How to keep Modeling fun?

What are pros and cons of the 2 main polygon modeling techniques and how could we keep modeling trouble free – you know, fun? This is my take.

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?

15 replies on “How to keep Modeling fun?”

Man I can not wait for you first video tutorial on this stuff. I am still crossing my fingers that this year just maybe you will have one in the pocket.

I really like coming here to see what you are up to.
And maybe one of these days you will add Messiah to this site. Remember a lot of people are looking into getting it and would love for some training on it on a basic level to get them up and running alongside Modo.


Hi Savnac and thanks for following (and for getting the word out). Also thanks for being one of the precious few that write comments 🙂

Video tutorial for this style of modeling (and more) is currently in planning. Idea is to do a very extensive tutorial, so it’ll take a while. It will be out this year, certainly, probably this autumn. And Messiah, while not present in the first tutorial, is definitely in the plans of other future tutorials.

Thanks again and seeya around!

Great article, I would like to add modeling methodologies from other fields because I believe they are not very known in CG communities.

Solid modeling:

Surface modeling:

They are very useful for shapes that require a lot of cutting or are well defined by 2d profile curves, instead of pushing and pulling. In a way animation pushes points around too so don’t really animate I think.

Thanks Kevin. You are correct Solidworks and similiar tools are not well known to many CG enthusiasts – like I for instance don’t know them. It is a different methodology and different tools entirely with different goals in mind.

I use the tools that allow character creation and creating things for animation and game production – and I tend to focus on characters. Perhaps this article should be titled “How to keep Character Modeling fun?”.

Edit-addition: The technique does apply to more than character modeling. It is just I model characters the most.

I think I will still keep the old title. While the technique described above is good in character modeling, it works in other polygon modeling as well. I’m adding this bit of info to my previous reply.

Thanks Kevin for the points made. Your comments and my replys here should clarify this a bit to those wondering about the same things.

Ok this is where I am in my learning curve at the moment- lost and confused.

Surface & Direction Control and Detailing using Polygons. There seems to be no good examples out the regarding this subject or maybe I am looking in all the wrong places.

I do a lot of reading regarding 3D modeling and I get lost sometimes because one person can say one thing and then I run across someone else that say a different thing but makes sense.

Surface Detailing and controling the direction of polygons is that key that is missing in examples around that I have found.

The subject is talked about but never fully explained in details.

Something as critical as this should be looked into showing how to direct the traffic of a polygon turning a corner, splitting into two other direction maintaining the quad control at the same time.

My examples would be the “Tips” of fingers, The Base of a Head and how it connect to the “neck” of a character. The top of the head, the tip of a nose, the separation of muscles as the shapes compress and stretch across a surface.

All of these I have seen around from place to place and find myself wondering how did they do that and how can I learn how to control it myself.

So I will start out modeling something and get to a point where I have to stop because I am not able to think past the regular way of modeling an object, because of the lack of directional control over the polygon. My God I wish this subject someday will be explained.

Heck if I was good enough I would do it my self but i am not there yet and it very frustrating when I hit the wall like this.

When I am drawing I can go in any direction, so there has to be a way to train the way I model to do the same thing. I see it in others as they display their models but I am left there wondering “what is the secret behind it all.

So I continue to read and search around until I find it. This subject has to be out there somewhere. I need to get to a point to where what I see I should be able to model.

Here’s another example, Sonic’S Hair
oK it’s made of wedges and within those wedges there are poly’s that are separate but connect to one another that leads into the shape of his head.

So my first thought is to think of the mass inwards starting with the parts as clumps and then work out a number like six sides and so on.

Ok so once I get that worked out it has to connect to his head, so lets say that I do a count around his head and the number has to match the cluster of shapes that makes up his hair.

From there the polygons can get really busy and the surface control might get distorted a bit.

So do I go ahead and connect the segments and after that remove edges or is there a way to map this out as I go starting with modeling the head first, then remove the top and extrude from there.

See this is where I lose myself becasue I am afraid that I may be over thinking things and losing time.

So in my training here I am also working on my timing as well by having a stop clock beside me as I go. I feel that this is very important in the long run.

Sonic’s Hair is just one of my frustrations when I think about how would I go about modeling him.

But the Surface control and detailing is where I am sort of lost by not understanding how to direct the traffic of the polygons and build up detail.

So are there any resources out that that i may be missing out on

I think I see what you mean (or some of it, that’s one big post). You may be overthinking things a bit. Polishing surface flow can be a trap for creativity and a massive timesink. I’ve experienced it myself. Overthinking you are not working and working is where you learn(at least I did). So don’t worry about these things too much, just try to get the overall flows alright. And play with the turning of polygons(with subdivision on). I find often my solutions by just quickly trying polygon turning in places where I am not happy with the surface flow (usually around poles aka 5 or more edges intersecting).

I can’t now address the things you wrote as examples, would need many pictures at least, but I will keep these things in mind for the future. And the Character Creation tutorial should help too. It takes a quite methodic approach to modeling.

