Low Poly Character Refresher

With the completion of the conception phase of our original character project, I decided to do a refresher course on character modelling.  I’m a 3D artist yes, but I’ve mainly focused on environment modelling and game assets as these are what is mainly consumed in asset stores.  So I found a good reference image and got started.  After setting up all the references I got started blocking the torso out.

Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.28.18

The last character model I did was a high poly so it was interesting only having to model the most basic shapes which in this case was the shape of the chest and the pectoral muscle.  But simple things never last as I started on the shoulder.

This is where it always gets tricky.  Wrestling with the topology so you can attach arms, Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.28.43legs and fingers whilst maintaining good edge loops is always an experience that dances between frustration and satisfaction.  For those that don’t know, an edge loop is essentially a continuous ribbon of polygons and the reason why this is great topology is that it prevents nasty little effects that show up in the texturing and animation phases.  It can lead to bad deformations where limbs move unnaturally and ruin animations, and/or it can affect the shading so that light reflects badly off the surface of the model.   Essentially you want to avoid this at all costs, because not only does it look terrible but it breaks the consumers immersion whether it be in games or a movie.  Fortunately, being a low poly model the shoulder was simply an extrusion from the side, then I slowly added two edge loops at the top to simulate the shoulder muscles and shape.  That’s another thing I found about low poly modelling vs high poly, is that in high poly modelling your edge loops need to follow muscle flows as much as possible.  So this particular model is a lot less stressful.

Following the shoulder it was then modelling the arm and leg, both of which started out as simple cylinders.  The most important thing about this process is to get the number of sides correct so that they attach to the torso without much protest.  With this done it was simply a matter of shaping them to the curvature of the reference image.

Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.43.50

Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.44.22

Now onto the hard stuff, the feet and hands.  The feet for this model was basically a bulky shoe, so I started with a box and began adding extrusions and cuts to it here and there.  Adding just enough topology to weld it to the leg then began fine tuning the vertices to get the overall shape of the shoe to a believable level.  The hand for this particular model is apparently only going to be handling a weapon which means I can cut corners when it comes to the fingers.  Instead of having the full five fingers I can get away with a mitt style hand due to the animations have the character always holding the weapon.  So I started with three boxes for the thumb, index and last three fingers.  With a few extra segments added to the boxes I could give them a more realistic finger shape and then extruded from the fingers to get the palm.

Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.48.54Screenshot 2016-03-14 21.49.40

Before starting the head I needed to ensure the characters silhouette was still in good formScreenshot 2016-03-14 22.02.54 with no overly sharp angles and still retaining defined features.  So I added the symmetry modifier and switched the viewport to consistent colours.  After everything turned out to be looking good, I collapsed the stack and started the head with a plane.  Normally the head is hard to figure out with all its edge loops and facial features.  But with a low poly model it is so much easier as it’s more about getting the shape and leaving the details for the texturing phase.  With this in mind, I simply defined the brow ridge, the nose and the cheek, the rest simply followed the curvature of the reference.  There was a little wrestling with the topology as all the edge loops came together but a few cuts here and a few welds there and all was well.

Then to finalize the base mesh I just went over the model with a relax tool to soften it up and also re-topologized areas where poly’s were stressed.  And with the base mesh finished I will now start working on the various armor pieces which will cover up some of the shapes of the model I don’t particularly like, like the thighs for example.  But this project was a good refresher for the next phase of the original character project.

Screenshot 2016-03-14 22.07.40

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