Digital Character Modelling 2 — Making the basic body

Welcome to the second part of my series on character modelling. In my last post I talked about getting your software and making your reference. Hopefully this means you now have the foundations to start making your character and it is time to start modelling. Depending on what software you are using you will have to use different tools and model in different ways but the general principles and order of steps remains the same. Before we start I will quickly explain the modelling method I use. I will then run through creating the basic parts of a human body which can be used as the start for your characters. I won’t be running you through a step-by-step modelling tutorial but I will give some quick tips as to how I did it. I would advise searching online for tutorials aimed at your particular choice of software.

The Method

I don’t know the technical term for my method but I call it object modelling. By this I mean that I break the model down into a series of smaller parts. For example instead of making a chair you would make a leg, a seat and a back then add them together to make the chair. I like this method, particularly for characters, as, although it slows down the initial model, it makes every subsequent model quicker to make. This is because it allows you to reuse parts of models very easily. For example if you have made a basic model of a person and now you need to make a four armed person instead of starting from scratch all you have to do is import your existing models of legs, feet and head, two sets of arms and hands and a body. You then need to stick them all together and possibly model the body and arms a little bit and you are done. This might take somewhere between half an hour and two hours depending on your experience and how much customisation the arms need but it will be far quicker than starting from scratch.

Beginning modelling

At this point we get rid of the reference temporarily and instead start building a basic model of a human. Whilst it can be tempting to skip this step and just start modelling your character it is much easier to make the parts of a basic, generic character first and edit them to fit what you want. Firstly because a tutorial for a generic character should be easy to find, and secondly because it is easier to edit one generic character into many varied ones so you get a better basic model this way. The generic body should be the set of parts that will be used over and over in nearly all your models. I usually have mine consist of only three parts: Head, Torso, Legs. Below is my generic model which I will be making in this tutorial:

My generic base

As you can see the generic body doesn't need to be well sculpted or finished off; it just needs to look reasonably human-shaped and be editable so that it can be given different muscles, height, weight and so on. To make the basic modelling shape easier it can be good to base your modelling on a background image. Line drawings are best as you can align your edges to the lines on the drawing. Here is a link to my reference image. In my model I have also left obvious places for arms and feet to attach for later in the modelling process.

The Head

Starting at the top is always good advise and that holds true here. The head should always be included in a generic human model as it is fairly standard across all humanoid models. It will often be in the same pose (straight above the torso looking at the camera) and even when in another pose it is often simply a question of rotating the head left or right. This makes a generic head one of the most reusable parts. Another great factor of the head is that by simply moving around two or three vertices and scaling you can quickly change someone from having a short, fat head to a long, slim and cruel face. This gives the head the double bonus of being reusable and yet endlessly original-looking.

What your head needs to include

  • Neck that can easily attach to shoulders.
  • Adjustable vectors at nose and eye height.
  • Adjustable vectors at chin.
  • Easily scalable shape on all three axes.

If you include the last three then the head will be extremely easy to customise. If not then it may be quite difficult.

How I made the head

  1. Added a cube.
  2. Subdivided the cube to give it roughly 80 faces. (Blender has the subdivision surface modifier to make this easier. I think most other software also have similar tools.)
  3. Dragged the bottom left vertexes of the cube out to form a chin.
  4. Scaled and edited the sides and back to give a rough head shape.
  5. Extruded the back of the base to create a neck.
  6. Shaped and tweaked to get a basic head shape.
  7. Edited basic shape to fit reference.
Head modelling

The Torso

This is the solid centre of your model which most pieces attach to. Crucial to your generic model as it allows you to add the smaller pieces on later. The torso is fairly difficult to customise as if you edit the shoulders or hips you risk the legs, arms and head no longer attaching smoothly. That said the torso’s stomach and chest can be widened and narrowed allowing muscle and fat to be created. It can also be lengthened to give extra height. The torso has the advantage of being fairly standard and similar on most people and not changing pose much so its lack of editable points isn’t too much of a weakness.

What your torso needs to include

  • Shoulders and hips that can easily attach to arms, legs and head.
  • Usefully scalable loops at top and bottom of chest and on stomach.
  • Optional: Shoulder and hip joints that won’t change when the height is adjusted.

If you include the last one the torso is more customisable but be aware that it could cause the joints to change shape which is hard to undo and badly affects the model. Remember, the easiest way to make point 1 work is to simply make your torso attached to the head and only remove the head when you save the torso.

How I made the torso

  1. Extruded the neck of the head ensuring I had plenty of usefully positioned loops.
  2. Scaled the loops to match the reference images’s width.
  3. Scaled and moved the loops to match the reference images depth.
  4. Shaped and tweaked to get the precise torso shape along with creating arm joints.
Torso modelling

The Legs

These are the least generic part of the generic model. Legs are different in many poses so a general leg isn’t really a thing. The reason I include the leg is because the hip-waist join is quite complex and so it is good to make sure you have it sorted in the generic model. Also, many characters may want a basic standing pose at least once and it is a good pose to be able to quickly recreate. Finally, the legs are one of the most easy to customise sections so you might as well have some in the generic model.

What your legs need to include

  • A groin that separates the two legs (challenging — see groin section below)
  • Usefully scalable loops right down the leg.
  • Good ankle joints

How I made the groin

  1. Deleted the faces at the base of the torso.
  2. Selected 4 central vertices at the base of the torso.
  3. Created a face in the centre of the torso base.
  4. Re-created the faces to the sides of the central face to give two bases for legs.
Creating the groin

How I made the legs

  1. Extruded the legs out so that I had plenty of well spaced loops.
  2. Scaled the loops to match the reference images’s width.
  3. Scaled and moved the loops to match the reference images depth.
  4. Shaped and tweaked to get the precise leg shape along with creating ankle joints.
The legs

The generic body

So there you have it. One generic body plan that can have bits added, removed or edited to make it original. The finished thing should look a bit like this:

The generic model.

To finish up just a few notes on why arms and feet weren’t included. Arms are far too varied to include in a generic body plan. There are at least 6 commonly used arm poses and dozens of less-common ones. With this many poses a generic arm is only going to get used on a handful of models at best so is not worth making. Feet are usually inside shoes and, unlike the torso or leg, a foot isn’t easy to convert into a shoe. You are better off simply making the shoe from scratch so there are no generic feet on my generic body plan. That’s pretty much it. Next post I will talk about making the rest of the body parts and may also begin making the clothing.

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