Maya Character Modeling Tutorial

by Larry Simmons

Autodesk's Maya is a powerful 3D animation tool used by professionals and hobbyists alike to create detailed 3D models and scenes. Maya has been used in feature films like DreamWorks' "Monsters vs. Aliens," and best-selling games, including Insomniac Games' "Resistance: Fall of Man." By using Maya, you can quickly create high quality character models, building upon a few easily implemented modeling techniques.

Reference Material

Before you begin creating your character model in Maya, you should grab as much reference material on your subject as possible. If working from a real person, video from 360 degrees around your subject will help you to make as accurate a reproduction as possible. If video is unavailable, get photos of your subject that contain a front view, both sides, rear view, three-quarter view and both a full body and head-shot. Take photos of your subject showing different facial expressions as well. The more varied your shots, the better you will be able to model and later animate your subject. If your character is not based on a real-life subject, you should draw out the various references material sheets necessary before beginning the modeling process.

Basic Character Modeling

Scan in your reference material and then import the various pictures into Maya for guidance in creating your model. You will want to begin by making a rough translation of your model's body based on the scans. Create cylinders to represent body sections to get the proper scale for your character. Use a cylinder for the torso, another for the leg, etc. You only need to model a single side as you can use Maya's mirror function to reproduce the body parts for the opposing side. Split the torso cylinder in half to get a proper mirroring. Scale and adjust the cylinders using Maya's point-based vertices system to adjust the cylinders to the general shape and counters of the character's body. When you have finished, you should have a grid style mesh of half your character's body minus the head, foot and hand. Join the body cylinders and tweak the body until you have a basic mesh model. Add a hand and a foot by extruding them from your character's leg and arm and then mirror your image. Add a neck and head to finish up your rough model, using the same method as the body. Instead of a cylinder for the head, you should begin with a cube. Adjust the vertices as needed to conform to the general character's head shape. After you weld the neck and head parts to the body, your basic character model is done.

Advanced Character Modeling

After creating your basic character model shape, the rest is all about adding details. Using an anatomy book as reference, add muscle definition to your character, giving it a more natural look. For added detail in the face, import one of your facial reference pictures and split the face polygons of your model, altering the vertices until you have gained the detail you want. As with the body, following muscle patterns gives your character a natural look. For hand detail, begin with modeling a finger. Get a single finger correct and you can copy and paste it to adjust for the other fingers and the thumb. The more detail you put into the model, the more realistic it will look if you later decide to texture or animate it.

About the Author

Larry Simmons is a freelance writer and expert in the fusion of computer technology and business. He has a B.S. in economics, an M.S. in information systems, an M.S. in communications technology, as well as significant work towards an M.B.A. in finance. He's published several hundred articles with Demand Studios.