Artd3472 17364: Character Design For Animation Syllabus Semester Offered: Fall 2015 6pm-9: 30pm room 301 Ryder Instructor

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ARTD3472 17364:

Character Design For Animation

Semester Offered: Fall 2015 6pm-9:30pm room 301 Ryder

Instructor : Jason Wiser
Description of Subject:

This course explores realistic and stylized character design using both 2D and 3D media to examine issues of weight, contrast, and appeal.

Learning Objectives:

This course is designed to allow students to create a portfolio of character art in multiple styles and take their strongest designs from 2D to 3D Digital Models and Clay. Students will develop a mastery of character design through the creation of weekly exercises and two month-long projects. The course will be delivered in the form of studio projects, individual and class critiques, lectures, discussions, workshops and readings.

Course Length: 14 weeks (13 meetings and finals)

Course Hours (in class): 3 hours 35 minutes per week

Homework Hours: 10 hours minimum per week to pass.

Course Prerequisites: ARTD 4530

Topical Outline of Course Content: Creative thinking, problem solving, and research.

Teaching Methods: Studio
Student Learning Outcomes and Assessment:

  • Explore a wide range of character concepting topics including human and animal anatomy, clothing, and design for meaning and appeal.

  • Develop 2D Digital Painting techniques to explore silhouette, light, color, and focus.

  • Practice sculpting techniques in clay and digital modeling software to explore issues of volume, proportion, and detail in 3D.

  • Practice 3D surfacing techniques to prepare digital models for film and game media.

  • Keep up with in-depth understanding of world standards, as demonstrated by research and screening of topic similar material.

  • Learn to drive oneself above expectations, as evidenced by time management, understanding of Instructors feedback, and significant improvement in quality and quantity of art output.

Recommended Textbooks/References:

Digital Sculpting with Mudbox by Mike de la Flor and Bridgette Mongeon

Creating Lifelike Figures in Polymer Clay by Katherine Dewey
Materials and Tools Required: Drawing sketchbook and pencils, Maquette sculpting tools (see supplies list), Waccom tablet or cintiq, portable hard drive.
Programs Utilized: 2D Painting and 3D Modeling. You must either own Autodek Maya, Mudbox, and Adobe Photoshop or expect to be at school to work 3-5 days a week.

Methods of Student Grading: Your progress will be monitored weekly in class and daily online. You will be graded upon the completion of specified weekly and monthly milestones.
Grades Are Based On:

30% Class participation and attendance.

15% Weekly Character Designs

15% 2D Digital Painting Projects

15% 3D Clay and Mudbox Sculpting Projects

15% 3D Digital Modeling Projects

10% Sketchbook
Grading System (according to University Policies, Office of the Provost, September 2002):

A 100-90, B 89-80, C 79-70, D 69-60, F <59. Incomplete grades will not be given unless there are documented medical or family reasons. Failure to complete assignments for any other reason will result in a drop in your final grade.
Attendance Policy: Each meeting of a class is considered a session. Attendance is taken at the beginning of each class session.

  • Students arriving after the 1:30pm start time for any class session are considered tardy. Three tardies equals one unexcused absence.

  • Students who do not return to class after break or who leave early without instructor permission may be counted absent.

  • Missing a class session will result in the reduction of the final grade.

  • Three unexcused absences equal failure in the course.

  • An absence may be excused if there is a medical reason, family emergency or extenuating circumstances beyond the student’s control. The final determination of whether an absence will be excused is left to the discretion of the student's instructor.

Academic Honesty (Plagiarism): Plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses that erode the academic environment. The University condones no form of plagiarism—defined as the use of another’s words, ideas, visual or verbal material as one’s own without proper permission or citation. Students should make sure they have a clear understanding of this important issue and how it applies to both Liberal Arts and studio classes.

Students who violate the standards of academic honesty face serious disciplinary consequences, including letters documenting the incident in their permanent record, immediate course failure and/or dismissal from the University.

