View Full Version : LP Character progress: Cutter from Elfquest

12 December 2003, 02:44 PM
Hi all.

Thought I'd do one of those progress threads on a low poly character I've started working on.

This is Cutter, the main character from the ElfQuest illustrated novels series.

I'm kind of new to the whole game art business, and I'm doing it mostly for practice. I'm also new to Maya, so I'm progressing quite slowly to say the least.

At the moment I'm mostly trying to figure out a good topology, so some of the body proportions may be off. I'm aiming for 2500 polys in the end, but I intend to make LODed versions too. Right now I'm at 1266 tris as you can see, and in the final version he will have hair, teeth, clothes (fur vest, trousers and shoes) accessories and a dagger or short sword. On the other hand, parts of the body will be covered, so it's give some, take some on the poly count. I'm still guessing I'll have to optimize a lot in the end to meet the budget.

If you want to compare with the real thing, here's the official Elfquest site (

Here are the current screenshots:

I'd really appriciate crits and tips as I progress, like I said I'm quite new to low poly character creation.

12 December 2003, 02:59 PM
in my mind you have way too many tri-fans all over the model so far. you should strive for a more /\/\/\/ kind of look instead of the many X you have atm. read more here:

12 December 2003, 10:17 PM
Oh no, not more rules! :)

Seriously though, that's exactly the kind of crits I'm looking for, cheers. Like I said, I don't know very much about the rules of low poly.

This raises a few questions though. E.g. how much should I prioritize triangle strips over shape/ animation in my topology? A lot of the fans are there because Maya's default triangulation didn't create satisfactory geometry (e.g. a cheek poly which left a concave edge across the cheek bone making it look dented - like it'd been attacked by an axe, literally - in the silhouette). Can I keep spikes and dents consisting of one raised/ lowered vertex fanned? Also, the article about triangle strips indicate that the vertices should be numbered in a sawtooth order along the strips. Does that mean i'd have to reorder the vertices accordingly in order to optimize the mesh? And is there any easy way to do that over 2000+ verts? Also, how much of a performace issue is this - is it better to add a few (hundred) faces in order to keep a strip pattern even though this will obviously leave me with a higher poly count?

Is there anywhere I could find more info on this, or other low poly specific problems?

Thanks for the tip, spm.

12 December 2003, 10:36 PM
the art of stripping tringles is one of the most complicated things you can take on. the hard core stripper :) goes into the mode where you can see all the vertex numbers and stuff, but tahts not usually necessary.

how well you do this is mostly dependent of the platform youre aiming at. for example the PS2 and the renderware engine are very sensitive to good and bad tri-strips, renderware beeing the least sensitive of thise two. but imagine if combined as in the racing game "burn out"?

its also a relative path between good looks and tech-wise optimization. some things may afford "bad" strips, while less important stuff has to weigh this up by beeing perfect.

other things that cuts a tri-strip are: hard edges, shader borders, uv-borders and ofcourse open edges.

this explains a lot why you optimally shouldnt have a character, for example, made out of separate meshes having open edges at arms, hands etc.

today most platforms are getting better and better when it comes to shuffeling polygons and the necessity of really good tri-stripping gets less important. nonetheless we arent there all the way yet so we cant ignore the fact that its better done well.

also, be careful when you think that its impossible to avoid a fan. it usually isnt. only things that should be pointed require a fan.

EDIT: to illustrate a classig issue...

imagine modeling that character of yours. the usual way is to model one half and have the other mirrored. then triangulate it and you get mirrored tris everywhere... and many fans in the junction between these two halfs.

if you on the other hand tri-strip everything nicely on the "wrong" side as well you will loose the shape of the polygons you wanted. and you have a problem to solve. :)

EDIT2: *sigh* new things to say :D

most engine exporters will triangulate things properly for you. renderware for example has this triangulate in maya that makes things nice, but on the behalf of shape.

the exporter only triangulates quads, so you could still keep the main shape and triangulate these parts manually and let the exporter do the rest for you. if you dont have access to an exporter you have to make sure everything is ok by yourself.

EDIT3: im crazy..

other low poly issues that im not going to go into atm are:

- intersecting mesh
- open mesh
- unproportional (way too looong) polygons

all these things may affect the collisions in a game in a bad way... and also boost up the rendering time and fill rate.

EDIT4: haha... oh yeah!

about the question if more polygons sometimes are better than a bad few? yes it is. could be for the sake of animation or the strips... its all relative.

