View Full Version : C&C for a tutorial I'm currently writing!

02 February 2005, 01:27 PM

I'm currently writing a tutorial - I thought it could be clever to post a first version here to get some comments and critique on the tutorial, so I can change some stuff if I left something unclear or if it's too hard to follow - It's the first tutorial I've ever written, so I could really need some help from my fellow modelers here! :)

Bear in mind that it's not finished yet, I'll try to finish it up as soon as possible, so here we go:

Tutorial: Nerrick, the Dwarf


Alright. Since some people asked me to write a tutorial of how I work and how I approach a modeling job, I want to give you an insight now of the stages I go through while modeling, why I do what I’m doing and what I think is the best way to get a job done within an acceptable amount of time.

First of all, if you’re completely new to modeling within a traditional modeler, you should really read up on the theory behind Subdivision Surfaces and Edge Loops, here are two links that _really_ help you getting started!

I’d suggest that you read these carefully, if you understood the principles behind Subdivision Surfaces, I really think that you could model everything you could imagine. For organic modeling, there’s nothing better out there! :)

Maybe I have to disappoint you for a second, because this won’t be a step by step tutorial – Sorry, but I just didn’t have enough time to write one! But I’ll make you happy again with a video modeling session, which shows the whole modeling process from a cube to a pretty defined cage in the future – I’m currently thinking about some cool stuff that could really help a beginner to get right into the modeling process!

Bear with me if some topics are too general, but this tutorial actually isn’t written for the bloody beginner, it’s written for people who are interested in other workflow techniques than their own, for people who want to have an insight on boxmodeling and so on – Also, it’s the first tutorial I’ve ever written, so please don’t send me hate mails or something like that, if I left something unclear!

Concepts and “soothsaying”:

That one is really important! I can’t stress enough how vital it is to have a strong idea of what you’re going to be working on _before_ you even start to block out your geometry. Always have a sketchpad with you, so you can take notes at anytime… very important! You’ll find inspirations anywhere, so make sure you don’t waste good ideas or you’ll end up sitting somewhere not knowing what you want to work on…

Also I think it’s extremely important to get a “feel” for the thing you’ll model before you even turn on your workstation. You should absolutely think in general shapes, like you would if you’d be quickly sketching ideas around… What do I mean by that? Well, think about things that way: A house is a box and a cone on top of it. A plane is a cylinder, a cone and some fancier rectangular shapes… Reduce everything you see to its bare minimum (like a sculptor does) and you won’t have the problem of “Where to begin?!” or “What to do next?” – You’ll learn to think ahead. Just give it some time, have fun investigating things and you’ll do just fine, believe me.

Modeling Workflow:

Okay, so let’s assume that you already have a strong idea of what you want to model. Now is the time where you’ll fire up a 3d modeling program and start to block out some geometry. This is also an important concept: I’ll teach you how to do “boxmodeling” – It’s the “digital equivalent” to traditional sculpting and is especially fitting for organic modeling. There are no rules of how to approach an organic model, but in my opinion, it’s the best thing to get the general shapes first and _then_ concentrate on the details and stuff. Doing wrinkles and super-defined details will be the easiest part later on, finding the silhouette, contour and form of your model is a completely different beast.

The thing is: If you blocked out the general form and you’re satisfied with it, then your job is already 50% done. After we got the general forms down, we’ll start adding features like the nose, some eyes, a mouth, we’ll start working out some edge loops, try to block out the first muscles, etc. Actually, I split the modeling process into 3 parts, while I’m working in a traditional modeler:

1) Blocking out the form, trying to find the general form, silhouette and contours of your model. Then, we check all of that stuff again, since this is one of the most important steps! Keep rotating around your model, tweaking vertices until you’re happy with the form. One very important thing: DO NOT RUSH THIS STEP!

