up of these little struts, and all the struts are in a structure that's directionally related to the overall direction of the tower. There's a similar thing that's going on with our character here in Maya. We can see that there's an edge flow pattern and it matches the overall direction and structure of the body. So we can see I've got these color-coded zones here on this model and this is what I call flow zones.
They are different parts of the body that have the same edge flow pattern to them. So if I click on the body here and I zoom in on the arm for example, you can see that all of these different edge loops are parallel to each other. They're all flowing in the same pattern, almost like a checkerboard grid. That's why I call it a flow zone, is because this particular part of the body is really in essence just a cylinder. It's kind of been molded into the shape of an arm, but it's really just a cylinder.
Other parts of the body can also be thought of as flow zones. For example, we've got the pec, the chest area. It's almost like this cape that's been wrapped around and it follows the anatomy and helps keep things simple. There are other flow zones, for example, down here on the abdomen. It's really just this ring of faces all the way around the body and that also takes the shape of a cylinder. There are certain parts of the body that don't really need to have their own flow zones. They just kind of take what's left over from other parts.
So this is little part under the armpit here. It's really just kind of filling in the gap of other more important areas, so not every part of the body needs to have its own specially worked out flow zones, but the important parts of the body do, the major overall structures. And there are two major types of flow zones; there's cylindrical flow zones or tubular flows and there is also circular flow zones. We already saw some tubular flow zones like on the arm and the abdomen. Now let's look at a circular flow zone. Usually you find those on the face.
So you've got the face here, and there's this edge loops are going around in a very circular pattern around the mouth and also around the eyes, and that's very useful, because when a setup artist goes to set this up for animation, these edge loops are already configured to match the direction of the muscles and a natural body that pull and stretch on the skin. And so when this character frown its brow or when it smiles and frowns, these edge loops are already set up to take the shape of those different anatomical shapes that form, when the character moves around in those different shapes.
There is a few other aspects of the way I've setup this edge flow that are very important. Let me zoom out and get a better look at this. So, thus looking generally at the body overall, you can see that the way these polygons are laid out, it's a very even pattern. It's very predictable. It's just following the anatomy. It's not getting over complicated. There's also something else about it that's very useful, is that it's mostly square. There's not very many long faces. You know, they mostly maintain a very square like proportion.
Another important thing is that they follow the anatomy. So if you have a major anatomical structure, like let me take a better look under the pectoral muscle, you can see there is a major anatomical structure, and so why not make your edge flow follow those major anatomical structures. Something else that good edge flow does is it follows where creases will form and where joints will bend. So if I look here on the crotch, you can see that the edge flow is following a very diagonal pattern from the crotch up to the hip.
Now if you notice you can see how the crease will form on the natural person in this diagonal pattern, and so when the animator goes to move this leg around, it's a good idea to have the edge flow following that same pattern. So that when the crease forms, it's forming along where you've already got the edges set up. If the edges were very horizontal here, but the crease forms diagonally, then they would crinkle and you'll have all kinds of weird artifacts forming in the mesh. So we talked about some of the different properties that good edge flow has.
It's mostly square. It's evenly spaced. It follows the anatomy. It follows where the crease and different bends will form and it's impossible to perfectly satisfy all of those principles. You want to try a strike a balance between them, because if you try to make every polygon exactly square and exactly the same size and follow the anatomy, you're just going to pull your hair out because it's impossible. But working out a good edge flow is kind of like solving a logic puzzle. It's fun, but it can also be a headache when there's a deadline.
So, that's why this course is going to focus on the most straightforward aspects of edge flow, to help you get you on your way and avoid the hassles. As you get better at character modeling, you will certainly discover your own techniques, tricks, and ways to improve on the basics. You'll also work with setup artists and the animators to find out exactly what it is that this model needs to be able to do, so you can more effectively tailor the edge flow and the flow zones to accomplish those needs.
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