12 December 2003, 11:27 PM
Wow, I must have done something right to be rewarded with so much hands on help!

My (own - not Cutter's) head is still filled with a lot of questions about this issue, but I'm gonna keep it on hold until I finish the body in its current unoptimized state, then I'll dive into the strip thing and try to fix it.

Thanks again for the great tips and info. Stick around for updates soon.

12 December 2003, 11:31 PM
np, these are things ive wanted to say to many ppl in the past but havent had the energy to type :)

so here it is as a cut and paste option for the future :)

as for your unoptimized model... who cares anyway. its the creativity and fun of it that counts in the end. quality comes with experience, but you cant evolve the fun of creativity the same way :)

12 December 2003, 12:40 AM
Hey Anders great subject matter, the model's coming along nicely I really love the sculpting.
There are places that look as if they won't deform well though, try rigging it up with preliminary bones to test and optimize deformations as you go along. A lot of artists like to build their meshes and skeletons concurrently, I know I'm not alone on this one. :)

Also, try looking up drawSplit and drawReduce, they make laying down topology less of a pain. And a good Target Weld script to complete the package.

spm, thanks for the great OGL resource. no game artist should overlook documents like that!

12 December 2003, 01:26 PM
spm: right now this is definitely fun and creative, but I find the process of learning and becoming more efficient a lot of fun too :)

Snowfly: Thanks for the crits and the prelim rig tips. I will go over the joint deformations when I've gotten a bit further, but definitely before I start UV-editing. And thanks also for reminding me of the bonus tools - I hadn't downloaded them yet so this will definitely speed up my workflow, especially the polymirror-cut tool - up til now I've been using my own makeshift version of connectPolyShape which does all wierd kind of stuff to the normals in the symmetry mesh as soon as I change the topology of the base mesh. Mirror Cut seems a bit more stable.

12 December 2003, 10:19 PM
Here's an update.

I'm aware of the proportion issues, most notably the arms are too small and too wide apart and the torso is too large, and also the shoulders are a bit funky and probably don't animate very well. I'll take care of that in due course, but I'm following ref images that I've drawn, so I don't want to stray from them too much until all parts are modeled.

Anyway, If you can see anything else, please crit away, I'm gratefull for any help. (By the way, I'm so far completely ignoring tri strips, they inhibit my flow too much - will go over them at a later stage).

Oh and a question that I hope someone will be able to answer.

I'd like to do the eyeballs in the same mesh as the rest and apply a different shader to the eyes and then have an animated/rigged texture projection for the eyeballs so it looks like the eyeballs are moving, but in fact it's actually the UV:s that are moving.

This can easily be done in Maya by connecting a locator's rotation attributes to the rotation attributes of the projection node of the eyeball's UV set.

But, could this be done in an existing game engine? I.e, can I put it in my portfolio as game art, or is it cheating?

The benefits would include at least 50 triangles less, I would get rid of any z-buffer problem associated with a separate eyeball object, as well as any problems with getting the eyeball-polys to not poke through the face mesh when rotated. I saw the HalfLife 2 video on exporting the Alyx-character, and it looked like they did something like that.

So, would it be realistic to assume that a game engine supports something like this, or will I have to settle for separate objects for the eyballs, or alternatively, rigid eyes?

12 December 2003, 11:12 PM
eye balls/lids are a classic example of possible intersecting mesh thats ok because its not really possible to solve it otherwise.

engine-wise im not sure about letting a locator do the work in the animation. this would be fine if your target engine handles kayframed UV-rotation etc. most engines do. but i dont think you can export the animation keys of a locator... only if it is parented to a joint. in any case the locator could only be exported as blind data (coordinates for use as raw data when coding).

these comments are ofcourse not a rule. if a dev. team finds a method very useful they will make it possible to export almost anything to the target engine, if its in-house or reasonably customizeable. the renderware engine, for example, is kindof restrictive in a sense. you cant export everything you want to. you have to bind mesh to joints to be able to animate and export it. and you can only export UV-rotation and offset.

and, yes i think you can display your character as game art in a portfolio. the main thing is to present a good character artisticly and topology/polygon-wise.

12 December 2003, 12:28 AM
Thanks psm, I kind of had the feeling you'd have the answer.

As I'm sure is painfully obvious, I don't know game engines from a horse's ass, so I just assumed a locator would be a typical "light" (as opposed to "heavy") object that basically only stores a transform matrix, but a joint at the center of the eyeball will do just fine.

engine-wise im not sure about letting a locator do the work in the animation. this would be fine if your target engine handles kayframed UV-rotation etc...the renderware engine, for example, is kind of restrictive in a sense...and you can only export UV-rotation and offset.