2) Add features and watch the topology. This actually is a very repetitive job. If you modeled a nose once, chances are, you’ll model it very similar the next time. The same holds true for the eyes, mouth, etc. etc. Everyone seems to have his or her own approach on how to add features… Some people use extremely less polys and build up on that, other people already split as many edges as they need and only pull/push verts afterwards and then, there are people who do all the modeling/transformation stuff ‘on the fly’, it’s up to you, really. And again, we lay down “general forms” first. Some modelers even keep “generic” models and just tweak their shape until it’s fitting for their next project. Not a bad idea, actually, since every human being has the same anatomy. If you keep a male and a female model, for example, which have just the standard form and features, you should be able to tweak them to your liking. If there’s a tight deadline, this could actually be a major timesaver! Drifted off a little from what I wanted to say: You’ll get a routine for this step. Model a nose 10 times and you’ll be able to quickly lay down the exact geometry (in this case, for the nose) that you’ll need on other models as well.

3) Adding details, fine tune the topology, use magnets (soft selections) to shape the model into its final form, etc. This step is a hell lot of fun, since it’s the easiest one and you can still chop a lot of stuff around! Most people actually think that adding the fine details is the hardest part of your work, but it’s not, it’s the most fun one, since you should already have a pretty strong base! You’ll just add edges, tweak verts, do a lot of stuff with magnets (since you’ll probably already have a lot of details in your mesh, so tweaking with Magnets is a real timesaver here!), this step really is not too fancy at all! I could really talk for hours how much I like this step… Often your models don’t have this… ‘Magic’ yet, so you’ll characterize it now and breathe life into your work! At the end of this step, the model should really start to look at you, kinda intriguing, isn’t it? :) It’s really not as bad as so many people think, also, most modelers nowadays support functions like selecting Edge Rings or Loops with the press of a button (and you’ll just connect, slide and/or bevel these edges to get the details into your mesh), so that really makes your job a lot easier. I think the fourth step would be to work on Micropoly Displacements (ZBrush,, the fifth step could be the whole surfacing process (texturing and shading).

Boxmodeling or Poly-per-Poly (Edge Extrude)?

There’s currently a lot of discussion going on, which technique would be the most appropriate for organic modeling. My opinion on that one: Use whatever you need to get the job done!

There are modelers creating great models through boxmodeling (Bay Raitt, Martin Krol, Ken Brilliant, etc.) and there are modelers creating great models with the Poly-per-Poly technique (Kolby Jukes). I gave you some names, so you can read up on each of them – No matter what technique you’ll use in the end, these guys do a great job working that way, so try to adapt some of their tricks and read or watch their tutorials!

Personally, I prefer Boxmodeling, since you can block out your form a lot quicker and get a better impression of your model a lot sooner than with Poly-per-Poly, where you’ll actually start with pretty detailed areas of the face and have to tweak the form afterwards. It feels a lot more like traditional sculpting too! So, after talking about the general workflow and some basic principles, let’s start working!

1) Okay.

Say ‘hello!’ to the almighty cube, since Mr. Cube is the base for an infinite amount of models. Doesn’t look like much right now, but I’ll get you going! :)

2) I’m pretty much used to subdivide the model once, just to get some geometry to work with. Silo has a neat “Refine SubD LVL” (‘CTRL + C’) Command (In Wings, just hover over the cube in Body mode and press ‘S’), that is nice to let the modeler add the geometry for you. Magic, isn’t it? :)

Start tweaking verts into their place to block out the basic form. It’ll always be the same procedure: Add geometry, tweak the resulting vertices into their place, add geometry, tweak vertices, add geometry and tweak vertices… Magnet Moves (Soft Selections) can be quite neat here, since you don’t have to move components one-by-one to get the desired shape. This one actually should be quite a fun process, go get some coffee and just start doing it. I could work just on this step for hours, because I love to see how I get something decent out of a cube in just a few steps! And always watch your references while blocking in the geometry, that’s why it is so important to get a feel for your model even before you opened your modeling package – It’ll help you find the form of the object that you’ll model! Here’s a screenshot of what I ended up after 2-3 minutes quick ‘n dirty modeling:

3) I can’t stress enough just how important it is that you’re satisfied with the blocking process. I’ve modeled pretty fast here, just trying to shape the basic skull, lay out a hair line, a brow line, a nose line and a mouth line, just like you’d do it if you’d be drawing a portrait. Something _very_ important: Don’t worry about details yet! Try to really think in basic shapes! Look at the head, the skull is actually a sphere with a small part on each side cut off and there’s also the nose line/chin area, that is represented by half of a cylinder – You should start thinking _that_ way! One last time: The general shape is important here, don’t even dare to think about details yet, or I’ll eat your mouse!

