Modo, Zbrush and Messiah for Fast Production

Mini-tutorial covers a workflow using the above 3 software together for high detail character creation, preparing for animation and combining the results. Idea here is to show how to make these software work together – not how to model, sculpt or animate.

Method Limitations

  • You will need a base-mesh to begin with. I’m giving away the one I used here(see male ver2).
  • While a base mesh like this is good for extensive sculpting, it works best for naked characters. While a some clothes can be just sculpted on, for better results I would either add polygons on the base mesh to ‘set base’ for them too, or do separate cloth-meshes.
  • While the autorig is fine for many types of animations, for more advanced stuff(lip-sync, better deformations, muscle bulges, etc.) you will obviously need to improve the rig.

Real world example – a rushed task

To give an example for this, I had a brief like so: Make a group of Zombie-like dead people standing around in place and moving only a little. I had 5 or so days to do it which is quite quick considering my old slow computer takes 2-3 days just for rendering.
Because the figures will be in background of the scene, out of focus and behind effects, and because of the rush, I opted for very simple texturing, rigging and animation – and no facial animation. I ended up with 3 variations of one character and 5 simple looping animations. The dead mainly sway in place. Result is passable but some zombies are really not looking the way I want. See the breakdown for my problem.

Production Breakdown

Shape rough base mesh in Modo and save out an OBJ.

Not much to explain – either model your own mesh or pick one up somewhere. You can grab my human male base mesh (ver2.) here.

Import to Zbrush and sculpt to your hearts content.

zombie sculpted in ZbrushHave fun sculpting. I went up to level 6 with subdivision (see pic). I also used surface noise found in latest Zbrush(4.5) for extra skin detail. And herein lies my mistake: Overdoing the noise strenght will push the shape out in an unified manner that, especially when whole sculpt is later applied as a displacement map in Modo, makes the characters lose detail and look bloated. I have this problem with 2 of my zombies(see in video below). Somehow I noticed it too late – didn’t have time to re-render.

Add uv-mapping.

Zbrush AUVtilesI chose AUV-tiles because it is automatic and good for a mesh like this that has quite evenly sized polygons. Default settings give each polygon same size in UV-map. Thing to remember with AUVtiles or GUVtiles or similiar, though, is that if you use them you should paint your textures in Zbrush. At least in Modo(302) painting on an AUVtiles uv-mapped  mesh lead to paint in one place ‘leaking’ all over the mesh. Zbrush won’t have this issue – especially not as you can paint model first and uv-map after.

Export the mesh from lowest subdivision level and create and export a displacement map.

Zbrush displacement map exportNote that sculpting on any level changes the bottom level(base mesh) as well, so you better export your base when finished. Final thing is to export a displacement map which again you do when on lowest subdivision level. For my settings see the picture.

Import the base mesh to Messiah and use autorig to get it rigged.

  • Load the mesh in. Select it and in the Setup-tab and hit Autorig(see Setup>Items). Next in Setup>Effect find the Character Face Camera under Bone Deform, select that and your character mesh and hit Replace(see pic).
  • Next in Setup-tab move the Character Root to where your figures hip center is. Then, starting from hips and going out bone by bone, scale and rotate bones to fit the character. Work only on one side, right or left.
  • When done placing bones, go to Setup-tab>Items>Drop-down>Fix Symmetry. Root could be your FK_Spine or similar base bone. FixSymmetry will use it as a starting point and will go down the hierarcy looking for things with your typed suffix/postfix. For Source type the letter of your working side, like _R, and for Destination the other one (see pic). Then run FixAll or FixSides-command.
  • Now your can test your rig in Animate-tab by rotating bones. Remember to undo your tests When happy save your scene as ‘charactername_rigging’ or whatever for backup purposes. Then hit Autorig in the animation-view and wait. Save scene as ‘charactername_rigged’.

Messiah, Fix Symmetry
Messiah Autorig, set to use model
There is also a video tutorial on Autorig (not mine).

Animate and export animation as MDD

Messiah, export MDDI leave animation to you. MDD-export happens in the Customize-tab>Drop-down Menu>SaveMorphSequence. Select your mesh. Type in what frames to export and give a filename. Generate Current Morph Sequence.

Mesh to Modo and apply MDD

Modo, apply MDDImport or load the mesh and right-click it – in the menu find the MDD-deformer and load the file. Now your mesh will be animated (see Animate-tab).

