View Full Version : TUTORIAL - lowpoligon face modeling

10 October 2003, 11:29 AM
download this Tutorial in PDF HERE (


Why did I decide to do this tutorial? Good question! Still trying to answer it to my self. As a modeler I think I have little secrets, like little tricks to do certain stuff quicker or better than other people. And this is one of them... I kind of fell like I'm giving away a personal trick or secret by doing this... but hey... I gotta try harder, right? Can’t just live under a shadow of one trick...
While discussing with other game artists, I got the general idea that the method I use, isn’t used much. I think it’s in fact, very rare to find any one who uses the same method I do. So, I decided to share. Don’t know why, maybe I’ve been seeing to much teletubies… well what you know… Microsoft Word does note recognize “teletubies” Let me try “money” Yep, it recognizes money.

Lots of people do faces for their models. But there just isn’t enough face modeling tutorials. Once, showing my method to a friend of mine, I did one face, from scratch, while talking to him, in about half an hour or less. He was quite surprised and said “I never thought of that!” and then “but it’s very cool how fast you
did it”. So, the trick is: instead of planting vertexes around, or dividing edges from a box, or moving vertexes around on a patch... I use a different thing: SPLINES. Yes, splines. Don't go away just now. I've taken away all the hard bits in this process. Lots of people
don't like to work with splines, because they can't "see it" in 3d. Others never get surface tools to work because of the tolerance thingies. And others simply don't like besier handles. Well, I assure you, this process is 100% problem free. Well maybe 99%. It’s not newbie proof ;)

Stuff Needed

To start, we will need a reference, maybe a drawing, or a photo, whatever you like. As long as it's a face, in front view.
"OH no, front view?" we will get to that.
So, pick it up, and look at it. Look. A lot... more...........
A good artist, has I've been told (since I don't call my self a good artist) has a ratio of 75% observation - 20% working - 5% cleaning up mistakes. (Eh eh eh, so much for "good artist"!)
So that's what you gotta do, when you want to do something right. Just pick up a drawing or photo and just look at it. Now try to visualize it in 3d. Desiccate it into edges. See what is important about it, and so you will be able to work a lot faster. Trust me on this.

Setting up

A lot of people hate spline modeling and surface tools, because even though they get a good spline model, when they go into surface tools, it just goes bezerk. A lot of this is because the vertexes aren't fused together or welded. You may not want to weld them, nor fuse them, but there's still a way to get them in the same position. Snapping. Oh yeah... snap rockz. So... right click the snap icon and go to “Snaps” and select vertex.

Be sure to deselect every thing else, since you won't need them. Also, on the Options, deselect the "use axis constrains".

Allrighty then. Now your cursor will snap to previously placed vertexes, making sure they fit nice and together. Not only when you create lines, but also when you move them.

Why do it in front view

"OH no, front view?” A lot of people believe that staring out with the profile is better because the profile has a lot more detailed than the side of the face. This is... obviously (I hope) true. So why don't we do it on the left or right view? Simple. The front view doesn't have a very detailed shape. But it has a lot of content; eyes, mouth, nose, cheeks. Oh sure, they’re also there on a side view... half of them. In fact, only half of each one, and in wrong sizes... So to avoid size mistakes, it’s better if we do them in the
view where they look about as big or as long as they really are; front view. Also, the detail concentration is going to be around the face contents. On the side of the face, there won't be that much detail. And in fact... there's not much detail needed on a cheek.

Why with splines

Ok, now why the hell with splines? They’re simply better. Instead of just placing orphan vertexes on the drawing and then creating the polygons from scratch (time consuming), why not place the vertexes, yes, on the drawing, as you would normally do, on a 2d plane, and then be just a click away from polygon creation?
It will happen, it is true, it is written by be! (I just love Pastor Richards)
So, after you have a "spline mesh", that you do just by placing vertexes, all that you have to do, is a apply surface tools to it, and voilá! It’s a mesh!

10 October 2003, 11:31 AM

So... roll up you sleeves, and let's get to it. Pick up you photo or drawing, and place it in the background. I usually do it on a plane, which I set up with the pixel size of the image (this case,
256x512). I usually tint the image and make it darker, so it won’t blend with the white splines.

Now, all you have to do is go to Create>Shapes and click on “line”. Start out by doing a vertical line in the middle of the face. You can do this easily just by pressing shift before you click on the other vertex. Ok, so now, keep adding vertexes along the side of the face, just like if it was a low polygon model. It’s that simple. Don’t make smooth vertexes. We don’t want besier handles remember? You have to make only corner vertexes. This will save you from trouble latter on. Once you got the basic outline, you will notice that you have no detail for the faces profile, where the forehead, nose, lips and chin are. There fore, you will have to refine that hole segment with additional vertexes. To do this, go to the modify panel and activate vertex sub-object. There, click refine. With the refine option active, just click on the vertical segment where you think you will need vertexes.

