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Introduction to Modeling 3D Characters

Basics for creating 3D lifeforms By Pang Sie
For someone new to 3D, creating characters can be a daunting task. As 3D software becomes more complex, there is also an increasing trend towards creating more realistic characters, making the already difficult seem even harder. As such, it may help to realize that regardless of your current skill level, you can always improve through continued observation, study and practice.

I have been creating character models since 1994. It started out as a hobby, but after a few years of playing around it has now become part of something I do professionally. I often get questions from people asking me how I create my characters. I wish there were an easy answer, but the field of character animation is something I am still trying to learn after years of dabbling. I shall endeavour in this "tutorial" to pass on some of the things I think are useful for someone starting out.

In this introductory article, the reader is assumed to know something about 3D modeling. There are no step-by-step instructions here, only guidelines and tips. I also try not to be application specific, so users of any 3D software should find the information equally useful. Note that since I mainly use a polygon modeler, I am not covering the use of NURBS surfaces. To keep the reading easy-going, many technical terms are also not explained. There's no escaping technical stuff if you wish to get involved in 3D, but don't worry too much if they don't make sense now. It'll all become clear as you progress along.

Objectives, Designs and References
Before you begin, you should have a clear idea of what kind of character you'd like to make. Is it going to be a cartoon character, or something more realistic? Keep it simple at first. Go for details like realistic facial features only when you feel competent with your modeling tools. Cartoon characters are a great and fun way to start. Rough out some sketches on paper so you get a good idea about the character's look from various directions (front/back, sides, top/bottom). A sketch can also be scanned and used as a background reference for modeling. Alternately, you may use photographs of the subject as reference.
Lara Croft

Cartoon or realistic? Just one of the many questions to ask yourself before you begin.
Cartoon characters are fun and comparatively easier to create and animate...

More realistic version of Lara Croft

It is also important at this point to know how your model will be used. This will determine what kind of tools and techniques you will use to construct the model. Experience will tell you what kind of pitfalls to avoid, and where to add details necessary for the technical aspects of animation. But be warned, you will often need to re-model some parts during animation setup, even when you think the modeling stage is finished.

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Related Keywords:Lara Croft, animation, modeling, 3d, LightWave, newtek, angelina jolie, Pang Sie Piau, model, graphics, animation, digital animators

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