5 Modeling Concepts that will Accomplish 90% of Any Polygon Modeling Project
Modeling is a simple idea. We take an image or real object and then we translate it into a three dimensional digital model. How this model is used varies based on the project. It could be rigged and animated, used for a simulation, put into a game engine or rendered as part of an illustration. In many cases the type of geometry that we’ll use to create our models is polygonal or a subdivision surface. Now all modeling applications have their own tools and modeling methods, but you’ll find that there are a few modeling concepts that are universal across all applications. You’ll be able to accomplish ninety percent of any polygon modeling project if you master these five modeling concepts.
One of the advantages of working with polygons is our ability to pull out extra “material” wherever we need it. Think about pulling out a character’s arms or the pillars on a car. This is how we can add to the overall volume of a model and we’re going to need to do that; a lot. The tools for extruding polygons will differ slightly based on your application and what kind of components you’re working with. Sometimes the same tool will allow you to inset and extrude at the same time.
In Maya you can look for the Extrude tool while duplicating. Moving polygon faces in Softimage will accomplish the same thing. Other applications may use the term Bevel as well. There may also be a setting to let you decide whether you want to treat your extrude as a group or deal with the polygons separately. So don’t forget to set that appropriately.
2. Adding Edge Loops
Adding edge loops to our existing polygon geometry allows us to gain resolution in areas where we’d like to modify the shape. The edges will loop back on themselves assuming we’re working on clean, quad topology. Even in areas where we can’t (or don’t want to) add loops all the way around, these tools will speed up the addition of edges. Then we can use another tool to finish the edge work manually. Edge loops can also be added to shore up existing edges in preparation for subdividing. Some applications will allow the addition of partial loops, multiple loops or allow you to set percentage values for the placement of edges. In Maya, look for the Insert Edge Loop tool, Loop Slice is a powerful option in MODO, and SwiftLoop will work great in 3ds Max.
3. Manual Edge Editing
Adding edge loops works great for quickly adding more resolution across a model, but there will be many times when more care and control are required. In these cases, most applications will have a tool that will allow you to manually connect vertices and edges with new edges placed one by one. In Maya there are a couple of these tools, Interactive Split and the Split Polygon tool. Edge Slice will do the trick in MODO, while the Knife Tool in CINEMA 4D serves this function, as well as adding loops depending on the mode selected. These tools give us finer control over the placement of edges in areas of detail or more complex topology but would be tedious to use over large areas of the model. (See #2 above)
4. Manual Polygon Editing
These tools are multifaceted and are sometimes grouped as topology-related tools. They allow for the manual placement of points that may or may not be constrained to an underlying mesh. Hotkeys typically allow us to very quickly place these points, connect them with edges and then create polygon faces to fill in the gaps. These polygons can be quickly edited and manipulated giving us very fine control. While these tools are often used in retopology operations, they can also give us a quick way to fill in topological gaps in our meshes. In Maya look for Quad Draw in the Modeling Toolkit, while MODO provides the Topology Pen.
5. Smooth or SubD Preview
If your pipeline dictates that your models will be subdivided or smoothed upon render, then having some kind of quick toggle for viewing your model in that state is vital. This preview will eliminate the guesswork and allow you to create models that will look correct when smoothed. In most cases you can also continue to model in this state, but we would recommend you at least switch back and forth occasionally as your cage can get messy if you work only on the smoothed version. In Maya, the Smooth Mesh Preview can be toggled using the “3” key while the Tab key works in MODO. In Softimage try using the “+” key on the numeric keypad.
The names of these tools may be slightly different, but most polygon modeling applications will have these tools available. By mastering these universal modeling concepts, you’ll be able to quickly progress on most of your polygon modeling projects.