Simple Guide on 3D Character Modeling

Nov 3, 2021
14 mins read

In any game setting, the way characters look, move, and interact is one of the key factors attracting users’ attention. It gets them engaged, making the gaming experience more memorable. The 3D effect enhances this experience, making the characters realistic, voluminous, and closer to the audience. 

But how to make a 3D character? The model is the result of work performed by various specialists. They sketch, model, texture, and animate to boost the gaming experience and provide unique figures. Working with 3D graphics is not a piece of cake, but it opens up endless opportunities to explore new horizons of technologies that inspire. As Hideo Kojima said, “90% of what is considered “impossible” is, in fact, possible. The other 10% will become possible with the passage of time and technology.” 

The interest in 3D is growing incredibly fast, and the game industry is one of the most crucial components of this growth. According to Global Market Insights, the size of the 3D Rendering Market was more than $2 billion in 2019 and will continue its growth at more than 20% by 2026. Hence, this technology has promising prospects. And 3D character modeling is an integral part of these innovations. 

We at Whimsy Games have well-established expertise in creating three-dimension games. This guide focuses on 3D character modeling, the best software used for 3D design, and all essential stages of its creation. We will draw on our company’s experience to provide insights, examples, and useful tips to help you easily create a 3D character model.

What is a 3D Character Model?

A 3D character model begins with mathematically calculated coordinates for three-dimensional reproduction of the object’s body surface. It all starts with a simple shape that is gradually enriched by details. To achieve a more convincing look and a flexible figure, artists should go through several stages of complex work, starting with simple sketches and ending with advanced detailing.  

Here are the specialists who provide all the essential stages of creating a 3D character:

  • Concept designer 
  • 3D artist 
  • 3D modeler 
  • 3D texture artist 
  • 3D animator 
  • 3D rendering artist

The process of 3D modeling in many ways resembles the traditional creation of a sculpture. At the very beginning, you have a simple shape like a square or a sphere. But going through all the necessary stages, this shape is getting more complicated and detailed, miraculously getting the look to which the sculptor aspires. The model of a 3D character is evolving similarly.

Here are the basic services related to character modeling:

  • 3D art
  • 3D characters design
  • 3D modeling
  • 3D sculpting

Difference between 2D and 3D Character Modeling

The emergence of 3D technology has changed many industries. Of course, it doesn't mean that the three-dimensional approach will push 2D out of the market. But 3D enables creating impressively realistic and detailed visual content.

Let's not try to determine which approach to modeling game characters is best. We will only draw parallels and compare the characteristics of 2D and 3D technologies.

Best Character Design Software

For modeling a 3D character, game development companies use multiple software solutions. Based on our experience working with various programs, we have selected the three best tools rich in features and armed with powerful functional capabilities. 

1. Autodesk Maya

With the help of this comprehensive tool for 3D modeling, you will be able to create, modify, and render your character. This program includes a time editor and an intuitive workspace. In addition, it offers several types of modeling to meet the needs of the artists with different levels of expertise and different goals.

2. Daz3D

This cross-platform software provides virtual characters and an Active Pose tool that enables moving your model to test the character's flexibility and ability to perform the realistic motion. The main focus of the program is to provide rigged 3D human models. 

3. ZBrush

The main benefit of this 3D modeling software is its ability to create complex sculpting, texturing, and digital painting. This tool is distinguished among others because it tends to create 3D models following the examples of traditional sculpture. ZBrush offers many features to work with the color, shape, and volume of the model.

Important Things to Know Before Starting 3D Character Modeling

Before diving deeper into our guidelines and list the main stages of 3D character modeling, you should learn some details concerning the topic. It will help you better understand how to create 3D character model. We have collected important concepts and aspects of the process that are worth mentioning.

Get acquainted with the terminology 

The basics are critical since more complex stages are built on their basis. 

  • Vertex is a single starting point of the 3D model. 
  • Edge is the point where two verticles meet. It defines the model's shape.
  • Polygon is a shape with three or more sides formed by vertical lines connecting vertices and edges. 
  • Face is the polygon's interior region. A few connected faces form a polygon mesh. 
  • Mesh is the set of polys that represents the 3D model. 

Choose the Right Software 

Select the tool based on your needs and current expertise. Some of the software may be too advanced for beginners.

Consider the Costs

If you're going to hire a professional artist, consider the cost. The price of creating 3D character models will normally depend on a few key factors:

  • The complexity and detailing of your character.
  • The type of the 3D model and the required tool. 
  • The type or location of the 3D modeling company or the artist.

Before hiring specialists to work on your character's modeling, define your budget and determine the required level of complexity. A simply-textured model costs approximately $100-200.  The price for modeling a 3D character of medium complexity will be around $1000 . A model of high complexity may cost $2000  and beyond.

6 Steps for 3D Character Creation

Now, it's time to find out how to create 3D character models step by step. Pay attention to complexity, time, and the choice of software. Armed with this information, let's take a look at the details.

Prepare Your Drawing

The first goal is to develop the concept and the general idea of your character’s appearance. Add features that reflect the personality and distinctiveness. Use simple shapes like circles, squares, and triangles to outline the character’s body composition roughly. The shape and the size of the 3D model will have a major impact on how it will be perceived. Small and thin remind of agility and speed, while big and powerful are about strength and invulnerability. 

