LP Character progress: Cutter from Elfquest

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Old 12 December 2003   #1
LP Character progress: Cutter from Elfquest

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.

Last edited by AndersEgleus : 10 October 2004 at 09:08 PM.
Old 12 December 2003   #2
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:

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Old 12 December 2003   #3
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.
Old 12 December 2003   #4
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

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.
TOOLS: Maya, Photoshop, Wacom tablet, Digi.Cam., Internet

Modeling advice article for games modeling
What makes game art interresting?

Last edited by spm : 12 December 2003 at 10:51 PM.
Old 12 December 2003   #5
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.
Old 12 December 2003   #6
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
TOOLS: Maya, Photoshop, Wacom tablet, Digi.Cam., Internet

Modeling advice article for games modeling
What makes game art interresting?
Old 12 December 2003   #7
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!
It's got to be more than a memory, or is life just a fantasy and a piss in the sand?
Old 12 December 2003   #8
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.
Old 12 December 2003   #9
New Update

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?

Last edited by AndersEgleus : 10 October 2004 at 09:09 PM.
Old 12 December 2003   #10
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.
TOOLS: Maya, Photoshop, Wacom tablet, Digi.Cam., Internet

Modeling advice article for games modeling
What makes game art interresting?
Old 12 December 2003   #11
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.
Old 12 December 2003   #12
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.
TOOLS: Maya, Photoshop, Wacom tablet, Digi.Cam., Internet

Modeling advice article for games modeling
What makes game art interresting?

Last edited by spm : 12 December 2003 at 10:30 AM.
Old 01 January 2004   #13
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.

Last edited by AndersEgleus : 10 October 2004 at 09:10 PM.
Old 01 January 2004   #14
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.

Last edited by AndersEgleus : 10 October 2004 at 09:11 PM.
Old 01 January 2004   #15
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.
Apply me.
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