Aug
14

This is the first tutorial of my four part series dealing with character animation. These tutorials are targeted for beginners wanting to learn the basics of organic modeling, uvw mapping, texturing, rigging, and creating a cute 3d monster. In this first part we’re going to create the geometry and you’ll learn about polygon modeling and subdivision surfaces. I’ll do my best to keep things as simple as possible.

Step 1 Let’s See What the Final 3D Monster Model Will Look Like

In the picture below you see the 3d monster we’re going to create. There is a low polygon model on the left and the final subdivided model on the right. The goal is not to create the model as fast as possible but rather to give beginners a chance to experiment with different modeling tools. You need to know the basics about the interface, modifiers, and the transform tools to be able to complete this tutorial. I’m using 3ds Max 2011.

Two monster models

Step 2 Reference Image Setup in 3ds Max

I recommend using reference photos/images whenever possible to make the modeling process easier. I have prepared two images that you can use while modeling the monster. Please download the following files:

Create a Plane ( Create panel > Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane ) in the front viewport . Modify the Plane ( Make a selection > Modify panel ) according to the following parameters :

  • Length: 200
  • Width: 200
  • Length Segs: 1
  • Width Segs: 1

Create another Plane in the left viewport with the same settings. Now we have two planes in the scene. Go to the left viewport and align ( Tools > Align > Align… ) the planes vertically ( y axis ).

Let’s apply the reference images to the planes. Open Material Editor ( Press ‘m’ in keyboard ) and create the materials for the planes:

  1. Select the plane you created in the front viewport and assign the material to it
  2. Add the diffuse map ( Maps > Standard > Bitmap > 3d-monster-model-front.jpg )
  3. Enable “Show Standard Map in Viewport” ( Makes the texture visible in shaded viewports )
  4. Self-Illumination: 100 ( Makes the texture easier to see in the viewports )
  5. Select another material slot and create the material for the other plane as well

Reference picture setup in 3ds Max

If the images are displayed in low resolution go to the display driver settings and and maximize the resolution ( Customize > Preferences… > Viewports > Configure Driver… > Appearance Preferences > Download Texture Size > Match Bitmap Size as Closely as Possible ).

Chances are that your planes are near zero or intersecting with each other. In either case, the planes will get in the way when we start the modeling. Let’s move them in the top viewport:

  • Front reference image: Move about 200 units along the y-axis ( you don’t have to be exact )
  • Left reference image: Move about 200 units along the x-axis ( you don’t have to be exact )

Now we’re ready to start the modeling process.

Reference picture setup in 3ds Max

Step 3 Useful Keyboard Shortcuts in 3ds Max

There are some keyboard shortcuts that are extremely useful during the modeling process:

  • F3 – Shaded view on/off
  • F4 – Edged faces on/off ( matters only when the shaded view is on )
  • ALT Q – Isolate selected object ( There is often a need to orbit around the model during the modeling process. At certain angles the reference planes might get in the way and that’s when the isolation mode becomes handy )
  • ALT X – Selected object becomes transparent
  • 1-5 – In Edit Poly modifier you can quickly switch between different sub-object levels by pressing 1-5 in keyboard

Step 4 Start the Modeling

We’re going to model polygon by polygon, so let’s create the very first polygon to have something to work with. Create a small Plane ( Create panel > Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane ) in the front viewport and apply ( Make a selection > Modify panel ) the following parameters to it:

  • Length Segs: 1
  • Width Segs: 1

Add Edit Poly modifier to it ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Edit Poly ). We’re going to start the modeling from the lower lip. Activate the vertex sub-object level and move the vertices according to picture below. I recommend concentrating on one vertex at a time. First position the vertex in the front viewport and then in the left viewport.

Modeling with reference pictures

Now the first polygon is in place. Since our 3d monster will be symmetrical we’re going to create only half of it and complete it with the help of a Symmetry modifier. This character is going to be animated so we’ll create it by using quads ( four sided polygons ) only. ( Quads deform better than triangles.)

Step 5 New Polygons by Cloning

Let’s create a new polygon by cloning:

  1. Activate the edge sub-object level
  2. Select the leftmost edge in the front view port ( See the image below )
  3. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  4. Move the selected edge to the left ( See the image below )
  5. Activate the vertex sub-object level and move the new vertices according to the reference images in both the front and left viewports

Cloning edges in 3d Max

Step 6 Modeling Around the Mouth

Let’s repeat the cloning process several times to create polygons around the mouth. Whenever you create a new polygon, remember to move the vertices in both the front and left viewports!

Tip: Press ALT X in keyboard to make the selected object transparent. This might help when positioning the vertices.

Poly modeling

Step 7 Cloning Several Edges at Once

You can also clone several edges at once:

  1. Select two edges in the front viewport ( See the image below. Press CTRL in keyboard to select several edges. )
  2. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  3. Move the selected edges upwards ( See the image below )
  4. Activate the vertex sub-object level and move the vertices according to the reference images in both the front and left viewports

Polygon modeling

Step 8 Cloning Polygons

So far we’ve created new polygons by cloning edges but we can also clone polygons:

  1. Activate polygon sub-object level
  2. Select two polygons ( See the image below )
  3. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  4. Move the selected polygons upwards. Select ‘Clone To Element’ in the new dialog.
  5. Remember to move the vertices in both viewports ( See the image below )

Modeling by cloning polygons

Step 9 The Bridge Tool

Whenever there are two border edges that we want to connect with a polygon, we can use the Bridge tool:

  1. Activate edge sub-object level and make sure you have nothing selected ( keyboard shortcut for deselect is CTRL d )
  2. Activate the Bridge tool ( Edit Poly > Edit Edges > Bridge )
  3. Click on the border edge in the front viewport ( See the image below )
  4. Click on the other border edge ( See the image below )
  5. Repeat the process on the left side of the eye as well

Using the bridge tool in 3ds Max

Step 10 Welding Vertices

Our goal is to create a unified surface where polygons share vertices with all adjacent polygons. Often there’s a need to weld vertices of adjacent polygons together. Let’s try this in practice:

  1. In the front viewport, select two edges on the right side of the eye and create two new polygons by cloning
  2. Select one edge on the left side of the eye and create a new polygon by cloning
  3. Activate the vertex sub-object mode
  4. Activate ‘Target Weld’ tool ( Edit Poly > Edit Vertices > Target Weld )
  5. Click on the vertex ( See the image below )
  6. Click on the other vertex ( See the image below )
  7. Repeat the process on the left side as well
  8. Remember to move the new vertices according to both reference images

Welding vertices together

Step 11 New Polygons with the Scale tool

The Scale tool can be an effective method of creating new polygons:

  1. Activate edge sub-object level and select 6 edges ( See the image below )
  2. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  3. Scale the edges in the front viewport ( See the image below )
  4. Remember to move the vertices in both viewports

Modeling by scaling polygons

Step 12 Modeling by Cloning

Let’s clone some polygons in the left viewport:

  1. Select 5 edges ( See the image below )
  2. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  3. Move the edges to the left
  4. Move the vertices according to the reference images ( See the image below )

Modeling monster head with polygons

Step 13 Symmetry and TurboSmooth Modifiers

This is actually an optional step but highly recommended nevertheless. The idea of this tutorial is to create a half of a low polygon model, complete it with the Symmetry modifier, and smoothen the surface with the Turbosmooth modifier. I’ll show you how we can see the final surface while working on a low poly model:

  1. Deactivate any sub-object level and go to the front viewport.
  2. Clone the whole model by moving it while pressing SHIFT in keyboard. Select ‘Reference’ in the clone options dialog.
  3. Apply Symmetry modifier to the reference copy ( Make a selection > Modify panel > Modifier List > Object-Space Modifiers > Symmetry ). If the model disappears, activate Flip ( Symmetry > Mirror Axis > Flip ).
  4. Activate mirror sub-object level in the Symmetry modifier and align the mirror plane to the right side of the model. The vertices in the middle are welded together.
  5. Deactivate mirror sub-object level and add Turbosmooth modifier ( If you see a seam in the middle, all vertices haven’t been welded and you have to move the mirror in the Symmetry modifier ).
  6. Set Iterations value ( in Turbosmooth modifier ) to 1-3 depending on your needs and computer power.

Now you continue working with the original low poly monster model and you see the changes in the smoothed model in real time. If the smoothed model gets in the way you can just move or hide it. ( It’s also possible to add the modifiers to the original model you are working on, but personally I find that method more troublesome. )

Symmetry and Turbosmooth modifier in action

Step 14 Modeling the Rest of the Head

Now you know everything you need to know to go on. Complete the rest of the head as you see fit. The front reference image doesn’t help you much when you create the back of the head. You just have to create new polygons, orbit around the head, and move the vertices. Remember to weld vertices together when necessary. If it feels hard, remember to concentrate on a one polygon at a time. Be patient and move the vertices until you get a nice round head. This is what polygon modeling is all about.

Completing the head of the monster model

Step 15 Modeling the Torso

Now the hardest part is over. The rest of this 3d monster model is pretty simple to create. Let’s complete the torso:

  1. Activate the edge sub-object level and select 5 edges ( See the image below )
  2. Clone the edges downwards
  3. Move the vertices according to the reference images

Modeling the torso by cloning edges

Repeat the cloning two times and create the bottom of the monster according to the image below. Cloned edges and use Bridge tool when you can.

The structure of the bottom of the model

Step 16 Creating the Arm

The arm is really easy to create with Extrude and Bevel tools:

  1. Activate the polygon sub-object level
  2. Activate Extrude tool ( Edit Poly > Edit Polygons > Extrude )
  3. Click and drag on top of a polygon ( See the image below )

Make sure to extrude the polygon only a little. We want a relatively sharp joint here so we need two edges that are close to each other. If you are not sure what I’m talking about, look at the smoothed model while extruding and compare different extrusion values.

Creating the arm by extrusion

Complete the arm:

  1. Use Extrude ( Edit Poly > Edit Polygons > Extrude ) once more and move vertices according to the reference.
  2. Use Bevel twice to complete the arm ( Edit Poly > Edit Polygons > Bevel )

Bevel works just like Extrude except it allows scaling just after the extrusion.

Modeling the arm with Extrude and Bevel tools

Step 17 Finalizing the Monster Model

Let’s work with the eyes and mouth just a little more:

  1. Activate the border sub-object level and select the edges around the eye
  2. Activate the edge sub-object level and select also the edges around the mouth
  3. Press and hold SHIFT in keyboard
  4. Move the edges inwards to create new polygons
  5. Move the new vertices according to image below ( pressing ALT X in keyboard should help )

Creating eye sockets and mouth

Finally orbit around your model and fix all bumps and errors in the surface. Create two spheres for eyes and the monster model is complete!

Step 18 Rendering the 3D Monster Model

I rendered the final image with Mental Ray ( Rendering > Render Setup… > Common tab > Assign Renderer > Production ).

My rendering setup:

  • Standard material with light gray diffuse color
  • Skylight with pure white color
  • White plane under the model
  • White background

Rendered 3d monster models

Hopefully you learned enough to be able to create your own 3d monster models. Stay tuned for the unwrapping tutorial!

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