Mini Mammoth Part 2: Sketching & 3D Sculpting

Posted on January 23, 2012 - category: character-rigging

mini mammoth walking

So now we are on to part 2 of the Making Of Mini Mammoth where I am documenting the entire process of designing a cartoony character rig. In this step, I am doing a bunch of sketching from photo references and sculpting a quick prototype 3D model to get even more ideas. We’re almost ready to start the actual modelling, but first…

Sketching Solves Problems

Design-based drawing is ultimately about solving problems, so quality isn’t at all important compared to just looking and observing the world.

Design sketches for Mini Mammoth

Design sketches for Mini Mammoth

I’m not the best draftsman, and they are definitely not going to dedicate an Art-Of book to me just yet, but it is a very important step to visually work out all the things we’ll have to pay attention to when we get to the character rigging stage. Drawing is also very important because it is fast. You can collect a lot of ideas in a short period of time and end up surprising yourself with ideas you would not have thought of if you had been tempted to jump straight into modelling.

Even when I am coding Python tools, I often find it very helpful to draw out my ideas first. I constantly keep a notebook full of notes and doodles beside me.

At this point, I’m just trying to get lots of ideas for shapes, style and proportions. This is one of the most fun steps because anything goes. I even spent some time drawing bears.

Some more design sketches for Mini Mammoth

Some more design sketches for Mini Mammoth

Design Considerations So Far:

Building a Prototype Model in 3D-Coat

My original sketch wasn’t very detailed, and I wasn’t sure if the shapes I was drawing were even possible in 3D! So I started to model a prototype in 3D-Coat.

3D turntable of Mini Mammoth

A digital sculpt in 3D-Coat

I really like how it turned out! At this point, I am just playing with shapes in 3D. This is not a final model. A lot of details like the ears will still change a lot so I am not too worried about following the design so far. Its just a 3D doodle.

Digital voxel sculpting in 3D-Coat is a lot of fun! You are very free to push and pull your model and experiment. It feels as loose as drawing, the tools are very intuitive. You can even build an armature (The ‘Curves’ tool) or drop shapes in (The ‘Primitives’ tool) using spheres, squares and cylinders to build up a model very quickly.

3d-coat armature

Building an armature in 3D-Coat

Immediately, I began to see some interesting patterns emerge:

The Lessons

#1. Always use references.

I started out drawing a lot of sketches from my imagination, but the ones I sketched while looking at references of other animals were the ones that solved the most problems and made the design more clear in my mind.

As I said earlier; drawing for design is a problem-solving process. At this point, it is not about creating art. The more I drew from references, the more I realized things that I would have to think about during the modelling and rigging stages.

#2. Don’t Limit Your Inspiration

I was looking at one of my drawings and it reminded me of a bear walking. So I studied a few pictures of bears. A bear has a big, lumbering walk with shorter legs than an elephant (just like Mini Mammoth.) So when I go to create a walk cycle, I’ll be largely inspired by bears. Mini Mammoth might look very small but he is going to walk with a big, heavy, camera-shaking gait!

bear walking reference

mini mammoth 3d prototype

Coming Up Next:

I’ll finalize the design, make a couple of polished drawings, and then go back to 3D-Coat to start the actual modelling. After that, I’ll go through the auto re-topology of the model (an amazing feature of 3D-Coat which generates the polygon edge-loops) and create the texture UV’s for preparing the model to export into Maya.

Until then!

Comments (closed)

Chris: Thanks Lisa. Nice to hear from you. I look forward to getting into the actual rigging and bringing this guy to life.

Lisa Doucet: Chris, I loved reading your lesson. I find it VERY interesting how you manage to break it down into bite-size morsels. I look forward to reading more !