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Character Design: Modeling for 3D Animation

Enough of this old-hat, hand-drawn two-dimensional nonsense! Lets dial it ahead 100 years into the 21st century and talk about 3D character art!

In this blog post, we will look at what it takes to create a successful 3D representation of a 2D hand drawn character. The purpose of this post is not to teach you how to model, only to give pointers and suggestions to artists looking to successfully translate a 2D character drawing into a 3D environment.

In the blog entries leading up to this one, you have learned about doing your research ahead of time and designing your character around what you learned. You should have an idea of the size of each part of the body and how they move based on your model sheets. All of this ground work is 100% necessary before even stepping one foot into the 3D environment. It is a lot easier to draw an idea out on paper than it is to go into a 3D space and wing it. In other words, make sure you have done your homework first and get to know your 2D character in three dimensions before you move into 3D! It will save you a lot of time and extra work in the long run.

Begin Your 3D Model with 2D Drawings

You should always start your character model (or any other model, for that matter) by importing orthographic views of your character into the camera views. A front and side view are almost always necessary and a top view can often be helpful as well.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 10.13.32 PMScreen Shot 2017-03-22 at 10.13.05 PM

The drawings should be aligned so that the center of the character will be located at the origin. Use the grid lines to also help you ensure that the character will be built proportionally. In Dippy’s case, he is three heads high, so you will see where he is scaled to the third grid line.

Default Pose

A character should always be modeled in default pose. This is typically referred to as a rested position, with the character’s arms and other appendages (tails, hair, etc.) extended straight out from their body and a bored expression on their face. This will make the rigging process much easier and allow the character to bend and deform better. Never, ever, ever model a character in a posed position. This will limit all of your future uses of this model to only one pose! In other words, it will be completely useless!

A few basic modeling tips as you are blocking in your model:

  • The geometry on the chest should look like a cape that is draping over and around the shoulders.
  • The geometry around the eyes should loop around the entire eye, creating a socket.
  • Keep all of your polygons 4-sided quads for the best deformation. Don’t leave any irregular sided polygons.
  • Add additional polygons around areas that need to bend a lot, such as elbows, knees, fingers, toes, neck, back, tail, etc. Don’t try to do too much with too little!

In addition, keep in mind all the things that your character needs to be able to do. For instance, Dippy’s elbow bends in two different directions, depending on what he is doing. In his rested position, his elbows are inverse and folded at his sides against his body like a real duck. When he is using his wings, they sometimes bend like a human’s in this way. This means that Dippy requires additional geometry around the middle part of his wing in order to bend both directions. He will also need to have modified feathers, which can act like fingers.

3D Dippy Orthographic Views

Not all 2D features translate well to 3D

Sometimes you have to do a little creative thinking to figure out how to make it work! In the case of Dippy, he was originally drawn for Flash animation, which is a very, very flat graphic style. His beak was much less defined in his original Flash format.

To translate this into 3D, we had to create more definition to the beak and then add a toon shader in the texturing phase to keep the graphic look Flash creates.

One of my favorite examples of a successful 2D trick not translating well to 3D is none other than Mickey Mouse, specifically when it came to his ears. The problem here, is that Mickey’s ears are gyroscopic, meaning they are designed to “float” around on his head so that they are always facing the viewer no matter what direction his head turns. This is one of the very unique design elements that Disney used to add to the character’s appeal and recognition.

 

It’s a very successful 2-dimensional trick of the eye, but it unfortunately did not translate well into a 3D space. Disney has made several revisions to 3D Mickey over the years and had a lot of trouble translating this complex 2D concept to the 3D world. The more recent Mickey 3D attempts have been more successful at capturing this iconic design element.

As you can see, moving from a 2D to 3D environment often requires lots of creative problem solving!

When your model is complete, render a complete turnaround of your character. Set up a few lights and show off your work!

Next, it is time to move on to the next steps of texturing and rigging your character. More on that in a later blog post!

Schmitty out.

 

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How to Draw… Puffin Stuff

For the second character in our on-going “How to Draw…” series, I would like to focus on the puffin character from my original short, “Puffin Stuff.” Oddly enough, I have never officially named this character. I have come up with several over the years, but none of them ever seemed to stick. So now he is simply referred to as “Puffin” or “Puffin Stuff.”

Some Helpful Tips Before We Get Started

Please remember to stay loose and draw lightly. Do not bear down on your pencil and allow the shapes to build up. It sometimes helps to practice drawing circles first to help you loosen up!

Please read some of the Character Design posts I’ve done as well; they’re sure to be helpful in helping improve your drawing skills.

Puffin Stuff Front View

First, lets take a look at Puffin Stuff from the front view:

See, it’s easy and you can do it too! Lets break it down step by step.

