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Chapter 1: A Character Tutorial
Posted: Dec 08, 2008
Published by: the area
Homepage: Visit the page
Software: Autodesk Maya
Category: Modeling
Skill: Intermediate
Tutorial Steps
101. overall notions of modelling, edge loop, etc...

Author: e338 (Loïc Zimmermann)
So... You want to impress your friends with some cool characters eh? And you wonder how you are going to start?

This is logic; don't be scared, it'll be ok.

I'll start with some notions one should have, when it comes to organic modelling. It's necessary to understand these notions before you start, and to keep them somewhere in your head while you work, in order to avoid trouble later on, such as big issues when you want to achieve some posing, or conflicts with your character rigger if you have one. Yes, those guys are very useful but you don't want to mess with them.

It's also useful for the texturing when you deal with UVs, seams, etc...

Just after this tedious beginning, we'll start talking about your expectations in the future. A character, for what, for who? How much time, etc... And the idea of creating a cage; also called a base mesh.

Then, we'll make a quick overview of preliminary UVs, before it's too late.

Next, we'll talk about anatomy. I could start with this, but I think it's more useful after the overview of the base mesh, and before going into details.

We'll spend some time on the head, obviously.

After that we'll see how to dress a character, how to create clothes, using what we saw before in a matter of modelling, loops, cages, tweaking, and textures.

And finally, render; how to tune the crazy misss fast skin shader for Maya.

Even though I’m kidding sometimes, this is all very serious, yet not boring and I hope you'll better understand how it works in the end. I think being too serious kills pedagogy. If you're not OK with this, get the hell out of here and find a job in a bank!

I'll combine things I’ve learned, things I’ve practiced and things I’ve taught, to create this content. Pick up what you need, make it your own.

01. overall notions of modelling, edge loop, etc...

So, what is it exactly?

Edge Loop. Cool topology. Neat geometry. This is what I’m talking about.

Everyone should have heard about this concept already, since it's not really new. Still I can refresh your memory.

I will only cover polygon modelling, since it's the best basis ever. Then, it's up to you to look toward the subDiv if you want to, or, even more tricky, NURBS.

Well, there are a few people on this planet using NURBS for characters, but for sure you don't want to stay locked in a room with them, however good they are, imho.


When using polygons, you will try, as much as possible, to use Quads, which means polygons with 4 edges. They are cool because they’re more predictable in a matter of deformation, smoothing, etc... Sometimes, you can use triangles as well, but usually in the hidden areas, or parts of the geometry that won't be deformed a lot (back of the ears, inside the mouth, corner of the eyes, crouch, etc...

Just to mention them, the last option is called Ngons, which means polygons with more than 4 sides. They can be useful to achieve specific effects, mostly when using subDiv, but I prefer not to use them, since I usually export my geometry into a third party package to create the high res mesh (and this third party package will triangulate those Ngons since it can't deal with them).

Quads are cool; you already love quads.

Edge loop is the idea that those quads creating a shape, are looping together in a smart way. They are looping, to create like a ribbon around the shape.

An easy example is the arm.

On the figure below, you can see that each row of quads is looping with itself. This is really good for skinning, as well as for the UVs.

This is a pretty radical way of building things, called "unified topology". Well, I call it this way; it means I don't draw sub shapes with edges, but with an approximation of these loops. Hard to understand?

Let's say that one can choose to define muscles and stuff, with edges. Then create loops inside those shapes to get a neat mesh.

Since I don't rebuild my topology each time I work on a character, I prefer using a very regular mesh, with enough definition, to shape things out. Then I subdivide this geometry to add details. This way I can build all my characters on the same basis and save a tremendous amount of time.


Let see another example of those loops, on a more difficult area.

As you can see, I’ve defined a loop around the eyes, and another around the mouth. There are several schools for the facial loops and I don't pretend to have the best one. Once again, I like it this way, it works in a lot of situations, and I can achieve cute chicks and awful freaks with this same topology. It works well with facial animation and also with highres sculpting.

So; these are what we call edgeloops. Now you can have fun defining them all around the body. Some areas are easy (arms, torso, legs), some are more difficult (hands, head, feet) and the first thing you need to do is think about how it should deform. Then you can draw a line in this place, and split it to create your first loop. Then spread it around.

It means you should consider at a very early stage to figure out where articulations will be, since they are the first one related to these loops.

The neck, the top of the thighs, the elbows, the ankles, the knees, the spine... all those areas should be based upon loops.

Let's see some of them on MY PRECIOUS basemesh.

For this tutorial, unfortunately, I won't give you this geometry. Up to you to play the copycats with the screenshots I give, but it took me ages to build it and I’d rather die than give it away.

Anyway, we will work on a basemesh in the upcoming chapter for sure.

And, I think it's about time to start !

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Newest users comments View All 15 Comments
Posted by Area35 on Feb 21, 2014 at 06:49 AM
Where is the actual tutorial
Posted by Wisendorf on Sep 21, 2011 at 08:37 AM
I would like to hear about you,,,What programs you started with,,what learning path did you take to become the artist that you are. Im retired now and have lot of time to learn,I just dont want to waste it jumping around all over the place...
Posted by Wisendorf on Sep 21, 2011 at 08:29 AM
Im kinda new at this.I've been scattered all over the place with all the differant ways of doing things..Your way seems to be a steadfast way,I think I will follow this a ways. Makes sence to me.Ty for this Tutor
Posted by EdgArt on Feb 09, 2011 at 05:16 PM
good and useful info man!
Posted by ralwayswithj on Mar 10, 2010 at 02:53 AM
Thanks for information... am following this type of loops. and can u give easy tips?(morethen this tips). thank u... RAGHU