Deletion/Destruction of Student Work: The deletion or destruction of digital files, another student’s artwork or University property is considered a serious offense. All students must refrain from altering work that does not belong to them, regardless of the date the piece was created or location. Students who violate this policy face serious disciplinary consequences.
Disability Accommodation: Northeastern University strives to provide academic accommodations to students with documented disabilities.  Accommodations are approved by the Disability Resource Center (20 Dodge Hall;  Students need to register with the DRC and bring their instructors a letter from that office stating approved accommodations.  If you will be requesting accommodations in this class, please let me know as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Character Design for Animation WEEKLY BREAKDOWN
WEEK 1: Tuesday, Sept 15: Introduction to the course and projects. Character Design principles.

Character Designs #1: Heroic Figures. Digital Painting #1: Shapes and Brushes
[Sept 22: Class Postponed for Yom Kippur—Make-up Saturday Sept 26]
WEEK 2: Saturday, Sept 19 or 26: Character Designs #2: High-Contrast Monsters/Villains.

The Skeleton Exercise. Digital Painting #2: Light and Color

WEEK 3: Tuesday, Sept 29: Character Designs #3: Historical Character Twist.

Digital Painting #3: Creating Focus: Areas of Detail, Contrast, and Edge Types
WEEK 4: Tuesday, Oct 6: Character Designs #4: Animal Professionals.

Digital Painting #4: Specularity For Varied Material Surfaces.

WEEK 5: Tuesday, Oct 13: Character Designs #5: Family of Interest.

3D Character Modeling #1: Basic Bipedal Form

WEEK 6: Tuesday, Oct 20: Character Designs #6: Kids Media.

3D Character Modeling #2: Cutting Detail, clothes and hair

WEEK 7: Tuesday, Oct 27: Character Designs #7: Architecture as Character #1: Fantasy

3D Character Modeling #3: Introduction to Surfacing: unwrapping. Midterm Quiz: Halloween!
WEEK 8: Tuesday, Nov 3: Character Designs #8: Working in Other Styles #1

3D Modeling #4: Multi-material Surfacing (specular and bump), Rigging, and Skinning topics
WEEK 9: Tuesday, Nov 10: Character Designs #9: CHOICE WEEK:

Architecture as Character #2: Science Fiction OR Working in Other Styles #2

3D Modeling #5: Rigging and Skinning #2
WEEK 10: Tuesday, Nov 17: Character Designs #10: Symbiosis.

Sculpting #1: Introduction to Mudbox High Definition Modeling and Final Projects.

WEEK 11: Tuesday, Nov 24: Clay and Sculpting #2: Mudbox texturing and surfacing.

Mudbox Topics #2: building structure and creating accurate proportions from reference

[Wednesday Nov 25- Sunday Nov 29: School Closed for Thanksgiving Holiday]
WEEK 12: Tuesday, Dec 1: Sculpting #3: Mudbox exporting: Normal and Displacement Maps

Final Character Design Quiz: Vulnerability vs Power
WEEK 13: Tuesday, Dec 8: Initial Critique Of All Projects. Final Revisions due in two weeks.

FINALS WEEK 14: Tuesday, Dec 15: Final Exam day: REVISED PRESENTATIONS.

Final Department Critique of Revised Presentations.

Schedule subject to change. Please coordinate with instructor if absent.

Ryder hall and Room 301 will be open throughout the day and is generally where the department offers available lab hours, typically until 11pm each night, except for Fridays and Saturdays.

Character Design for Animation ASSIGNMENTS

Weeks 1-10: Weekly Character Design topic exercises.

Weeks 1-4: Digital Painting topics

Weeks 5-7: 3D Digital Modeling and Surfacing Topics

Weeks 8-10: 3D Clay and Mudbox Sculpture topics

Weeks 11-12: Surfacing and Rigging

Weeks 13-14: Revise projects to present at final meeting, Finals week.
FINAL PROJECTS: Collection of concept paintings, 3D Maya Character and 3D Mudbox Character.
HOMEWORKS: From weeks 1-12 you will have three assignments each week: Life Drawing, Character Design, and a rendering exercise (2D Painting, 3D Sculpting, or 3d Modeling). Post your progress to your Tumblr blog multiple times a week! Week 13, Reading week, and Finals week will be time to revise all work for you final presentation.