Once your all done, you will start by doing the content; the eyes, the mouth and so on, and so on. One thought about the surface tools. Surface tools will only fill areas limited by a maximum of 4 segments. I always like to make 3 segment areas. Pretty much like a triangulated polygon. So when your doing your contents, make sure you don’t leave any hole in the spline mesh. A hole would be an area limited by 5 segments or more.
Ok, click “create line”, to start a different spline inside the original spline. Fell free to make the contents separate. We will connect them latter. Has the snap tool come in handy already? It’s handy, isn’t it? It will be a lot more.

Ok, now you’re done, right? Got all the contents? Cool.
To connect them together, just “create lines”. If you didn’t have snap tools active, you would see a different cursor when creating a line from an already placed vertex. Since snap is on, all you will see as a light blue cross. This guarantees that you will have the new vertex right in the same place as the other one that was there. Once you’re done, just exit the sub object mode, and make a reference of it, to the side.

10 October 2003, 11:34 AM
Reference it

Why a reference? Why not just apply the surface tools on the spline and presto! Well, I’ve done a lot of faces using this method, and I still forget stuff. Like, some of the faces are more that 4 sides areas… or some vertexes where badly positioned. Since I’m probably going to have to correct little bits in the model, I like to do it on the original one, so I don’t have to go back and forth on the modifier stack. I know I can preview the result. But it’s just a bit confusing to be working with to different things overlaying.
So, reference it, and apply surface tools to the reference.

Surface tools

Ok, now, on surface tools, and depending on the scale you using, just set the tolerance to the value that shows more of the model.
Also, put the Steps down to ZERO (on the Patch topology). This is important. otherwise you'd get extra detail, not wanted.
If you don’t se any thing, try flipping the normals. You may get a huge change just by changing one vertex, because that may represent a change on the orientation of the spline, and therefore, changing the normals. So be keen to this. A slight change on the original may make a BIG difference on the reference. Usually solved with minor adjustments on the surface tools modifier settings.
Ok, now, once your spline mesh is filled with happy polygons, all you have to do is collapse it to an editable mesh. “Oh no, editable mesh?” Yes yes, I know lots of you like editable poly. But has for me, and I like my polygons nice and counted, I prefer using editable mesh, since it gives me an accurate polygon count. I believe that Editable polygon was actually created for high polygon modeling. I’m talking, of course, aiming to a mesh smooth modification after wards.
Enough mambo jambo. Is it done already? Good. Let’s move it on the Y-axis

Moving in Y-axis

Ok, go back to the snap setting and select the “use axis constrains”. This will make the vertex not snap to the absolute position of another vertex, but to the same coordinate on the currently used axis. This is good for vertexes that are on the same plane.
Here comes the fun part, in case you didn’t have fun before. Here you start applying depth to your model. It’s easy. Just click on the Y-axis, and move around! You can also go into soft selections to get a bigger amount of vertexes moving.

I usually do this for the face side. So I can get a lot of vertexes out of my way right there. Get a basic shape out of it, and now, go to the polygon surface properties, and clear all the smoothing groups. Oh yeah, nice and flat! You should always model in flat view. It’s just more honest! You can really see what light will do to your model, and you can already see what set of faces will need to have the same smoothing group.

Make sure you press “Q” to have that little polygon counter on the corner of the viewport (this would be on the max 4 key set).
But of great importance, is light!

10 October 2003, 11:34 AM
Adding lights and materials

There’s this gray that I like… it’s a warm gray. And it makes my model “look so good”. Still I like to have black wire frame on the model. So how to do it? Easy. Make black the color of your mesh, and than create a warm gray material on the material editor. Apply it to you model and than you will have a gray shaded, black wire frame model! (Yeah, I’m losing it…)

Ooooook, now get some lights. Make a top left yellowish light, and a bottom right bluish light. Place them a bit to the front of the model, and set their intensity to something like… 0.7. Is cool. Can you see the changes already? Look nice, doesn’t it?

10 October 2003, 11:35 AM
Choosing point of view

In order to progress with your model, you will need to choose a good viewpoint, to make sure it looks good. Usually perspective views from below, or from top are good. Here are some of the ones I like the most

apply the simetry modifier (Max 5) and just go down in the modifier stack to editable mesh, and then click the preview result button.

if you’r not usign Max 5, just make a mirrored instance of your model

Now it’s a matter of just keep moving the vertexes into their correct Y position. You know that you don’t have to move them in any other plane, because you already did so, when you were doing the spline mesh.

