As a 3D modeler, it's beneficial that you're well-rounded and can tackle any modeling project thrown your way. There are many different modeling techniques you can implement to reach your final 3D model, and depending on what it is you're modeling, one technique may be better than the other. In this article, we are going to go through the process of creating a sword model using an edge modeling workflow in Maya. In order to get the often times intricate details in the hilt and blade of a sword, edge modeling can be a great method to achieve this.
Let's go over the 10 key steps to creating a sword model from start to finish.
Step 1: Reference
Any type of reference is extremely helpful when modeling anything. While you may think you know how something looks, you might miss features of an object, so your model can suffer because you might not have spent the time gathering reference. You should never really approach a 3D model without some type of plan -- 3D modeling is complex enough. Reference is also a great source of inspiration and can give you great ideas that you might not have thought of without it.
For this particular sword, we did some research online and looked at many different swords, as well as took some design cues from a figurine on a desk.
Step 2: Deciding on a Modeling Method
It's important to decide early on what modeling technique you're going to use. For this particular model, we took an edge modeling method. That being said, you certainly don't have to stick with that technique throughout the entire modeling process. Using a hybrid of box modeling, and edge modeling when it's needed is extremely helpful, and knowing when to use one over the other is a strong skill to have.
Pick your model apart before you even start by looking at your reference and deciding what would benefit from an edge modeling workflow, and what might benefit or be easier to accomplish with a box modeling method. That way, once you do finally start modeling you can have a game plan of how you're going to tackle it.
Step 3: Breaking Apart the Reference
Another helpful technique to use when you're about to begin modeling is to decide what parts of the model are going to be separate pieces of geometry, and what is going to be all one piece. For example, the sword that's being modeled for this article has been broken up into six main parts that will all be created from a completely separate piece of geometry.
Step 4: Blocking in the Hilt
Once you have a game plan, and you know exactly how you're going to approach this model, the next step is to actually begin modeling! As mentioned previously, we used an edge modeling method for the entirety of the sword. So we started with the hilt of the sword, and positioned a single plane at the top of the handle, and began extruding an individual edge, creating the basic shape of the hilt. You don't need to create a lot of extrusions here, just enough to get the shape that you want. However, you also don't want to be conservative with your resolution, because you still want to get all the main shapes of the hilt into the blocking.
Step 5: Blocking in the Guard
For the guard you can take the exact same approach, starting with a single plane, and extruding a single edge out, tweaking each vertex as you go. Again, you want enough resolution to create the shape that you want, but you don't want to spend a lot of time doing little adjustments, that can be saved for later. You want to get the entire sword blocked in first.
Step 6: Blocking in the Blade
The blade that was created for this article is a little more complex than just a flat surface, but depending on the shape of your blade it may be less ornate. By using an edge modeling method you can very easily create those complex shapes in the sword, like the little notch at the top of the blade. Try to keep the resolution to a minimum if you can, it's considerably harder to create a smooth curve shaped if you have numerous vertices to try and adjust. When getting the basic shape it's a lot easier to work with a lower resolution.
We've also gone through and created a few ornate pieces for the blade. The first is a type of wrapping around the blade, and the second is a small protrusion coming from both sides of the guard.
Step 7: Adding Thickness
Up until this point, everything we have created has been a flat plane, meaning there's no dimension to it. Now it's time to add some thickness to our sword. It's best to do this one piece at a time, because depending on what part of the sword it is, it may need to be thicker or thinner. You can take all the edges around each piece, and apply an extrude to it. You'll apply a mirror to this, so keep that in mind when deciding how far you need to extrude the edges out.
Do this for all the pieces on the sword, extruding the edges around the entire plane to create the thickness, and apply a mirror operation to create the other side.
Step 8: Creating the Cloth for the Hilt
The last piece that needs to be created for our sword is the small cloth wrapping around the hilt of the sword. The way this was created was by taking a cube, and extruding it roughly around half the hilt, and applying a mirror operation, so we only had to really model one side. Then you can copy the cube and rotate it to create the "X" shape that you see. You can scale them to the size you want, and duplicate them down the hilt, creating the cloth grip.
To create some interest, you can apply a lattice modifier to each "X" shape, and tweak it independently of the others, just so not all the cloth pieces are exactly the same. By using a lattice modifier you can also tweak the shape and make sure that the cloth pieces are resting properly around the hilt of the sword, so it doesn't look like they are just floating around it.
Step 9: Adding in Resolution
So for the most part, the sword is pretty much complete now. The next step is to go in and add more resolution where it's needed. Right now, if we were to smooth the sword, there wouldn't be any hard edges and it would look more like a balloon sword, rather than a real one. So go in and using the Insert Edge Loop tool add in loops around the corners of the blade, as well as the areas that you want to ensure have a hard edge, like the sides of the hilt, and guard. When you add in this extra resolution, you can also tweak that shape to more accurately match what you had in your reference.
Step 10: Bringing It into a Sculpting Application
Depending on what you plan on doing with the sword, this may be a step that you want to do, or you can simply leave it out and go straight to the texturing. If you're creating a sword for game engine, and you need a low res mesh, then adding in little details is probably not needed. For this, however, we've brought it into Mudbox just to do some small details on the mesh, with most of the work being on the cloth straps around the hilt, and making it looks more like cloth that is wrapped around the handle, rather than some pieces of geometry floating there. You could really take this further and add in things like small scratches and nicks on the blade. Alternatively, you could add those details into a texture if you wanted to keep the poly count to a minimum.
Now that you know some of the basic steps to model a sword, trying using them for your own project. While we used more of an edge modeling workflow, experiment with different techniques on your own projects to find out what works best for you. If you want learn more and grow your modeling skills check out our in-depth library of Maya modeling tutorials.