Multiple drafts (at least ten) to produce a team of five related characters on a provided theme for the first twelve weeks. These will be critiqued in class for quality and improvement, but the grade will be for quantity, as these skills require exceptional amounts of drafting to achieve quality:


Four weeks of painting exercises including silhouettes and color characters showing light, clear color choice, areas of focus, and varied materials.


Weekly real clay heads and Mudbox sketches from Maya templates.


A full 3D character from concept work, surfaced with at least painted diffuse color and specular maps, rigged, skinned, and posed.


5. DAILY-ISH PRODUCTION BLOG: Maintain a blog of your weekly progress this term, and to follow the teacher’s Course Blog. Include your concept paintings, 3D progress, and weekly sketchbook.
6. DAILY-ISH LIFE DRAWING SKETCHBOOK: Please get a sketchbook dedicated to this course. Draw 20 pages of Figures from Life in 20 days: 1 page a day, at least two figures per page (about 20 minutes/day): on the train, at home, on campus, etc. Scan and post to your Tumblr account for this class, and bring the sketchbook to class.
7. ATTEND NETWORKING EVENT: Go to at least one of these events this term and submit typed write-up: (Animatic Boston recommended!)

Character Design for Animation COURSE SUPPLIES / RESOURCES:


Digital Sculpting with Mudbox by Mike de la Flor and Bridgette Mongeon

Creating Lifelike Figures in Polymer Clay by Katherine Dewey

NOTE: Please have at least on of these books ready for Week #2: They are not only only our sculpting text for the second month, it is our anatomy text for the first month.

Anatomy Pages in Katherine Dewey’s text:

p12: Full Body p21: Head and Face p26: Facial Angle

p47 &64: Torso Front Muscles in Detail p49 & 64: Torso Back Muscles in Detail

p71: Leg Muscles in Detail p87: Arm Muscles in Detail


  • WACCOM TABLET AND PEN: (bamboo is the cheapest): the first month of this course focuses on character painting, and we will continue to paint throughout the term. Waccom tablets are industry standard tools, important to learn. Our classroom has two Cintiqs (draw directly on the screen) and a few Bamboo tablets I will bring to class, but you should bring your own tablet to class each week.

  • CLAY SCULPTING: Super Sculpey -- about $10/lb. Get one 1lb

  • MAYA and MUDBOX CHARACTER SCULPTING: We will be using rapid-modeling and precision unwrapping techniques for this course, to be supplied by the teacher.

CHARACTER DESIGN: Articles by Aaron Diaz: (1) (2)

FASHION: A collection of fashion sites. Go every day and get inspired!


  • Top Industry Primer on Digital Painting:

  • Essay on use of color:

  • Great 50:

  • Collection of useful Tutorials and Lessons:

  • “J's Online Drawing Lessons”: messy but fascinating collection of tutorials on drawing, from books and other resources

  • Great explanation of histograms:

  • Good tutorials for character concepting:

  • Hands:

  • Painting Clouds: Trees: Rocks:


  • Aaron Blaise Photoshop textures:

  • Modeling/texturing buildings:

Character Design for Animation WEEK 1 TUMBLR BLOG

You are required to submit homework each week via your Tumblr blog, due each Monday 10pm. Posts must include: (1) text (your name and a description) AND (2) either images or video, depending on the assignment. Please save images as 72ppi JPEGs before uploading. You are encouraged to post drafts earlier, and often!

Please read the other blogs in your class each week, and offer constructive responses!
If you already have a Tumblr account from a previous class, please use it here, but don’t use your personal Tumblr account--you are creating a professional record of your work.

(for more tips, see

1. CREATE A TUMBLR ACCOUNT AND A BLOG: Go to and create a new account with your preferred personal email (not a school email, so you can keep using it after graduation). If you do not yet have a non-school email, sign up first with
2. SETTINGS: Confirm your account with the email they send you, then log into your new Tumblr account and make the following changes to your settings:


  • On your main page, in the right-side menu, choose "Following."

  • Follow the teacher blog “Darmatage.” Find the "Staff" listing and hit [Unfollow].

  • Share your Tumblr handle with your classmates and follow each other.

b. REMOVE RANDOM POSTS (option may take time to be available on your account):

  • Hit the "Settings" gear and in the left-side menu choose "Dashboard."