As far as Sonic’s hair goes, 4-sided beginning polygons for the wedges might do alright due to subdivision, (six-sided are fine too). I’d build the main head shape first, then bevel or inset (in Modo use Bevel-tool but zero out the shift) more polygons on for the top of the head. This would give a grid which I would extrude the spiky hair from. Considering I recall Sonic having hair in one big thingt clump, you could mostly forget worrying about the distortions between the roots of the hairs as they won’t be seen. So the hairs could start side by side and only on the outside of the clump, the part we see, would you need to have polygons between them to avoid distortion.

I don’t know of any resources out there that go deep into surface flow(which is partly why I’m making the character tutorial). Well, the Gnomon tutorial by Taron, linked above, does some – shows what I show here but in longer video form. It is very much a freeform modeling without much planning.

Sorry I forgot to mention that I am training to be a “Character Modeler” from organic to hard surface images.

Thanks Niko for the reply. I never model with the sub-d on I always model in the rough form and after it’s all done I turn the mesh to smooth to see if everything turn out right.

Is the backwards. Am I going about it the wrong way. Should I reverse my thinking on this.

Part of my frustration also is that I am a sculptor as well, learning 3D.

I think my biggest issue is, me struggling with how I do things on the outside of the 3d and on to Clay.

I think it’s going to just take me staying with this and practice practice until it all starts to click somehow.

I have Taron’s DVD but I get lost when he speaks about what you are saying. But his DVD is good oh yes.

Again there is a giant hole in the training DVD’s out there that do not cover this subject which is very much needed for anyone trying to get their head around edge modeling and controlling the direction of Polygons as they go.

It kind of like driving a car and when you stop and make a turn to the left or right of a surface. What is the best solution to this so that when the polys meet up again it all flows together.

There is a wrong way and a right way to handle this, but it’s not explained to a point of understanding from those out there making Tutorials on modeling.

I do understand your work load and I do not want to interfere with that. And I am sorry for such a long post to you.

So what I have start doing if draw out on top of a sketch of poly’s on paper before I go to the modeling it so that I have some kind of plan set up ahead of time.

Savnac, in my opinion you really should switch between sub-ds and base mesh often unless you are modeling for games where sub-division is not an option. Almost everything else polygon modeling works well with subdivision, so it makes sense to check the sub-division shape often in the progress. Your final model rendered model will be subdivided, right? And as you know it is only matter if hitting Tab-key in Modo.

Having said that I too prefer to work on the mesh mostly in rough polygon form. But in order to use the method described in the above article and in order to get your sub-d model done faster, I switch often between rough polys and sub-ds.

I hear you – sculpting certainly differs from polygon modeling and I see how coming from that world getting the hang of polygons may be more difficult.

About the right and wrong way.. There are many ways to polygon modeling, people prefer different things. I think whatever gets the job done is fine. What then is more ‘right’ than other is difficult to say. I do agree I haven’t seen these things explained to satisfaction in one place.

All your comments and feedback are good to have. Have no worries about that. You’ve given me plenty to write about in the future.

Drawing edgeloops on sketches seems like a good idea. Keep on working!

Thanks for clarifying that for me.

And yes when I model I do switch back and forth to see my progress.

what I thought you meant was to keep sub-d’s on at all time when modeling.

But yeah I am coming along. I just get stuck is all and I know where I am stuck, which sucks because I did a search on this topic and I can not find it anywhere.

So as of now I have to rely on observing other Poly mesh very close and try and follow what I see for now.

But what I really want is an understanding of how to control things when modeling and not allowing the polys to dictate where and what direction to take.

Oh well thank you for all your feedback

Ok, good. I at first thought you avoid sub-div all the way to the end, my mistake. Switching between the modes is good – that’s my preference.

Some like to keep to sub-divs all the time when modeling, but I find this may lead to a too low polygon amount – not enough edgeloops for proper control in animation. Also I dislike that the rough polygon shape beneath can become almost unreadable with some polygons all bent and twisted, which in turn may contribute to rendering errors on the final form. Also a problem modeling with sub-divs on all the time and with very low number of polygons is that it doesn’t play too well with displacement – the polygons get too non-planar and not evenly sized. Of course in the end physicly sub-dividing the mesh once gives more polys for base mesh and mostly solves the issue with displacement, but then you are not in low-poly land anymore.

Okay, the above rant probably should maybe be a new article in itself. But you got my point.

I hope the future tutorial and such I make will help with your problem. Until then I can only suggest research and practise and testing the polygon turning, adding and removing (all these with sub-division on), like shown above, at the trouble spots.

I would like to thank both Niko and Savnac here. Not only this blog is very helpful, but Savnac´s questions also help me finding the answers to some of my own (or questions I am still to have because I´m new to modeling and can´t model many things yet). The links to external tutorials also help me a lot.

Thank you, I´ll keep reading the blog and studying as much as I can!

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