Mesh smoothing it (if you want to)

If you want, you can mesh smooth your model. Just go into relax, and “de-relax” your model. Make it a bit rough. And then, just apply mesh smooth to it! Tune it up and you have your self a fine high detailed mesh. As you would imagine, this is as far as I go in this subject. I’m not going to deep in this, since it’s not the main focus of this tutorial.


Hope y’all liked it. Forgive the times when I “lose it”. I like to have fun while I right, so that’s why I put some jokes while I do it!

Don’t be shy. Try out the tutorial, and then, post you work time and result here!

Thanks for reading this far.

And this far too

And if you can read this, you don't need glasses, but you do need to step away from the screen

Kazuya Mochu

10 October 2003, 04:03 PM
Let me be the first who can congratulate for this awesome efford. It will help loads of people, including me. 5 Stars!

10 October 2003, 04:24 PM
nice tutorial man :thumbsup:

10 October 2003, 02:18 AM
Good work!

10 October 2003, 03:37 AM
wow, this is awesome!! :D :beer:

10 October 2003, 03:55 AM


10 October 2003, 03:44 PM
Thanks guys, this is very welcome.

Hope it has been of help.

I've edited small parts of the tutorial, special on thing I forgot to metion. the suface tools steps have to be zero. I fixed it. Hope you guys figure it out by your selves.

so, Pretty soon, like... latter today, I'll be posting a PDF file of the tutorial. so you don't have to be online to see it.

Thanks again, much aprecciated.

Kazuya Mochu

10 October 2003, 12:32 AM
oh i hope the pdf version comes soon. i was working with this tutorial last night, then come back today to find the pics are gone!

the pics do help so.

thanks for tut by the way!


10 October 2003, 12:47 PM
Ok, sorry for the delay, here's the PDF file, for all of thoes that don't see the images.

Click here for the PDF file (

Check it out.

Kazuya Mochu

10 October 2003, 08:53 PM
dead link :hmm:

10 October 2003, 11:00 AM
right click - Save target as

don't know what's wrong. worked fine yesterday :\

Kazuya Mochu

10 October 2003, 06:20 AM
rock, it's working now.

thanks again!! :buttrock:

10 October 2003, 06:13 PM
so, isn't any one posting their resaults? i'm curious to see if you find this faster or easier.

make sure you do!

Kazuya Mochu

10 October 2003, 02:44 PM
portugal portugal portugal:beer:

10 October 2003, 04:54 PM
Já somos uns quantos por cá!

For all of thoes that are not portuguese... all I can say is... Too bad!

Portugal is great!

Portem-se bem!


Kazuya Mochu
(Marco Vale) ;)

10 October 2003, 12:18 PM
Darn. All the links are dead and theimages are gone. Any way this could be hosted on this site? It seems you did a hell of a job.

10 October 2003, 04:45 PM
I don't know... it works for me...

I don't think it has to do with permitions, since other people have seen it... I don't know!

Keep trying.

any way, if you what the pdf, send me a pm. ok?

Kazuya Mochu

01 January 2004, 01:59 PM
nice... but should it be for game modeling? i mean there is tripplets mixed up with 4 point Polys...

01 January 2004, 04:36 PM
Olá Kazuya.

Ótimo tutorial, eu sei como dá trabalho desenvovê-los.

Muitas dicas boas, meus sinceros parabéns! :thumbsup:


Hello Kazuya.

Nice tutorial, I know how hard are to develop those kind of things.

Very nice tips, congratulations! :thumbsup:

01 January 2004, 10:18 AM
@Rider - you're talking about having triangular faces and quad faces mixed in the same models?

that's editable mesh. it's just a matter of unhiding some edges. most game engines unhide all edges by default. come to think about it... never seen one that didn't...

so its really up to you to keep the mesh a triangular faced mesh, or arranging it your self.

Probably Ive confused you by meshsmothing it in the end, but that was just to show it can be done. still, in that situation you should take care of your topology, for better results.


@ PiledotNET - Obrigadão. é sempre bom saber que o esforço é valorizado pelos outros.

um abraço. AXÉ!

Kazuya Mochu

01 January 2004, 04:27 AM
hey Kaz, excellent tutorial. I'm a beginner that just got started on modeling with max and I'd like to post some stuff up with the mad skillz I got from your tutorial. :) But, I seem to be having issues with my renderer...

If someone can help me out... it keeps rendering softly... meaning it seems to be shading with vertex shading instead of rendering a crisp polygons like image13.gif in kaz's tutorial (the render with the face in 3 different angles).