Make your sketch simple at the beginning and gradually add new details. Do your best to convey the character through the appearance, clothes, accessories, and special features. The front and side views are essential, but you may benefit by adding more angles. Consider several options for the general appearance of the character before deciding on the final concept. 

Insert Simple Shapes

When the sketches are ready and approved, it’s time to start working with your 3D modeling software. Insert a simple three-dimensional shape like a cube. You will build the character’s basic figure around it. Here is the point where the actual 3D modeling begins. 

Segmenting the original sketch into parts will help to detail it in the next stages of modeling. After that, you must adapt the figure in the program to the outlines of your character’s figure. In this way, you will set the basis for further steps.

Use Layers

What you’ve got so far is just a basic figure, but the final look of your character will include clothes, accessories, armor, or else. Thankfully, there’s no need to build everything from scratch every time you add another detail. All basic software for 3D modeling includes features that enable creating a few layers and working with them separately. For example, to add a helmet, you will need to copy a certain part of the already created object to add a helmet. In our case, it’s the head. Having applied the desired color and shape, you can return the layer to its place. There still is the original layer under it. 

Use the adjustment tools to naturally cover your character’s body parts with chosen colors for dressing up the character. 

Make Textures for Your Model

Texturing certain parts of your 3D model is the next essential step. The tool you will need to use for doing it depends on your software. But normally, you will need to work with each element that has to be textured separately. 

Unwrap the elements to make the area fully accessible. Painting all these objects and giving them a natural look with different effects can be time-consuming. It is a rather complicated process if your character consists of many detailed parts. But implementing texture to the model is one of the key stages of working on a 3D character.

Rigg Your Model for Animation

Rigging is responsible for the future ability of your character to move. You will need to add joints that will enable your model to move naturally. A skeleton is required for the correct bends during the character’s movement. Each bone is responsible for a certain move. To make it seem more realistic, place your model in different poses. You need to fix these poses to create a consistent set of frames required to reproduce motions. 

All these operations may be quite challenging, especially for beginners. Some programs offer ready-made skeleton frameworks that you can use for rigging. But more advanced modeling requires the artists to create the skeleton on their own. Sometimes they have to create up to 100 bones for a single 3D model. 

Make a Render of Your Character

You finally completed building a 3D model of your character. Now it’s time to turn it into a 2D image. Professional rendering artists provide this final image with appropriate light and texture. Then they generate the rendered image and apply the final edits. Usual 3D programs have an automatic rendering function. 

To sum up, 3D character creation is a time-consuming and challenging process. If you want to learn how to make your own 3d character, roll up your sleeves and get to work. But if you need to save your time and achieve the desired result on a first try, Whimsy’s professional team of 3D modelers and artists is ready to come in handy.

Whimsy’s experience: a case study

Breathe Life into Your Character

Any character of a story, especially the one created for a computer game, is a determining factor that attracts and engages the audience. To make the character memorable and distinguishable, you need to ensure a clearly defined temperament and visual features. Nowadays, 3D visualization is one of the best ways to achieve this goal. It makes the characters of the game more realistic and conceptually interesting. Therefore, creating a 3D character model can be a brilliant solution. 

So how to create a 3D character model? It may be quite complex, especially if the concept you choose is difficult to implement. In this regard, every detail matters. You need to choose the right software that will meet your requirements, develop a concept, create sketches, and start modeling on this basis. You will have to work with shapes, layers, textures, build the skeleton to apply animation, and render the image. 

3D modeling may seem a challenging goal that requires big time and financial investments for many of you. It’s not easy to find an outsourcing team that will offer transparent prices, a creative approach, and result-driven service. We at Whimsy Games are ready to undergo all stages of your character’s development. Our team works with top software and offers all services concerning 3D game art, having delivered more than 100 successful projects. Our values, including well-established communication, transparency, high quality, and easy access to the project’s progress, build trust between our customers and us.

Have you got an idea of a character you want to breathe life into? Let’s talk!

FAQ

Are the free 3D modeling tools up to the task?

Although most of the 3D modeling software is paid-for, there still are some free options.
- Blender
- SketchUp
- Daz Studio
- Hexagon
- Wings3D

These programs are especially suitable for beginners and learners. But if you look for a more serious approach, it’s better to entrust your project to a professional 3D modeling agency.

What are the different types of 3D formats?

The most common 3D file formats are:
- STL
- OBJ
- FBX
- COLLADA
- 3DS
- IGES
- STEP
- VRML/X3D

The format you use depends on the company and the product’s requirements.

How long does it take to create a 3D character?

The time spent on 3D character modeling depends on two key factors:
- The character’s complexity
- The experience of the modeler

If the required 3D character is based on the existing 2D character, an experienced modeler can complete this task in 3-4 weeks. Simple characters without texturing and rigging take just a few days or even hours to develop. A complex project may take several months to accomplish.

Denys Kliuch
CEO

I'm a CEO and a Co-Founder of Whimsy Games. Before that, I advanced my expertise in engineering, management, traffic marketing, and analytics working for large game development studios with a $1M+ monthly income. With a clear vision of how game development should work, I run Whimsy Games, being responsible for the marketing and sales of our products and services.