Setup lights and camera, texture and displacement and render to image series

Modo, set displacementYou can see my lighting tutorial here. For texturing do what you want. I used a simple procedural(Cellular) for both diffuse and bumb, and painted a mask for specular and diffuse amounts – mainly just added black to eye-sockets because director wanted all black eye-sockets, no highlights or anything.

For displacement I have yet to find optimum solution since Zbrush displacement export-workflow has changed since ver.3 and I just started with 4.5. However here is something I find functional: Bring in your displacement and make one instance of it. Then set the instance to Invert and its Blend Mode to Subtract (see pic). Now the regular displacement pushes polygons both out(positive) and in(negative) and the second displacement adds to the negative. Play with the instances opacity and your materials displacement amount for final result.

Remember Modo defaults to 24 frames/second (film framerate) so that’s your render output unless you change it. Finally when you have a series of images take them to your favourite video editing software and make a video.

My result with this method

Actual movie effect has more of these figures standing on the background of a scene (hidden behind effects and out of focus). This video is just so that I can show them to you. Was a rushed job with problems and lackluster animation, but there you go.

See it in HD at Vimeo.

Do you have comments or insights? Please share.

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Software Features Used

Techniques transfer from software to software. For example I have in the past observed work done in one software to learn a technique I can apply in many other software. This video is my (small) way to help others to do the same with this tutorial.

All 3D in the tutorial is done in Luxology Modo (ver.302), but you are not limited to Modo only. This video should help people using other software to check if they have the main features or tools available in their software.

And of course nothing is stopping you from using the tutorial just to learn character modeling, which is by far the most extensive part of this tutorial. Then the software is no issue. Polygon modeling tools used in the tutorial are available in most if not every polygon modeling software out there.

You also watch the video in HD at Vimeo
Music: Parametaphoriquement by GMZ

That’s one more bit of tutorial info and preview stuff for you. Expect more, at least a trailer, in the future. And if this topic was new to you, please start from the teaser. Comments, questions and such are welcome.

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Modeling Tools

Here is  a look into the modeling tools and technique used in coming Animation Character Creation Tutorial.  The tools I use are very standard fare, hardly new to anyone who has done polygon modeling, which is all good – the goal is to keep it easy and fun. The method is the interesting bit. Techinique shown in the video is something I’ve talked about before, too.

Even if this is all familiar to you already, you can watch the video as a brief example of what my video tutorials may be like.  This video is an early(and very very small) part of the final tutorial.

Click Vimeo-link in the video to watch it in HD at Vimeo.

Music:  Eighteen Pieces by Soda and Sevenhundredbeats by Duncan Beattie.

The tutorial develops well and more info will come.

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Character Story

Previously I introduced the coming tutorial and shoved a timelapse of base head modelingThis one is about the character design, about character backstory.  This was supposed to be a video as well, but I’m having trouble with my computer – can’t do video edit just now.
Giving your character history is part of character design and a good place to start.  You need to know WHO the character is to make an animation with him/her.  The following is a bit of story for the tutorial character.

Our character, I call him Curt, was an orphan and grew in time of unrest – grew to violence.  And just when Curt became an adult the unrest became a war.

War needed strong men capable of violence, and Curt was a perfect fit.  He was mayhem on the battlefield, a bloody champion.

However since he never was much of a thinking man and was most useful as a human weapon, he was used as such and was never rewarded for his dedication.

Eventually, after many years fighting and death, the war ended.

Suddenly there was no more work for Curt.  Also unlike many other champions he was not knighted or rewarded in any way.  He was just a man with lots of blood on his hands and a problem to his superiors.  He was told it was better he left.

For long years Curt traveled, took odd jobs and slowly took stock of the bloody work he had done.  He began to drink his sorrows away.

Then, in a border city in the middle of nowhere, where Curt’s war record was unknown, he finally had a bit of luck.  He was hired as a guard – was a man of uniform again.  It was something he knew how to do.

This is where our backstory ends and visual character design begins.  Thanks to thinking up a story I know better how he acts and thinks.  I know he wants to do his job well and perhaps someday redeem his past.  Maybe the animation, if I were to do one with this character, could be about that.
I know, I know – this is no revelation, just a simple point I wanted to make.  Character design should  include a story and I think making one up is a lots of fun (even one as dark as the story above).

Animation Character Creation Tutorial – Teaser

This has been requested enought times, so here I go, finally. This project is loads of fun to work on and really time consuming too. I hope you’ll like it as much as I do.

