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Thread: Making a Custom Character - 3D Modeling, Unwrapping, Rigging and more

  1. #1
    Louis Lux's Avatar Into the Light

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    Aug 2008

    Default Making a Custom Character - 3D Modeling, Unwrapping, Rigging and more


    Making a completely custom character as a topic hasn't been covered that much over the years, the closest being Alletun's Unit Makers Tome of Knowledge. So I decided to compile my knowledge of all the best techniques and tools I use in a series of tutorial videos. I cover the whole process from start to finish but individual steps can be watched separately to fill gaps in knowledge.

    work files:

    The tools

    I use a variety of tools, there is this tendency to reduce usage to a single tool and either only use Milkshape 3D or Blender. I want to clarify that as a creator you have a lot of freedom as to which tools to use, you can use both Blender and Milkshape 3D in your workflow or use them only in the last few steps (vertex assignment and commenting). In my workflow I prefer to use Milkshape 3D for vertex normals, vertex assignment and commenting because I like the simplicity of the interface which has some easy to use features. In this first video I introduce the tools I will be using, I believe most of them are relatively unknown such as Headus UV layout and Houdini.

    Concept Art

    Concept art is an optional part but I find it to be a really useful method of condensing all your references and serving as a guide throughout the creative process. In this instance, I use an existing concept art and photobash it with photoshop to create the concept I want.

    Face/Head model

    I use makehuman to make head models. The sliders offer a lot of control when customizing your character and the software also offers different poses, topologies and geometries that are very useful. In the video I try to achieve the likeness of an actor and your success is going to depend on careful observation of your subject, in some ways it's a lot like drawing a portrait but in 3D.

    3D modeling

    I use Houdini to create my models, but any 3D tool can be used. Houdini offers a great array of tools such as Edge Loop and PolyExtrude. In the video I spend a few minutes removing the clutter and making the interface easier to use, which is really important. Houdini is a node based software and you can access the different tools by pressing Tab on your keyboard over the network and typing the tool you want or using the icons at the top. Node based systems may seem a bit strange at first but they're actually very intuitive and easy to learn.


    Milkshape 3D has an autosmooth function under the Groups tab. I've seen people discourage enabling autosmooth but I find it to be extremely useful, it's just a matter of knowing how to use it properly. Smoothing will make the flat polygons on the model appear smooth but under certain conditions a line/seam or split will appear in the mesh. It's possible to manipulate those conditions so those seams only appear where you want. Basically if the vertices or points in a mesh occupy the same 3D position (X,Y,Z coordinates), the same UV position (U,V coordinates )and are in the same group those vertices will be smoothed, if any of these 3 conditions are not met then it will cause a line/seam to appear. The easiest way to purposefully add a line to the mesh is to create a gap in the UVs also called an UV seam.

    UV unwrapping

    I use Headus UV layout to unwrap the 3D model into a 2D plane. Headus allows you to easilly place seams on the 3D model (C key) and to relax the UVs (F key) so you can keep the amount of stretching to a minimum. At this stage you can add line/seams in the appropriate places like the edge of a blade. Later some seams will be smoothed by using the UVfuse tool in Houdini.


    I use photoshop for texturing, but again any painting/photo editing software can be used. The main appeal of photoshop are the Burn and Dodge tools that I use to add shadows and highlights to a base texture and I usually add 1 or 2 overlay textures on top of it.

    Normal maps

    I use the base textures with shadows and highlights to create a height map. The height map can then be used to create a normal map using Xnormal. I like the normals from Xnormal better than the nvidia plugin. I also separate the layers of the metal textures and use that to make the reflection map in the alpha channel.

    Rigging the battle model

    I import the OBJ of the 3D model into Milkshape 3D and start the rigging process. You can either use Blender or Milkshape for rigging, it's also possible to do it in 3Dsmax. I do one group at a time, I assign bone weights to the vertices and add the group comment. I spent some time testing the vertex assignments to make sure it looks okay in motion and the clipping is kept to a minimal.

    Lowering polycount

    When making a character model it's likely that you will reach a high number of polys in the model, which is okay for a battle model but will cause problems for the strategy map model. The first thing to do to lower polycount is to delete some groups that are not essential and to delete faces that are not visible. I use makehuman to export low poly versions of the head and hands and I use atangeo balancer lite to lower the polycount of certain high poly groups.

    Rigging the strategy map model

    Similarly to the battle model I import the OBJ of the 3D model into Milkshape 3D, but this time I use a file with the strategy map skeleton. Unlike the battle model you can only assign a vertex to a single bone, so the process is much quicker. I assign vertices one group at a time again. After testing the assignments I regroup all the groups and I add the necessary string of numbers for the group comment, I also add the texture name and path to the texture comment.

    Last edited by Louis Lux; May 23, 2023 at 07:22 AM.

  2. #2
    paleologos's Avatar You need burrito love!!
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    Feb 2011

    Default Re: Making a Custom Character - 3D Modeling, Unwrapping, Rigging and more

    Haven't watched the videos, but I feel I must give praise to this, well done!

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