  • Uncheck "Add Explore posts to my Dashboard ("You'll see posts from popular blogs that you don't follow.)". Hit [Save].


  • Hit the "Settings" gear and on the left-side menu choose the bottom blog option.

  • At "Replies" check on both "Allow replies from people you follow." and "Allow replies from people following you for more than two weeks." Hit [Save].


  • Create a square image of yourself, 256x256, 72ppi.

  • Hit the "Settings" gear and on the left-side menu choose the bottom blog option.

  • At the top, hit [Change Avatar] and choose your square image.

  • To change your name from "Untitled", Click "Customize" in the theme section. Change the title in the Title field on the left.


  • Hit the "Settings" gear and on the left-side menu choose the bottom blog option.

  • Click "Customize" in the theme section, and choose a simple theme that includes dates. I recommend "Clean Read by Sparo," "Inkhorn," "Vacant," etc.


  • Back in the Dashboard, choose a text post (the most robust—you can still include images or video) and post your initial story ideas!

Character Design for Animation PHOTOSHOP KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS

Here is a good introduction to keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop.

NOTE: Hover over any button in Photoshop to see the keyboard shortcut.
Create a New file (will size to clipboard content): [ Ctrl ]+[ n ]

Open an existing file: [ Ctrl ]+[ o ]

Save a file as a .PSD: [ Ctrl ]+[ s ]

Save a file as another type : [ Ctrl ]+[ Shift ]+[ s ]

Select All: [ Ctrl ]+[ a ]

Copy: [ Ctrl ]+[ c ]

Paste: [ Ctrl ]+[ v ]

Copy-Move (with no marquee selection, will duplicate entire layer): [ Alt ]+LeftClick/drag

Undo: step back multiple changes: [ Ctrl ] + [ z ]

Redo: step forward multiple changes: [ Ctrl ]+[ Alt ]+[ z ]
Paint Brush: [ b ]

Eraser: [ e ]

Decrease Brush or Eraser size: [ [ ]

Increase Brush or Eraser size: [ ] ]

Decrease Brush Softness 25%: [ Shift ] + [ [ ]

Increase Brush Softness 25%: [ Shift ] + [ ] ]

Tool Opacity (increments of 10% opacity): top numbers between [ 1 ] - [ 0 ]
Free Transform (selection or layer): [ Ctrl ]+[ t ]

Move tool: [ v ]

Marquee Selection tools: [ m ]

Lasso Selection tools: [ l ]

Magic Wand: [ w ]

Select the shape of layer content: [ Ctrl ]+LeftClick on a layer icon

Paint Bucket and Gradient tools: [ g ]

Clone tool (and hold down [ alt ] to choose target): [ s ]

Switch colors between background and foreground: [ x ]

Zoom tool: [ Z ]

Hand tool (explore zoomed-in area): [ H ]

Fit on Screen (show extents): [ Ctrl ]+[ 0 ] (zero)
Adjust an anchor point on a vector line: [ Ctrl ]+LeftClick

Add or delete a anchor point: RightClick on vector line

Hide/Show Palettes: [ tab ]

Rotate the Screen: [r]

View all keyboard command shortcuts: [ Ctrl ] + [ Alt ] + [ Shift ] + [ k ]

See also:

Character Design for Animation MAYA REVIEW
Body Modeling: Head Modeling:

Unwrapping: Rigging:

SHELVES: Near top: Polygons to create primitive geo, Rendering for lights, Deformers for Bend, Twist, etc.

CHANNEL BOX: Right: set Transforms, Inputs, Name, Deformer values. Can switch to Attribute Editor.

LAYERS: Bottom of Channel Box, create new layers, RightClick to Add Selected Objects.

TRANSFORMS: Change objects or components: [Q] = select, [W] = move, [E] = rotate, [R] = scale

[Shift] = hold to add to a selection, [Cmd] = hold to remove from a selection.

Display Modes: [4] = Wireframe , [5] = Surface, [6] = Textures, [7] = Lighting

COMPONENT MODES: RightClick selected object, choose Vertex, Face, or Edge. Exit component: RightClick/ Object Mode. DoubleClick an Edge to select its loop. Select face, [Shift]+DoubleClick neighbor to select face ring. [Shift]+[>] = grow component selection, [Shift]+[>] = shrink selection.

