Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Maya- Human head modelling

In preparation for my upcoming crazy golf CGI animation, I've been playing around with Autodesk Maya recently, familiarizing myself with the toolset and learning to use the program starting with the basics. From looking at my friend's blogs, I found a very useful video (below) which gives a rapid overview of the most common tools in the program:

As a pleasant surprise, I have found that I am picking up Maya and remembering how to use it pretty well, so after watching a few tutorials I soon felt confident enough to apply what I had learnt to a new model of my own. I love a challenge, so couldn't resist following the next video from my friend Brian's blog (over at

Of course, this video is not a tutorial! From what I had learnt so far with the program, I could however tell what tools were being used, and so paused the video intermittently to recreate the human head from a step by step basis. Before I begin my walkthrough, I would just like to point out that it seems I have done the same thing as Brian! Believe it or not, I started modelling hours before he updated his blog showing his progress- I reckon we started roughly the same time! Spooky.

The first step was to create two spheres for eyes, and a larger sphere for the basic head shape. For the start, the eyes were positioned within the head, since the face would be created by moving vertices inwards, revealing the eyes later. It is best to begin with a low poly model, hence the subdivisions were set to a relatively manageable amount for the head. From the second image above, you see that using the move and scale tools, I manipulated the edges of the sphere to bring them out and down, to form a chin shape.

Now for a shiny new tool- the 'interactive (a.k.a. polygon) split tool'. This enables the addition of new edges by clicking to create vertices, automatically joined with an edge. I used this tool to 'draw' the facial layout onto the front of the head. Then, by moving selected edges, I inset the eye sockets and drew out the nose and lips.

With a bit of tweaking, my head began to take shape. The eyes were coloured via assigning a new material and selecting white, so that they stood out when modelling.

The neck was created with a cylinder, offset from the centre and rotated slightly. In order to manipulate the shape as was necessary, I used another new tool- the somewhat sinister sounding 'cut face tool'. As you can see in the screenshot above-right, by holding in the left click when an object is selected, this tool enables you to 'cut' along a line (horizontal here), which slices directly through the selected faces creating a new set of edges ready to be moved or scaled, etc.

The move and scale tools were then used to correctly position the neck, and to fan out the bottom to create the beginnings of the shoulders and collar bones, etc. Next, using the interactive split tool, I added new edges to the face and began the process of refining the shape to have more detail.

A major part of the head was missing- the ears! In the video I was following, unlike the main face, there was nothing to show how they were created, and so I saw an excellent opportunity to apply my skills, creating something without any aid whatsoever. Beginning with a cube, I used the scale tool to flatten it, followed by the 'insert edge loop tool' to add more vertices. These were manipulated into a basic ear shape. The polygon split tool was used to add further detail- suffice it to say that ears have a complex shape, so getting them to look right was not at all easy. Nevertheless, through many alterations, they took form. To the left, you can see the ear smoothed, though it is not currently smoothed as part of the head (more on that later).

Using the 'cmd+D' duplicate feature, I copied the ear exactly, inverting it's scale and rotation to position it facing the correct way. The head certainly looks a lot better with ears!

At this point, the model had the desired shape, and just required smoothing. Some of the edges were a little harsh, so I made the decision to use the aforementioned toolset to add new edges and vertices. Another useful feature was the 'add divisions' option, which automatically increases the poly count of the model.

I am very pleased with my progress so far, mostly with the realism of the model. I feel I have been able to translate skills as a model-maker and sculptor into 3D software effectively, and hope to apply these techniques soon in the creation of my animation.

That's it for now! I cannot afford to play with this model any longer, at least until the project is complete- but this is not to say that I will never return to it. I have hit a stumbling block at the moment however, relating to the smoothness of the model. In my enthusiasm to mimic the incredible level of detail shown in the video above, I added as much detail as possible to my model making the poly count quite high. This does mean that smoothing has little to no effect on those prominent edges, and I am unsure how exactly to go about finishing the model off. My belief is that I shall have to take the time to add edges and simply continue to move them into place.

If anyone has any tips or suggestions for ways to smooth my model effectively, I would really appreciate you leaving any comments below! Feedback is always welcome!


  1. Really a very nice work...Great job you have been done....Thanks for this

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  2. Thanks for the link, and it's great to hear you like my work!

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