Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Rise of Fall 2011: 3D Computer Modeling

Recently, 3D Computer Modeling was added to the list of required courses in LCAD's animation program in what I assume is an attempt to expand students' skill sets and job opportunities. The aim of the class was to model and rig a character from scratch, though admittedly the rigging part was more of an extra credit deal than it was an actual assignment. Some of my classmates chose to try and model stuff from outside/licensed properties, though most of us attempted to model our own characters. I chose to model good ol' Dr. Stunkov because I felt that many aspects of his design would lend themselves well to a three-dimensional format.

Despite what the course title's name led me believe, we didn't start out modeling on the computer box right from the get-go. Instead, we were tasked with modeling our character of choice out of Super Sculpey modeling clay to use as a reference for the CG model.

 The pre-baked Stunkov maquette, complete with unblended lab coat!

I kind of stressed myself out a bit going all perfectionist with Stunkov's maquette, but I did eventually come to a point where I had to move on and begin modeling him in Autodesk Maya. Maybe someday I'll come back to that little statue and paint it.

As for the actual computer modeling deal:


I think I was pretty successful, though there are some missing details that I will attribute to my inability to wrap my head around UV texture mapping. Stunkov may not look like he does in his redesign, but he ended up working well as a solid model.

It took me about half of the semester to finish modeling Stunkov, so I figured that I'd dedicate the second half of the class to getting him rigged for animation (sans facial controls).


Rigging Stunkov was a pretty straightforward affair thanks to the aid of some video resources over at Lynda.com, but skinning the model is an entirely different story. For those who don't know what "skinning" refers to, it's something that modelers/riggers have to do to the model to bind the character geometry (the stuff made out of polygons and whatnot) to the rigged joints/skeleton beneath. The problem with skinning the character is that some points of the geometry end up binding themselves to joints that they have no business going near, resulting in the geometry stretching out unnaturally and generally giving the model a lousy look.

I'm pretty glad that skinning is something that can be done automatically these days, because I'm pretty sure I'd go nuts over having to manually change the influence each joint has on the countless vertices that make up a character's geometry.

That being said, I definitely enjoyed the class and feel like I got a lot out of it. Like everything else, good computer modeling takes time and practice, and I can see myself returning to that polygon shelf in Maya to bring some of my other characters into the THIRD DIMENSION.

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