This is what I'm getting:

Link (

I know this may be a stupid question. :) Thanks!

01 January 2004, 08:29 AM
Oops. I figured out what was the problem. It was an issue of my mesh having some edges with auto smoothing. :blush:

Anyway, here is what I got from using your technique!! :)

link (

It's the face of an old-school type robot (with rivets and all a la Big-O or Giant Robot)

I've always dreaded modeling faces since I knew how time consuming it was, but your tutorial made it fun!
Thanks again for your excellent tutorial!

01 January 2004, 03:56 PM
hey Woyman

thanks for posting:thumbsup:

looks good so far. did you find it easy? have you tried any other technics? there are some around. you should take some of them for a spin before you decide wich one is best for you.

any way, the face looks really like the sketches.

doesn't seem like a robot though. ok, maybe tranformers ...

ok, cheers!

Kazuya Mochu

01 January 2004, 06:06 PM
I have tried two other methods actually. One was to get a cylinder and slowly shape out the face (way too time consuming). Another was to use facial topography with profiles, which didn't turn out the accuracy I was looking for.

I think your method is great because you can hash out the face very easily and quickly. Also if someone wants to take it a step further edges or slices can be made from them and use them as references to make splines to make a much more detailed face if preferred.

The kind of face of a robot I'm going for is:

Image (Big - O) (


Image (Giant Robo) (

02 February 2004, 10:26 PM
i really like this tut and the pics really help. I have made a couple of faces that w/ it but could u finish it. In other words, could you show how you attach the face to a head.

02 February 2004, 12:08 AM
Great tutorial man!:applause:
very useful! :)

this is my first post here btw:buttrock:

02 February 2004, 10:44 AM
well... attaching to a head...

generaly you should use primitives to make "primitivel like" shapes, instead of making them from scrach. this being becaus they have a better mesh.

you should place tem both in position
and then try to delete overlaping faces, and adding necessary vertexes (by dividing edges) on the head's edge, that correspond to the face's edge. then just atach them and optimize as you can.

the thing I like about this method is that you can easily put splines over a photo without covering it, like a poligon.
and you can even let the artist make the texture first and them model over it.

thanks again every one. :thumbsup:

Kazuya Mochu

03 March 2004, 02:08 PM
Olá. Ainda sou novato nestas andaças (Tenho dois ou três dias disto) vi o teu tuturial e pareceu-me fácil de executar, mas estou com um problema (que deve ser algo básico ...) não consigo criar splines fechados e consequentemente não posso aplicar superficies no rosto ... tipo se fizer um triângulo isolado ele pergunta-me "Close spline?" digo que sim ... e nesse caso já consigo aplicar a superficie ... mas se estiver a ligar triângulos já não dá para aplicar as superficies (Uso o snap to vertex tal como dizes) Não sei se me fiz entender muito bem ... mas se me puderes dar uma ajudinha .. é que começar não é fácil ... =)

03 March 2004, 02:13 PM
Sorry because my last message was not in english ... so most of you cant read but it was kind of difficult to express my self.

03 March 2004, 11:30 AM
So, basically, you can close the spline. but the point is, you will ADD other lines to it. once you close or create an opened spline, just right click on it, chose Converto To > editable Spline. then go to the command pannel, click the modify pannel, and look for a button that sais: crate line. this will enable you to keep adding segments to you spline.

Basycally you will have ONE spline, or shape, made out of sereval splines.

snap can be used normaly.

Kazuya Mochu

p.s. Dá-lhe duro!

03 March 2004, 12:14 AM
I forget how to put a texture onto a plane.. If someone could explain this simple proccess hopefully I could try it. Hehe, I'm very new still, I just browse, model once in awhile.

03 March 2004, 03:34 PM
First you make your plane, and texture. then you go to the material editor (press M), and load a texture into your difuse map slot. then press the "Show texture in viewport" button.

then just click and drag you material to your plane. if every thing goes normal, the texture show be visible. if not, go to modifiy, and aply a uvw map modifier. that should do the trick!

take care

Kazuya Mochu

03 March 2005, 02:26 AM
You have made the zudo dance! Good Job! I've been searching and searching for a spline tutorial, I have tried lots of techniques but I didn't feel comfortable with them, even though I saw the comet cartoon tutorial, when ever I tried to surface it it got "bad" so I couldn't make the face I wanted to, thankyou very much, splines are wonderful! Me thinks you should write a book... "crash course to max" or something, something full of wonderbaug tutorials that allow you to get the concept quickly and easy, like this one...

04 April 2005, 04:13 AM
Aye, gimmie a hand, or some reason, it keeps on making like parts of the faces interior patches and some exterior, anyway to make it one sided?

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