How to keep Modeling fun?

I’ve written bits about polygon flow and modeling for animation and a comparison of a model built for animation with another that’s not. What about modeling technique? What do you use?  Have you weighted the pros and cons?  Note that this is only about polygon modeling, not about nurbs or sculpting.

I think modeling should be fun. To be fun it needs to be fast and without fear of making mistakes, of getting stuck.  Fun modeling is safe.

First way of making things easier would be designing with a pen. Polygons can’t beat drawing in planning. Second,  having the option of displacements and normal maps I would do very fine detail with those – not with polygons.

In modeling the fly in my soup has been keeping polygons 4-sided and relocating  ‘poles’, aka points where 5 or more edges meet, to where I want them. I have spent endless hours on these two things.

Why 4-sided aka quads? Quad polygons are something many programs prefer and also what displaces(i.e. sculpted detail coming out via displacement map) and deforms(animation) in the most relieable way.

And why move poles?  Areas with poles don’t deform well in animation and may produce render artifacts.  Push them where they are unnoticeable, to places that don’t deform much.

So, fun modeling would be a process that keeps polygons as quads and lets you control pole placement.  And ideally it would all happen without having to think about it.

Modeling methods

1. edge-out / detail-out / poly-by-poly method

Modeling technique: detail out / edge out / poly by polyStarts from a quad polygon or a strip of such polys, and extends more quads out from their edges. Often in this style you start from detail areas such as the eyes or mouth and then draw polygons to connect them. Everything stays as quads by default as long as you know where the extended polygon strips should go and connect. Same goes with the poles – you need to know where and how to place them. This style requires a design drawing to follow.  Also it takes some skill to either have the polygon flow setup in your head or to plan ahead of time and draw it on the design drawing.
pros: polygons stay as quads, not much clean-up work, good for details and fast to build when you know what you’re doing
cons: need to know what works where and what connects to what beforehand

One very nice example of poly-by-poly modeling is base mesh creation for this Yeti.

2. detail-in / box-modeling / sub-division modeling

Modeling - box modelingBeginning is a box or other base shape in your 3D software, which you shape to overall figure and start to carve detail in. You work more with polygons than edges.

This style is often connected to subdivision modeling, where you model just like above but view the subdivided version of your model instead (or on the side) of your actual work-model. The work-model stays as low-poly(easier to animate) while the final rendered result is the subdivision-surface.
pros: can go ‘freeform’ – model with little planning, can conceptualisize still in mid-process, easy to start with, easy to do major changes, fast workflow when done right
cons: detailing is more difficult than with no. 1, can be hard to keep polys as quads unless done ‘right’, can get difficult to direct the edgeloops when you are dealing with overall shape rather than just the loops themselves

Some tutorials:
Wiro’s tutorials
Southern’s Minotaur series

Which to use? You can use both.  Box-modeling is best for big things, poly-by-poly does well in detailing.

Fun modeling

This solution is all box-modeling: a way that keeps to quads and allows moving poles around.

Limit tools to the following (in addition to standard move, rotate and scale). This pretty much ensures you create only quads.  Tie the commands to hot-keys for speedy workflow.

Modeling - bevelbevel/extrude
modeling -collapsecollapse
modeling - merge polysmerge (to clean after collapse)
modeling - turn polygonturn polygons
Modeling - bevel groupCreate areas and edgeloops by beveling a group of polygons. This creates loops around and keeps quads. Go as far as you can with bevel – it is the easiest tool to use. See around the mouth and nose-loop beveling in the image.
Modeling - add polygon with bevels and collapseAdd one polygon. Select 2 or 3 polys, bevel and collapse. Remove the offending edges/merge polygons and you have one new polygon.
Modeling - remove polygon with polygon turn and mergeRemove one polygon. Turn 2 polygons like shown and merge to remove one polygon.
Turn polygon/edge (or similiar tool) to direct polygon flow. This is also how you can move poles around (to where they do the least harm) and in some cases even remove them.  See ‘Remove polygon’ above how the geometry changes.

Some of you may describe this as Taron-style modeling. It is very much the same, but I don’t often model with subdivision on. My end result is frequently for games where subdivision sorface is not an option (yet), so I stick to regular polygons.

That’s it. Box-modeling with certain tools used in certain manner gives just quads. This is a way to stop worrying, just relax and have fun. Of course the style is not completely trouble free, can get confusing with polygon turning, but still highly recommended.  If you still end up with a triangle somewhere, if it does no harm there then leave it in.  I’m not an advocate for Quads only – I just like to keep mostly to quads.

BTW the above method is also shown in brief in the latter half of this video: Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Modeling Tools and Method.  I will go futher into the workflow logic of it later.

What type of modeling feels natural to you?  What do you think of the ‘fun modeling’ style?

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