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3D Character Creation
Class 01: Intro to Character Creation


    • Course Introduction
    • 3D Modeling Pipeline
    • Basic Character Design
    • Basic Sculpting
    • Class 01 Lab

Welcome to the first class!

Class Introduction

Hi There!

I'm Jon Cone

I am one of the full-time faculty in Cecil’s Visual Communication Program. I am mostly responsible for the game design and web design programs. I am also a freelance animator typically working on visualizations.

Office Hours
Tues 10:00am - 1:50pm
Wed 10:00am - 1:50pm, 4:30pm - 6:20pm
Honestly just e-mail me. I will make time when it works for you!
Contact Information (prefered)
(240) 466-1996 (personal)
410-287-6060 X 1470

Actual photo of me.


Adjunct Professor, Wilmington University

What’s your name? What do you go by?
Why you are here:
Is this required for your major? Are you taking this course as an elective? Personal Enrichment?
Do you have any history with graphic arts or arts in general? Any experience with Adobe or other graphics software?

Alright. Here is an actual picture of me.


Adjunct Professor, Wilmington University

Course Description:

3D Character Creation – covers polygon modeling techniques relevant to producing high quality textured meshes viewable in live-video situations. Emphasis is placed on converting high-poly geometric details into low-poly geometry utilizing a variety of alternative modeling methods. 4 credits


Each week a new lab assignment will be given.  These mimic the exercises we would do in a face to face course. You must simply follow the instructions given as closely as possible but also take liberties. You should, “make it your own,” to create your own designs with the processes presented. All labs will be submitted by the end of the week on Blackboard.


Three long form projects will be due by the end of the course. These are the completion of the labs and polishing the results.

Labs 12 50%
Projects 3 50%
Total 100%


3D Modeling Pipeline

3D Modeling Pipeline Overview:

To produce high-end assets the following is the most typical workflow

  • Character/Set/Prop Design (research, exploratory, & turnaround)
  • Base Mesh Generation (low poly)
  • Low/Medium Resolution Sculpt (silhouette)
  • Retopology
  • High Resolution Sculpt (anatomy, accessories, details, surface)
  • Poly Painting
  • UV Layout
  • Bake Comparative Maps
  • Combine Models, Texture, Lighting to Render

Character/Set/Prop Design:

Before you start anything you need to do your homework and produce designs that are not influenced by the computer.

  • First Research
  • Produce Exploratory Sketches
  • Tie Down Final Turnaround

Base Mesh Generation:

The first step in actually producing a high-end model is to produce a base shape you can sculpt onto. It is important to make sure all elements are present in at least a silhouette level.

  • Production and Object Specific
  • Can be almost entirely completed this way or just roughed in
  • Box-Modeling
  • Primitive Modeling
  • Edge Loop Method
  • 3D Scan
  • Dynamic Mesh
  • Software Specific Mesh Generation
  • Future??


This is very similar to traditional sculpting. It is important to work broad to specific. Develop the whole form overall and slowly tighten the model and work in more and more details across the entire figure

  • Low Resolution Sculpt (silhouette)
  • Medium Resolution Sculpt (anatomy, accessories)
  • High Resolution Sculpt (details)
  • HD Resolution Sculpt (surface)


Once you have the “skin” of the model you need to “paint” it. This involves prepping the model by rebuilding it if necessary, filleting the figure into UV islands that are flat and paintable, painting color, shininess, bumpiness, etc. onto the surface of the model.

  • Retopology
    The process of producing a new mesh with better geometry over top of geometry that is poor
    Can be done before sculpting, after sculpt, sometimes even after texturing, or not at all if the base mesh is accurate enough
  • UV Layout
    Basically taking your 3D model and flattening it into a 2D version
    You typically complete this before texturing but it is possible to complete it after in Zbrush
  • Texturing
    Painting color, specular, bump, transparency, etc. information on the model
  • Bake Comparative Maps
    Automated process of producing texture maps on typically low poly models from their high poly version.

Basic Character Design

Foundation Shapes:

Everything you create in animation will be viewed flat, even if in 3D.

Always look at your designs from a compositional 2D point of view. Sometimes in 3D computer animation people get carried away with things that the viewer will never see. You care what the audience sees first and foremost, everything else is to help inform yourself.

There are three primary shapes:


Circles are the most common shape utilized. The reason for this is more than likely because animated characters have a deep foundation in children’s entertainment and circles are the least threatening shape.