4) After that’s done, clap your hands and eat some chocolate, since the rest will be easy! We’ll start adding features now. Since eyes and ears really depend on each other, we’ll work on them simultaneously. You’ll probably not have enough detail on the front side of the face to block these features out (in the last screenie I already added some geometry for the eyes/nose area), so just connect some edges and push/pull the resulting points (or even better: Slide the edges!) into place.

5) The eyes are very easy to block out, just split one or two edge loops into the mesh, delete the edges from the “eye socket face” and extrude it in two times. Afterwards, tweak the “outer rings” again, until you’ll find the shape that fits your needs. Magnet translations can take away a great deal of your work here! Try to already define some good edge loops, so you don’t have to fix so much topology afterwards. Oh, and: If you’re adding a sphere at this stage and put it into your eye socket, it’ll be a lot easier to tweak the loops around the eye, since you’ll see this wonderful, curvy thingy, that will later turn into an eye, while tweaking!

Here’s what I ended up with:

6) The nose is a little trickier to deal with: Connect and tweak until you got the base laid out, then extrude two times: once to get some geometry for the tip of the nose and once to get some geometry to play around with for the nostrils. Just tweak the verts on the nose until you’ll find the form you were looking for! Maybe you have to use connect on the nostril area, so you get some more geometry to play around with. Concentrate and only add edges where they could contribute to the shape! If you’re adding geometry, think about your loops and try to keep most of your faces 4-sided. Pretty easy stuff, huh? (And fun too!) :)

02 February 2005, 01:28 PM
7) Alright, if you’ve got the nose/eyes blocked out, chances are that you already have some edges going into the mouth area, so we’ll just recycle them. Add one “Middle edge” that you’ll bevel and extrude inwards later on and start defining the upper and lower lip area above and below this edge. Don’t deal with the inside of the mouth too fast, first you should make sure that the lips look good enough and that you got some fancy edge looping going on in the mouth area! :) Also, when you pretty much finished modeling the lips, you can really start to create a nice edge flow for your model, since you already modeled the main features: Eyes, nose, mouth. Whew. We’re fast! :) Adjusting the topology/edge loops can be pretty puzzling at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. I use split, connect, dissolve (delete) and flip edge for this one. So here’s where I ended up for the mouth (I also tweaked the head a little with magnet transforms, since Nerricks head seemed to be a bit too small to me):

8 ) The inside of the mouth. This area doesn’t have to be too detailed, since you’ll rarely see it in animation and you’ll probably add some teeth and gums later on, so this one will really be easy to create. Grab the middle Edge of the mouth area, bevel it and extrude the resulting faces inward. The first extrude will define the inside edge of the lips, the second will already define the first subsection of the oral cavity. Just extrude a few times and adjust the shape, so you’ll be able to insert teeth and gums later on. You’ll have to tweak some verts from the lips/mouth area into place, keep the form of the lips in mind, since they add a lot of character to your model! Also, here’s a shot of how I blocked out the inside of the mouth real quick:

9) Now, after we have all the features (except the ears) blocked in, we’ll concentrate on the general flow of the model, since we probably won’t have a good flow as of yet... Also, now is the time to clean up some geometry, so if you have some Tris and N-Gons in your mesh, try to find a way to make quads out of them. But you should do that after you adjusted the flow of your model, or you’ll end up doing this step twice ;) Actually, here’s a real-world example: I also didn’t have a good flow at this stage, I had some nice edge loops, but the edge flow of the whole model wasn’t too great. So here’s what I did, look at this screenshot:

And now compare the general edge flow – The right image is a lot nicer and would lead to much more predictable results, when it comes to facial animations.

02 February 2005, 12:12 AM
Come on, guys! If not for me, give me some comments for beginners who could maybe learn a thing or two while reading this tutorial...

02 February 2005, 01:10 AM
I would like to see more screenshots of the early part of the modeling process. Personally, I am always intimidated with the creation of the major edge loops. I keep trying to draw them out in my mind and have a mental panic when I see shots like yours. Thinking things like "How did he know which edges to delete," and "Should this loop go up to the forehead, or out to the ear" panic, panic, panic!