Let me just get this straight. When you say UV-rotation/offset - what is the equivalent in Maya? Is it the rotation/offset in the place2dTexture node or the position/rotation of the polySphProj (Spherical projection) node? Because to get the effect I'd have to use the polySphProj node, the place2dTexture node would just rotate in 2d or stretch I think.

12 December 2003, 10:26 AM
the only keyable attributes for UVs (in renderware) is in the place2dTexture node.

Offset and RotateUV.

these are the only ones you can export to the engine, what i know of, without writing your own export system.

note that you cant export keyed animation done in the UV-editor or the viewport using the manipulator.

other game engines may give you a wider range of freedom, but im not really an expert on other engines atm.

01 January 2004, 03:04 PM
Some updates before I go on to do the preliminary skeleton (just to get the joint topology working).

As you can see, he now weighs in at 2730 tris, but the feet alone are at 488 tris, and I just modeled the feet as an excersise - in the end he will have shoes and trousers which are a lot cheaper polywise.

01 January 2004, 01:18 AM
Another update:

I've reworked the proportions, tweaked a lot, deleted a lot of verts and added some clothes. I also decided on doing the eyes in the same mesh as the body and using a separate shader and rigged spherical projection nodes.

The vest and arm band are a bit temporary, I had an idea to use extruded transparency mapped polys to make the vest look furry, but after a closer look at some references, I decided it woud be too expensive and difficult for such a relatively small effect. Instead I'm gonna add some geometry to the vest and just paint the fur the regular way. The Armband will also have a bit more geometry and be in the same mesh as the body.

The hair is a bit experimental, I have no idea if it will work when mapped. The transparent polys are the ones which will have transparency mapped texures. The hair will also be less symmetrical in the end.

Some geometry left to do include the dagger/shortsword and sheath and the water pouch.

The mesh is quite badly optimized with lots of holes, bad tristripping and different shaders, but I'm prioritizing aesthetics at this stage.

01 January 2004, 10:18 PM
I can't make my mind up about the porportions, if you want to make him look more realistic, he's too short. but I have no idea what kind of style game he's gonna fit in. My first impression was that he looks more like a dwarf than an elf. Great modelling though, especially the hands.

01 January 2004, 12:11 AM
Thanks for the crits, Beaneh.

Yeah, it kind of hurt to bring his apparent size down even more than in the template sketches I drew, but I did so after some advice from a friend who's read basically every issue of the comic. The Wolfriders are quite small, almost childlike in their head/body proportions, even though their physique is adult. For comparison, I dug out this page (I'll just link to it as I don't know about copyright and direct linking rules):

Fire & Flight page 7 (

The man with the long beard and hair is human, and judging from these pictures the elves are about four to five feet tall.

And here's another page, depicting Cutter in full figure in an upright stance (last frame):

Fire & Flight page 10 (

If he was to be in an actual game, I would like it to be some kind of 3d role playing adventure, with a strong story and the ability to play multiple characters depending on the need of the story.

01 January 2004, 12:19 AM
Right, another update.

Hopefully the modelling is done now, but as I go into deformations I may have to add a poly or two.

So far, I've stayed below budget with a margin of 3 triangles as you can see.

Crits and comments are very welcome.

01 January 2004, 05:56 AM
Beaneh, not all the elves in all the games or books are handsome and good-looking. I can remember for example "RuneQuest" (an RPG), where elves are, as Anders said, like children in their proportions ;)

In the other way, i like your model a lot. Texturize hard and you'll have a very good job in your hands!

01 January 2004, 12:44 PM
Thanks IkerCLoN. I've never really done game textures before - UV mapping shouldn't be to much of a problem, but I fear for the painting part.

Right now though I'm struggling with the skeleton though. It's not too hard to build, but the joints aren't oriented the way I want - I've done Orient joint, but only the x-axis is aligned satisfactory, the other axes are quite arbitarily aligned. Does anyone know of a way to rotate the local axis of a joint without rotating the entire hierarchy below it? A possible workaround would be to place a locator at every joint's position, and then rotate the joints from the root down and using the Alignment script from highend 3d to put the child joints back in their place when the parent has been rotated, but that seems like a very cumbersome process. Maybe I need to read up on the xform mel command to ease the process...

02 February 2004, 10:49 PM
Maya's joint rotation is a pain for game stuff and you will find that if you rig the skeleton directly that the alignment will be ruined because the joints also receive translation as well as rotation values. I use a rigged skeleton that then transfers all of the rotations to the "in-game" skeleton via constraints. Arms and legs usually transfer ok, but spine and collar joints I had to use a locator (at the same level in the hierarchy) aiming at the child to derive the correct rotation values.
Also, I just wanted to mention that tri-stripping is also dependant on breaks in the UV's, multiple material groups and hard edges - all of these will break your tri-strips. My advice is to ignore tri-stripping, unless they are causing a slow down in-game - we usually triangulate to maintain form and let the engine do the rest of the triangulation in the hope that it knows what's best for tri-stripping.