Squares represent stability. They are un-moving resistant shapes. Squares are strong, dependable, solid, sometimes dumb. Often the “hero” or “strong arm” characters are squares.


Triangles are the most directional, aggressive, often the catalyst. Often the “villain” or “sly” characters are triangles.

Cast of Shapes:

It is best to use a variety of shapes. Notice the various shapes in the examples below


It all really comes down to angles. The more angular the character the more aggressive they will appear.
Acute: Sharp hurts. Sharp is scary.
Obtuse: Round is soft. Blunt is non-threatening.

A dolphin and shark are the same basic shape. However the shark is sharp and the dolphin is not. Dolphin good. Shark bad.

Notice how “The Other Mother” gets more and more angular and feels more threatening.

Complimentary and Whole Shapes:

Your characters should work as whole shapes, not a bunch of individual one’s. There should be one dominating mass that all other elements are drawn from.

You should utilize repeating and complimentary (similar but not same) sub-shapes throughout your design to make it more cohesive.

If you look at these three interpretations of Batman you can use the bat symbol as a guide. Notice the first is the most “middle of the road” design. The middle version is square-ish. All other elements are also (head, shoulders, cape, etc.) Gives strength but slowness. The last version is much more sharp. All elements are very pointed. This Batman is weaker but fast and agile looking.


Shapes are made of angles and lines.

Straights and Curves:

Curves should never be more complicated than an ‘S’ or ‘C’. Anything more does not read well. This includes animated movements.
The simpler you go, and you want to go simple, the more precise and accurate your lines must be.
Do not only use one type of line you must use a selection of both straights and curves. You need the contrast (like big hand and small forearms). Straight lines are fast and curves are slow.

You can see that the characters are made up of only ‘C’, ‘S’, and straight lines.

Basic Sculpting


Autodesk Mudbox will be the primary piece of software used in this course. It is free for students to download and use with proper registration. This application allows you to create organic high-resolution models and textures. It’s primary focus is on a simple intuitive interface that utilizes a robust layer system that allows the artist to sculpt and paint directly on the polygonal form.

…You can sculpt and paint cool stuff.


The core of Mudbox is sculpting. More than anything else, this is what separates it from other programs.

Ninety percent of what you sculpt with be done with just these two brushes, especially to start.


Sculpt Brush
The most basic brush. Simply does addition or subtraction from the surface
Move Brush
Allows the user to pull and push the surface of the object

Hotkeys (with Maya preset):

Like most 3D programs it is required that you learn certain keys to quickly select tools or modify an operation. Below are the most useful. There are more that you may find by going to Windows>Hotkeys. You may also adjust, change, or create hotkeys in the popup menu.

Alt + Left Click & Drag
rotate camera view
Alt + Middle Click & Drag
Pan camera view
Alt + Right Click & Drag
Zoom/dolly-in camera view
Frame on mouse
Frame selection
Wireframe visibility toggle
Shift + D
Subdivide model
Page Up
Level up model subdivision
Page Down
Level down model subdivision
Ctrl+Left Click & Drag
Inverse tool (ex. addition becomes subtraction)
Shift + Left Click & Drag
Ctrl + Z
Undo last action
Shift + Z
Redo last action
Ctrl + S
Ctrl + C
Ctrl + V
B+Left Click & Drag
Brush size (diameter)
M+Left Click & Drag
Brush strength (amplitude)
Hotbox (context based quick tool selection and functions menu)
1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
Select corresponding tool visible in bottom panel
I + Left Click
Shift + M
Freeze all
Shift + U
Unfreeze all
Shift + I
Invert freeze

Class 01 Lab

Creative Model Lab

For the very first lab assignment you will create a simple sculpt in Mudbox. It may be whatever you like. The goal is to explore and become familiar with Mudbox’s interface and tools.

You will be graded on the following:
  • Lab Requirements
    • Techniques and processes covered in the instructional material is followed and implemented.
  • Creativity & Craftsmanship
    • Excellent design choices, novel & appealing, and solid clean caliber work.
Assignment Video Tutorials
You may watch the tutorial videos below to help you complete your assignment.

Assignment Video Tutorials

Wait! Before you go!

Did you remember to?

  • Read through this webpage
  • Submit Class 01: Creative Model Lab on Blackboard