You can also watch it in HD at vimeo.

Tutorial Details (in short)


Covers a bit on character design, then goes deep to modeling a character for animation, uv-mapping, sculpting, texturing and finally quick posing and to a promotional render. On the way I tell you why I do things the way I do.  Tutorial video duration will most likely be 10+ hours.  The base head & eye-modeling alone is around 1 hour 40 minutes.

Software used

Luxology Modo (for 3d) and Adobe Photoshop (2d). However no part of the tutorial needs just those two softwares – you can use any similiar software to get the job done. I will list 3D-tools used(such as bevel) in the tutorial details, so you can see what your software can do and what, if any, you need to employ another software for. And instead of Photoshop you can use any capable bitmap painting/editing software.

Aimed for / Level of difficulty

Anyone who knows how to operate a 3D-software. I’m not explaining very basics – software manual and generic tutorials can tell you that. However I do go over what tools we will use and where.


Tutorial will be in HD720P video, quicktime-files, and with a menu to easily access them.


Tutorial will be available from a reputable online vendor as a download or on a dvd.


The price won’t be low but not scary either and the value for money will be high.

Future plans

Tutorial is planned as the first in a series that goes from design all the way to animated short film production and finish.

That’s it for now.  More will come, at least a trailer, before the tutorial releases.

What would you like to have in such a tutorial?  Please feel free to write comments and questions below.
Update: Tutorial is delayed for unknown time -a LONG time- due to other work taking my time. I rather not set a date for release and miss it again. If you want to make sure you don’t miss the release without coming back here to check over and over, subscribe to site RSS feed or Email Updates.

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?

Interview for Intel

I was interviewed on INTEL’s ISNTV Digital Arts-show. (voice only for my part)

2013 UPDATE: Intel’s Digital Arts Show-pages have been closed for a good time now and this page had broken links, until now. I found the video interviews elsewhere on Intel’s site so the links should work, for now.

Digital Arts does many things, including interviews of people in the field of Arts.  One good example is musician Justin Lassen’s interview (from Intel booth at GDC).  Justin is an exceptional artist and a does well before the camera, too.
Reason why I got on Intel’s radar was winning their Digital Art Tutorial Challenge a few times in a row.  Other than that I’m guessing my blog and big projects raised a few eyebrows.

See the interview at ISNTV Digital Arts show.  Host of the show is man of many titles, including Intel Artist and Animator Community Manager, Steve Pitzel – a terrific guy.  We had a good chat, both on record and off.  I manage to sound reasonably sane most of the time, so I call it a success.

Go see and listen and leave some feedback below, if you like.

Tutorial – Model an Animation Ready Male Body

This tutorial is for those wanting to learn character modeling or modeling for animation.  It shows how to model a male body, a base mesh.  End result is good for both animation and sculpting.  For more info read an article about modeling for animation or see another where I test the tutorial-mesh against another mesh.

The model doesn’t have a proper head nor does the quide show how to make one.  That is topic big enough for another tutorial.

I’m also giving away the final mesh in OBJ-format. You are free to change and use it any project you like.  But selling, model or tutorial, is not allowed.  This is free learning material.

Grab both tutorial and 3 variations of the mesh at Files.
If you like this tutorial or have critique please leave a word.

Tutorial – Messiah to Modo

How to export animation from Messiah and how to apply it on a model in Modo.  Tutorial also shows how to later change the already rigged and animated mesh in Messiah. This is good to know because you may need to update your character mesh during animation production.  You can download the tutorial as a PDF from Files-page.

Tutorial – Basic 3-point Lighting

Shows how to setup 3-point lighting, render passes for post processing and combine in Photoshop(or in other image editing software).  Intermediate-level, requires base working knowledge of your preferred 3D-software and image editing.

Tutorial comes with

  • low-poly model of the character used for the tutorial.  OBJ-format.
  • higher-poly version of the same model(subdivided).  OBJ.
  • the scene example as a Modo-file, LXO, for Modo ver.3 and above.  A free 15 day evaluation version of Modo is available at
  • Photoshop-file(PSD) showing the post-processing layers used.

Tutorial & files are availabe in Files-section.

This marks my first tutorial release after CGmascot-launch.  There will be others.  Now in the Files you can find one that helps animation production in Lightwave and few older ones for Gmax.

If you like the tutorial, please let me know – comment below.  Other feedback is also welcome.  Also feel free to suggest tutorials.  Ideas are always welcome.