Nice model...


02 February 2004, 11:41 PM
Originally posted by Anders Egleus
Right now though I'm struggling with the skeleton though. It's not too hard to build, but the joints aren't oriented the way I want - I've done Orient joint, but only the x-axis is aligned satisfactory, the other axes are quite arbitarily aligned. Does anyone know of a way to rotate the local axis of a joint without rotating the entire hierarchy below it? A possible workaround would be to place a locator at every joint's position, and then rotate the joints from the root down and using the Alignment script from highend 3d to put the child joints back in their place when the parent has been rotated, but that seems like a very cumbersome process. Maybe I need to read up on the xform mel command to ease the process...

Select your skeleton, then go into component mode. In the Status line, turn on the question mark. You'll now see the local axes which you can manually rotate to the proper postion. It takes a little while, but it's worth it for the results.

02 February 2004, 01:17 AM
you'll find that this doesn't actually change the joint orientation for your game engine, at least for Renderware, it takes the object mode orientation of the joint (which is relative to the child and parent). This component axis modification is changing the local orientation.


02 February 2004, 12:21 PM
Once again, invaluable info from invaluably competent poeple. Cheers.

Dargon: That will make things a lot easier. Thanks.

magilla: Chances are, I won't actually be using this in-game, I'm mainly doing it for my portfolio. But it's still great to know these things.

Right now I'm taking a break from this character to work on a Skin Weight Transfer Script (here (, but I'll update as soon as I've got something new.

03 March 2004, 03:17 PM
Well, I started out with the intention of test-skinning the mesh for deformations, but I ended up writing an new skinweights exporter/importer and skinning the entire character (except the face/hair and some other stuff which isn't all that topology-dependent I hope). That's why it's taken so long since the last update. The mesh is now about 120 polys heavier (mostly around the elbow, knees and fingers), but otherwise there aren't many great changes to the model itself.

Here are some poses:

Crits welcome as always.

03 March 2004, 05:57 PM
Wow looking good :)

Nice thread too hehe.

03 March 2004, 08:41 PM
Cheers :)

Think I've got the UVs pretty OK now, but if they can get better, I'd love to hear suggestions.

I've chosen to do 2 maps - one 512 for all the solid meshes and one 256 for all the stuff that needs to be alpha mapped. For the hair I've laid out the UVs so that the Alpha mapped parts overlap with the solid parts in order to be able to just copy the texture from the solid onto the alpha one. Infact, most of the seams are layed out so that they can just be copied and moved / mirrored to line up with the other side.

I've also changed the eye setup since last, I now have alpha mapped hexagons for the irises which can be rotated, so it looks like the entire eye moves, but it's actually just the iris.

Solid meshes:

Alpha mapped meshes:

And here's a screenshot of the model with my psychedelic UV template applied:

Gonna start texturing next. Very exciting, never done that before (well painting a low poly texture from scratch that is).

03 March 2004, 09:56 PM
gorgeous UV's. nice to see you still going. i've been keeping my eye on this thread.. just thought i'd do my part to keep it from going under, with the game art comp happening.

03 March 2004, 02:04 PM
Cheers, Snowfly, I really appreciate that!

I wouldn't worry about it going under though as I keep updating it once in a while ;)

I'm really frustrated at how slow I am, but I guess it's a combination of not wanting to do anything half-heartedly and being quite inexperienced about a lot of the workflow, plus I try to read up on as much as possible before each step. And then of course there was that script I wrote which took a while...

Right now i'm feeling quite nervous abount going into photoshop...

11 November 2004, 02:09 AM
Hey did you ever get around to painting textures for this model?

12 December 2004, 06:18 AM
Interesting project you got there. I've been doing the same kinda thing, tackling all aspects of low poly from concept to finished animated rigg in actual "realtime". It can be quite a daunting task! I guess I can't give you any more help, most has already been covered. I've read lots of spm's previous posts on the tech threads and they are very informative along with Snowfly's as well. Looks great, can't wait to see more.


Chris. F.
12 December 2004, 10:02 AM
nice model ( better than the original ;) )
nice uv's - map too

well done I guess the texture will be nice too :D

12 December 2004, 05:34 PM
thats really a great model :thumbsup:

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