Views: Tap [Space] to toggle from four views to one, hold [space] for main menus.

[Shift]+RightClick = context tools. [Cmd]+RightClick = Component Mode Conversion

Render in Perspective view, work in Ortographic views (right side, top, front).

View Menus: View/Camera Settings, Camera Attribute Editor: Background. Shading/Xray, Show/Grid.

Delete: delete key to remove selected faces. Hit [Cmd]+[Backspace] to remove edges but keep faces.

Split Polygon Tool: most reliable cut tool, hidden here: Object Mode, [Shift]+RightClick, move left for “Split,” right for “Split Polygon Tool.” End each cut by hitting [W], or [Y] to repeat the tool.

[Cmd]+[d] = simple duplicate. Edit/Duplicate Special to set instance and -1 scale for a mirror.
MODULES: In upper right-corner choose module. For modeling, choose Polygons

Menus: At top, changes per module. Open and hit top dotted line to break off. Polygons:

Edit Mesh for “micro” modeling tools ([Y] to end/repeat) and functions ([G] to end/repeat):

  • Extrude: select 1 or more faces and tap to create new geometry. Pull out directly or use Thickness/Offset settings. Select 1 or more edges to pull out a face.

  • Insert Edge Loop: Click to add a tessellation line around that area of the geometry.

  • Connect: Select 2 or more parallel lines or adjacent faces and hit for a new perpendicular line.

  • Bridge: select edges on sides of a gap and hit to create polys them. OptionBox for tessellation.

  • Bevel: select 1 or more edges, hit to split into doubled edges. Open OptionBox for split distance.

  • Chamfer Vertex: split vertices along their terminal edges. Use to cut a circle into a square.

  • Merge: hold [v] to snap a vertex to neighbor, select around and hit Merge to become 1 vertex.

  • Collapse: select 1 or more edges and hit to collapse into vertices.

Mesh for “macro” modeling tools:

  • Create Poly = Draw a 2d form for extrusion into a volume .

  • Combine = Select two forms to attach into one form. New pivot point will be at (0/0/0).

  • Extract = Select faces to detach from a form. After Extracting, deselect before transforming.

  • Fill Hole = select a hole by doubleClicking an edge and hit to fill.


  • Soften Edge = hit on one or more edges for light to move smoothly between adjacent faces.

  • Harden Edge = hit on one or more edges to form a hard line between make adjacent faces.

  • Reverse = select face and flip the normal

  • Conform =select around all faces to make all normal face the same direction

CLEAN UP: Always Edit/Delete By Type/ History & Modify/Freeze Transforms before saving your work.

PIVOT CHANGING: Modify/Center Pivot. Hold down [d] to move the pivot by hand.

PARENTING: [p] = parent selected objects to the last selected. [Shift]+[p] = break parenting.


Window/RenderingEditor/Hypershade to open material editor. Primarily used to apply textures to objects, can also be used for node-based programming

  • Use Lambert for Reference images and Blinn for object textures (includes specularity, connect to Specular Color channel). For opacity work to render in Mental Ray, include it as an empty background in the color PNG (and may need Lambert for ground Gradient).

  • DoubleClick new material to view properties in Attribute Editor. Click checker-square to add File node, then on folder icon to add bitmap (PNG/JPG).

  • NOTE: Maya only stores a pointer to bitmap; bring the bitmap file in a subfolder when moving a Maya file’s project folder. May still need to re-Set the Project and reconnect a bitmap by hand.

Setting the Project: File/Set Project to choose the project folder.
Menu Create UVs/Planar Map option box: choose projection axis based on selected faces: Z = front, X = side, Y = top or bottom. Hit [Apply] and hit red “T” to access special UV move/ rotate/scale. See transforms available in UV Texture Editor (bottom UVs default reversed: scale UVs “into” itself).
Window/UV Texture Editor to open the 2D “UVW” interface for any selected object. Primarily used for managing location of each surface part on a texture square, can also be used for selecting object parts.

  • Select UVs to move/rotate/scale. Select 1 UV, [Cmd]+RightClick “To Shell” for all attached UVs. Rotate by hand or use quarter-turn buttons on toolbar (circle arrow icons).

