Never-you-mind that my October 2014 11-Second Club entry scored poorly in the competition and that I consider it, overall, the black (and white, get it?) sheep in the family. There is still something really great that I’m able to take away from it all.
This character, Robin, was designed to help me perfect my lip syncing and shape keys / expressions (among other things) during these 11 Second challenges. When the audio clip called for the character to really start yelling, I knew I had to push the expression for maximum comedic effect. The topology allowed me that opportunity, thankfully!
A character’s mouth probably isn’t supposed to open this big, nor this wide, in general. But I was only getting started. The audio cues seemed to be getting mightier and mightier, so I kept lowering the jaw more and more because my topology was healthy enough to handle the stretching. If I didn’t have just the right amount of edge loops running through my character, I never would have been able to do this without gross deformation.
And then it clicked.
The reason you haven’t heard about, and why I haven’t finished, or at least made more fruitful progress on, my personal project, “Wooden” is because the face topology of my characters is total shit. It’s limiting and no fun and has soured my enthusiasm for 3d animation. So much so that I’ve gone back to 2d animation.
So I’ve started all over again. Again. And this time, with much greater knowledge.
Know Your Character
When modelling characters, (assuming you are the creator and animator) make sure you understand their purpose in the story, their behaviors, their attitudes, etc. Without this knowledge, you might just create a great looking character on the outside that is a nightmare to work with under the skin.
My original Stockpot character didn’t really have a bottom lip. I just never gave him one and thought it would be okay. Of course, this was stupid. I’ve always envisioned the character with a very stiff bottom lip jutting forward in disapproval so to not include that feature ultimately changed how the character acted.
Topology is King
If you animate using blend shapes or shape keys, you know your topology has to be strong. This doesn’t mean you need to have a zillion edge loops running through the face of the character. Too many edges and vertices will eventually make you insane. But always give the character sufficient loops around the eyes and the mouth, and connect those loops in intelligent ways that help the topology flow smoothly.
You can find a wealth of reference on proper topology and edge flow on Pinterest. Study the great work of others and you too can be great!
Also, try different poses using shape keys during the modelling process to be sure you can push your expressions exactly the way you want when the time comes to animating. Knowing your character inside and out before modelling will save you time and energy in the end.
The thing that sucks the most is when you stop in the middle of your animation project and say to yourself, realizing, “This could be so much better if I’d only done this…” Believe me, this self-torture is avoidable.
So now, as I sit here writing this, I’m wondering how much further I could open Robin’s mouth, if I needed to, especially for comic effect. My topology is fairly clean so I should have few restrictions.
During an animation, I always have a duplicate (a dummy) of my character in the scene whose sole purpose is to be monkeyed around with.
This duplicate mesh is free of armatures and materials. Should the need arise to create a new shape or expression, I use the dummy instead of messing with my actual animated character, and then I transfer the new shape key to the actual model.
I could probably lower the mouth even further, and round out his belly, but one also must know one’s limitations, and show some restraint. However, if your character mesh is clean, the possibilities are truly endless!