  1. Start with a circle. Add a vertical guideline through the center of the circle top to bottom. Then, add a horizontal guideline below the halfway point, approximately 1/3 of the way from the bottom.
  2. Add eye shapes. Puffin has two small circular eyes. There should be approximately one eye length between each.
  3. Add the mask – Puffin Stuff’s mask consist of two large, egg-shaped ovals. They should wrap around the bottom of the eye and touch the top of the circle.
  4. Eyebrows. Draw two upside-down ‘U’ shapes, one above each of the mask shapes. The curve of the eyebrow should mimic the same curve as the top of his mask.
  5. Bridge of bill and cheeks. Draw three more upside-down ‘U’ shapes. The first one is stretched out in between his eyes, curving from the middle of the left eye to the middle of the right eye. This is the bridge of his bill, or where his nose would be (if he had one). The other two, will make up his cheeks on either side. They will curve off of the eye and outside of the circle for now.
  6. Add his tuft of feathers. This is just a ‘shark fin’ shape that sits right on top of his eyebrows.
  7. Top of the bill. At the bottom of the horizontal guideline, draw another upside down ‘U’. It will just float here for now.
  8. Smile/mouth line. On both sides, draw an ‘S’ curve that comes to a point when they meet in the middle at the vertical guideline.
  9. Dimples. On the top of each side of Puffin’s smile, add a small curved line.
  10. Stripes on top of the bill. Puffin’s have very unique markings on their bills. The ones on Puffin Stuff’s are two upside down ‘U’ shapes.
  11. Finish off the chin. Starting where you ended your cheeks, draw a large ‘U’ to connect them both.
  12. Stripes on bottom of the bill. To finish off Puffin’s unique markings, draw two ‘U’ shapes that are a little wider than the ones on top. They should touch the bottom of the chin.
  13. Draw the neck and connect the beak. Puffin has a wide neck that is as wide as your original circle shape. Draw two lines, tapering outward slightly. Above the cheeks on either side, draw a curved line off the top of the cheek that connects back to the side of the circle. This is the muscle that connects his beak to his head.
  14. Add the white part of his neck. Draw two more tapered lines inside the neck area. This is the white part of the character.
  15. Add pupils. Puffin’s pupils are circles, approximately 1/2 the size of his eye. Draw the entire shape in the corner of his eye, making sure that it stays grounded.
  16. Clean up. Erase all of your guidelines, including the horizontal and vertical guides, parts of the original circle, and any other guidelines you may have drawn.
  17. Color and complete! Puffin’s feathers are black and white and he has robin’s egg blue eyes. His beak is a bright orange with dark red and black stripes.

That’s it!

Puffin Stuff 3/4 View

Now that you’re a master at drawing Puffin Stuff from the front view, lets take a look at him from a 3/4 angle:

Puffin from 3/4 has very similar steps as Puffin from a front view. Let’s take a look below.

  1. Start with a circle. Add a vertical guideline through the center of the circle top to bottom. Then, add a horizontal guideline towards the bottom of the circle, approximately 1/3 of the way from the bottom. These will both have a slight curve to them now, since Puffin is turning his head to a 3/4 view.
  2. Add eye shapes. Puffin has circle-shaped eyes. The one on the left is in perspective and drawn smaller due to the turn of his head.
  3. Mask around the eyes. Puffin Stuff’s mask consist of two large, egg-shaped ovals. They should wrap around the bottom of the eye and nearly touch the top of the circle.
  4. Eyebrows. Draw two upside-down ‘U’ shapes, one above each mask shape. The curve of the eyebrow should mimic the same curve as the top of his mask. Again, the one on the left is smaller since it is further away.
  5. Bridge of bill and cheeks. Draw three more upside-down ‘U’ shapes. The first one is stretched out in between his eyes, curving from the middle of the left eye to the middle of the right eye. This is the bridge of his bill, or where his nose would be (if he had one). The other two, will make up his cheeks on either side. They will curve off of the eye and outside of the circle for now.
  6. Add his tuft of feathers. This is just a ‘shark fin’ shape that sits right on top of his eyebrows.
  7. Top of the beak. At the bottom of the left eye, draw another upside down ‘U’. It will just float here for now.
  8. Bottom of the beak/smile. Starting below his right cheek, draw an elongated ‘S’ shape that creates a point at the tip of his beak.
  9. Dimples! Under the cheek at the top of the smile, draw a curved line to create a dimple.
  10. Stripes on top of the beak. Draw two upside down ‘U’ shapes to create the stripes at the end of Puffin’s beak.
  11. Finish off the cheeks with Puffin’s chin. Starting where you ended your cheeks, draw a large curved line that swoops back up to meet the bottom of his beak.
  12. Stripes on bottom of the beak. Draw two ‘U’ shapes to create the stripes on the bottom of Puffin’s beak. They should be wider than the ones on top.
  13. Draw the neck and connect the beak. Puffin’s neck is as wide as your original circle and consists of two slightly tapered lines. Above the cheeks on either side, draw a curved line off the top of the cheek that connects back to the side of the circle. This is the muscle that connects Puffin’s beak to his head.
  14. Add pupils. Puffin’s pupils are circle shapes. Draw the entire circle in the corner of his eye, making sure that it stays grounded. The pupil takes up about half of the total height of his eye.
  15. Clean up. Erase all of your guidelines, including the horizontal and vertical guides, parts of the original circle, and any other guidelines you may have drawn.
  16. Color and complete! Puffin’s feathers are black and white and he has robin’s egg blue eyes. His beak is a bright orange with dark red and black stripes.

And there you have it!

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did writing it. Please keep your eye out for more “How to Draw…” Schmitty’s Toons! characters soon! I plan to teach several more of my Schmitty’s Toons! characters in this series. If you have a favorite that you would like to do next, please notify me in the comments.

In the comments below, I would also love to see your beautiful creations! Please don’t be afraid to share!

Schmitty out.