  • Select edge to Separate UVs ( scissor icon) or Move & Sew UVs (catty-cornered to scissors).

  • Export UVs to Photoshop: UV Texture Editor Polygons menu/UV Snapshot. Set size (2048x2048) and browse for name/location. Be sure selection is in Object Mode (not a component), hit [OK].

Render The Current Frame: Clapboard icon on Module bar. 3rd icon is Render Settings. In render view, hit Keep Image square to compare renders, or select in view and hit Render Region icon.
"Surfacing" is the work to manage lights and textures to create a specific look and feel for a 3D render. In this class we will use Toon Shading to create a non-CG appearance and to integrate well with 2D VFX.

SUMMARY: Use a 2-Tone Ramp Toon Shader that follows the light angle.


(Use a complex shape to practice: a character or a Create/Polygons/Helix, hit [3] to smooth):

  1. In the Toon shelf select the “Light Angle Two Tone” SHADER (2nd from left). Open the Window/Rendering Editor/Hypershade and middle-mouse drag the new Toon Shader (bright white, labelled “LightAngle”) onto your 3D object.

  2. You must add a LIGHT to see results: From the Render shelf select the Spotlight. Pay attention to intensity so it does not blow out your Shader. Apply a target (select and hit [T] or add an empty node and an aim constraint (0,0,-1)).

  3. Double-click the Toon Shader to view its parameters in the Attribute Editor. In the Shader attributes slide the falloff bar to choose how much of each color will be present, and click on the squares on each side to change the color or on the circles to click on the checkered square and add bitmap/PNG nodes. To get different colors on different parts of your model, you can either:

  1. Unwrap the entire model into the same 0-1 space, paint detailed textures and export both light and dark versions as PNGs to apply to the right and left falloff options (best method!) or

  2. apply a different Toon Shader to each area of the model by selecting the polys and applying (one for skin, one for hair, one for shirt, etc). Not recommended because it means much less rich surfaces than the painted option above.

Character Design for Animation MUDBOX KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS

Here is an introduction to keyboard shortcuts and tools in Mudbox.



  • Tools Properties: Size=[b]+LMB, Strength=[m]+LMB, Mirror=[Shift]+[Alt/Option]+[x] / [y] / [z]

  • Focus=[F], Frame All=[A], Wireframe=[W], Undo [Ctrl/Cmd]+[z] Redo [Shift]+[z]

  • CAMERA: Rotate=[alt/option]+LMB, Pan=[alt/option]+MMB, Zoom=[alt/option]+RMB

  • Add SubD Level=[Shift]+[d], Step up/down SubD levels=[Page Up]/[Page Down]

  • Toggle Smooth=[Shift], Invert Sculpting Tool=[Ctrl]

  • Invert Freeze=[Shift]+[i] Unfreeze All =[Shift]+[u]

  • First nine Sculpting tools = 1-9 on the keyboard:

  • (1) Sculpt (2) Smooth (3) Grab (4) Pinch (5) Flatten (6) Foamy (7) Spray (8) Repeat (9) Imprint


  • Menu/Create/Sphere. RightClick in scene, turn off “Grid” and “Gradient” in context menus.

  • Select object in Scene or Object List to transform.

  • Add a Layer: click on Layer tab, or RightClick on Layers Menu to choose “New Layer”.

  • DoubleClick to change layer name.

  • Shift+[D] to subdivide (resolution flash in upperRight HUD, see in lowerLeft Status Bar).

  • [Page Up]/[Page Down] to view geometry SubD Levels.

NOTE: Once you start to sculpt, that Layer is locked to that SubD Level; you can add more SubD Levels, but to sculpt at them you need to add more Layers.

  • Use SubD level 3 for large shape changes, level 5 for adding medium details.

  • Select the Layer to make it active.

  • To Draw Guidelines, use Knife or reverse-Bulge tool [Ctrl].

  • Bulge and Grab tools to pull out forms, Pinch tool to accentuate edges.

  • Wax tool to add to forms. Foamy Tool to add finer fine sculpting, like nostrils.

  • Fill tool to make a surface in a depression, for modeling upon.

