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Building Animals in 3D

By August 9, 2012Animation, Illustration

Sometime ago I was contracted to develop a series of models that I then converted into interactive rotational VR objects. Providing full 3D versions of animal species offered a far better reference for identification than 2D. Initially it was fish, and then it extended out to birds and mammals.

The challenge was creating an efficient process for building the animals, because I had limited time allocated for creation of each model. After doing some testing, going through trials, I determined that best approach for me was to use Lightwave for modeling, export the models as Obj, and import them into Bodypaint where can I set up the UV’s, and paint and texture the models.

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First up was fish. Much of the initial work was research and drawing, having to identify traits that are specific to each species. Most fish have the same physical body parts so focusing on; fin placement, head ratio, and other unique traits would help in clearly depicting the species. I also had a content expert on hand to provide secondary feedback. I penciled out a side and top profile for each fish to use as as templates for modeling. After constructing a few fish, I was able to narrowed the time to create each fish down to about 3 days. Bodypaint was a big help with reducing time to paint and texture, because it allowed me to paint directly onto the 3D object, and add bump, colour, diffusion and transparency in a single stroke. This helped with simulating/creating fish scales, because I could create scale brushes in Bodypaint that allowed me to apply multiple effects in one sweep. Another benefit is that Bodypaint is very similar to Photoshop, so it was easy to pick up and apply it.

Birds and animals were another challenge because they are far more complex and introduce other details that are not as easy to replicate in 3D. With the birds, it was the introduction of feathers, and with animals, it’s hair.

For hair, I had this plugin for Lightwave that I used previously, Sasquatch. I did try using the application native hair module, fiber effects, but at the time, it was unstable and could produce the results I wanted. Sasquatch it was to be.

In all it worked reasonably well, and turn over was respectable. The benefit for me with this project, was discovering an approach that had good results for the final product, and the opportunity to do some extensive 3D modeling.