Once I have enough geometry down, I find it easier to spin edges, and weld points and generally play with the edge flow, but those early stages just freak me out.

I also fear memoriszing "Steps" Surely not *every* character head starts off with the same basic edge flows?

Anyway, I'll be keeping an eye on this thread. I saw this model in the WIP section and it is very cool


02 February 2005, 01:37 AM
I didn't read it all so don't take my post to seriously. But it was to long for me. They say a picture tells a thousand words so more pictures and less Words IMO.

02 February 2005, 01:48 AM
Good so far, thanks very much for putting the effort into writing a tutorial! I like that it's more of a workflow tutorial rather than a step by step. I think I benefited the most from the confidence boost I got from you repeatedly saying how easy and fun it is.

Keep it up and good luck!


02 February 2005, 06:34 AM
very good so far :)
Did you use Silo for the whole thing or did you switch over to wings for some bits?

I think some workflow videos would be a great compliment to this tutorial.

02 February 2005, 07:13 AM
Thanks you so much for your comments! I alredy thought that I screwed up badly with this one!

@gelfie: What do you think about the idea that I talk about the process and then post a link, where you can download a .mov file, where you'll see the process in a time-lapse? I'm personally not such a big fan of step by step tutorials, since it takes you a long time to read and do it and you constrain yourself too much to what the author of the tutorial did. I think a video tutorial would also be nice to see how I lay down the first major loops - So if you're unsure about things like that, you can just watch the vid as often as you like and you should be ready to go!

@pencil: I ask you the same question! What do you think about a "Text, video, text video,..." Tutorial?

Lachrymolonaut: Thanks a lot! :) Well it actually is an easy process if you've done it a few times, like driving a car! Nothing to worry about. Like drawing, modeling is constant problem finding and solving, in my opinion.

@scorpion: Both! Silo mostly to block out the geometry and I switched to Wings later on for details, for modeling the ear, etc. I'm still constantly switching between these apps, but didn't want to confuse a beginner with always posting shots from different packages.

And again: Thanks a lot for your critique! I really try to tell as much about my modeling process as possible, to help beginners or people who wanna change their workflow solving the problems I had - Modeling is incredibly great and really relaxing (like puzzling), but you have to understand a few things about the technique you choose. I try to write down everything I know about it in a form that everyone understands.

Thanks, guys! :)

02 February 2005, 12:02 PM
nice explanation thomas, you nailed the why and hows. will make it much easyer for the beginners.

aldo what as been sayd, it would be best to put more images in there, caus a lot of people wont understand how you pulled the mouth of etc.. images with short comments will also invite more people to read the whole thing, also refer to sections you have allready written at some images.

you have to motivate the reader.. i didnt read half do, but that maybe because i allready know it, but i also dont thing someone would read it all this way. maybe put some more example images along with your theorie.

like kids we love to look at pictures more than text, and if the picture intrugue (wrong spelling)us, than we also wil read the text that goes with it faster.

but you have done a good job, but make it a little more reader friendly, for the not so readerish people :)

03 March 2005, 07:10 PM
from what I read, there is ALOT of useful info you gave, and people definatly should take the time to read it :)

A timelapse would be incredible :) but I think even your explanation and such was fine :)

great great job, will be watching this :D

03 March 2005, 08:47 PM
Ok im finally got round to reading it all. I think you covered everything there is about the modeling process.:)

@pencil: I ask you the same question! What do you think about a "Text, video, text video,..." Tutorial?

I think thats a great idea. You could probably refine down alot of the stuff you wrote in those 7 steps that way. I would go for some animated gifs or flash movies to keep the file size down. And maybe have some anotations over the images/video.

The rest of it (although long) is very good.:thumbsup:

03 March 2005, 06:04 PM
I'd really enjoy reading this and then see your amazing modeling. The time-lapse idea is great and I cant wait to see it!

I dont use Maya(I use 3ds), but it was really helpful and I started on a character right away and did pretty well I think! :D

Do you only make the head of all your characters or do you continue with the body? Couse I havent seen any bodys on any of them. :p
Are you going to make the body of Nerrick?

Thanks alot for this tutorial! Stay fine

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