  • Hold [Shift] to toggle to Smooth tool while using any other.

  • Use Pinch tool to pull tighter any details made with Bulge tool. For seams, reverse Bulge [Ctrl] and then Pinch. Use property “Steady Stroke”.

  • An “extrude” is a freeze/invert/grab: In new Layer and SubD Level: select Layer, select Freeze tool at 100% strength, paint shape to be “extruded.” Hit [Shift]+[i] to invert Freeze so everything EXCEPT the painted shape is frozen. Use Bulge or Grab tool to pull out the form. To turn off all Freeze, hit [Shift] +[W]. Use Flatten tool to flatten top of “extrude.”


  • Rough-in large forms first at lowest possible level that holds the form, add details later at higher levels (work general to specific).

  • When building up forms, blend into the surrounding area with the Smooth tool.

  • Organize reference materials, save often, save incremental files.

  • Rotate around model often. Move scene light [L]+MiddleMouse to see details.

  • View model with different materials. Try lighter materials to bring out details.

Character Design for Animators Notes on Clean 3D Modeling

The following are critical considerations for creating strong 3D Polygon Models in Maya:


Polygon: A triangle unit for building 3D forms. 3ds max mistakenly calls this a “face.”

Normal: The polygon facing direction, represented by a perpendicular arrow (normally invisible).

Modular: Geometry with a consistent, unbroken surface.
HYGIENIC (Clean) MODELING: “Unclean” geometry is where the model is no longer Modular. When geometry is unclean its surface can display strange shadows, change shape unpredictably when animated, and break when advanced techniques like Boolean are applied. Unclean geometry includes:

  • Interior Geometry: All models should be a hollow shell. Polygons crossing through your shell, sometimes with vertices attached both to one side and the opposite side, must be deleted. Another example is if two vertices on opposite sides of a form get collapsed.

  • Duplicate Vertices: What appears to be a single vertex is actually two or more in the same space. These must be merged.

  • Coplanar Geometry: Two polygons occupying the same space, sometimes with Normals facing in opposite directions. One of these polygons must be deleted, or bad “flickering” will appear in the render.

  • T-Geometry: Planes that intersect without being connected by vertices (essentially, one object just stuck into another and attached, without being connected to create a consistent, modular surface). Both objects can be Cut at their intersections, the internal geometry deleted, and the matching vertices welded, or they can be detached and Booleaned into each other.

WASTED GEOMETRY: Vertices sitting on straight lines which do not contribute to the form represent wasted polygons. In both real-time games and pre-rendered film projects these wasted polygons cost money and resources, and must be eliminated through collapsing and snap-merging vertices.
AVOID LONG POLYGONS: Long polygons will frequently cause issues with lighting and shadows. Most rendering systems calculate lighting by the location of vertices, and if these are too far apart the space between them will have difficulty lighting properly. The solution is NOT to add wasted vertices along the surface; instead, design your forms with more variation and detail.
GOOD CURVES AND SILHOUETTES: Curves need enough polygons to appear smooth. Consider added detail to make the silhouette interesting, such as clothing breaks.
ORGANIC MODELING: For all characters, the following three principles must be applied to create forms which will animate smoothly:

  • Even Tessellation: Be sure to evenly space the divisions on all the parts of the body, so that the upper arms, lower arms, upper and lower leg, and torso have roughly even spacing. Joints and the face will have higher tessellation, but should still be internally even.

  • Quads: Work toward only 4-sided shapes everywhere (two triangular polygons). Avoid triangles where possible, and absolutely be sure to cut down all shapes more than 4 sides (N-gons)

  • Edge loops: Cut lines on the body to enhance animation by following muscle forms: straight circles around the limbs and torso, concentric circles around the mouth and eyes.

ANGLES: Most outside edges should be Beveled to not appear sharp. Avoid acute angles (<90 degrees) and adjust interior extruded edges to make them obtuse (>90) for better visibility and appeal.
SOFTEN/HARDEN: Use these buttons under the “Normals” menu to remove hardness from edges and create unified surfaces on big forms, and to define the difference between material forms. On a character, for example, all the skin should be one form, the pants one, the shirt one, the belt one, etc.

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