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Low-Poly Character Modeling and Texturing

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Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Welcome to the first section of this 3 part tutorial on the creation of this low poly character. We contiune this tutorial next Monday.

This tutorial is for the creation of Low-Poly "Portable Game Resolution" real-time characters. This tutorial is being made with 3D Studio Max and Photoshop and all program-specific instructions are for those programs. The basic techniques can be transferred to other applications if you are already very familiar with those programs.

The first thing you should ever do before even opening your 3D app is to get your ref ready. I wasn't aiming for anything fancy or elaborate. Nothing fantasy or sci-fi. Just a guy. So I'm using photo ref. A well-drawn and proportionally accurate drawing is also a good option. If you are not confident in your drawing ability, either get someone else to draw your ref, download a drawing, or just use photographs.

This is the guy I'm using. It's actually a compilation of two different guys, in order to get the clothing I liked.

Click to Enlarge

These images came from It is probably the best source I've ever encountered of human reference. It's great for anatomy, for clothing, for textures, etc. etc. etc.... It is however a PAY SITE and it is sort of expensive... Team up with some friends and pay for one month and each of you can power-download and try to grab everything you can from the site before your subscription runs out.

A Couple Tips for your Reference Images: - Make sure your reference images are the exact same size and that the images line up with each other.
  • I've found its best if your reference images are squares, so even if you don't need all that extra space, still include it.
  • Make sure that everything is in the exact center of the image file. Especially the front or back images.
  • Mirror your image to make sure it'll look right when modeled with symmetry.
  • Make sure that the background color of your reference image is not white or very light gray. As you can see in 3dsmax, the wire frame usually shows up as white, and if your background is white too, it makes it very difficult to work!

Setting up the Viewports

  1. Open 3dsmax
  2. Your screen should have a 4-viewport split (top, front, left, and perspective). Click in Front.
  3. Go to Views > Viewport Background (or press Alt+B)
  4. Click the "Files..." button and find your front reference image.
  5. In the Aspect Ration area (bottom left) choose Match Bitmap.
  6. To the right, Check "Lock Zoom/Pan
  7. Click OK and Repeat for the Left Viewport.

The Window Should Look like this -

Before we really get started, I want to explain a few things in hopes that you won't get lost later. To the left of the screen is a set of tabs. Each of these lets you access a different set of important tools and features in 3d studio max.

The First one is Create
  • In Create you can make a bunch of primitive objects. Box, Sphere, Cone, etc. There is a drop-down menu at the top (Says Standard Primitives by default). If you change this, there are other types of things that you can create. In the newer versions of max, you can even create stairs, and trees, and other automatic objects here. But all we care about right now is the Box. But we'll get to that in a minute...

The Second Tab is Modify
  • You will spend most of your time in this tab. It is where you can actually MODEL.

The Third Tab is Hierarchy
  • This tab will be important in our tutorial when we use the symmetry modifier to mirror the model. The location of the model's pivot is very important to making things like symmetry and mirror work. You can click the Affect Pivot Only button, and move an objects pivot to Zero and then symmetry will work.

The Forth Tab is Motion
  • If you rig your character using Biped, all of the biped options will display here. There are a lot of things you can do in here, but only when doing specific tools or doing specific things that involve animation and controllers. Nothing too important to what we're doing in this tutorial.

The Fifth Tab is Display
  • You can hide objects, freeze them (makes it so you can't select them, but they're still visible), and change the display properties of an object here.

The Sixth Tab is Utilities
  • Some utilities are more useful then others. One thing of use you can find here is the poly counter. If you click on the More button a list will appear and Polygon Counter should be in the list. This will let you check what your character's poly count is.

Lets Start

  1. Go to the Create Tab and click on Box.
  2. In the Front viewport draw a box around the shoe. Set the Length, Width, and Height Segs to 1.
  3. - I always just use a straight up plain box to start. And I prefer to start with one that doesn't have any segments in it already, since I judge how many I need by the reference image.
  4. Go to the Modify Tab
  5. Right-Click on the word Box and convert to Editable Poly.


Now you have a whole bunch of new stuff, where before you just had the parameters of the box. By default you won't see this list - you have to click on the little + sign before the words Editable Poly. Do that now.

For the total newbs reading this, the Vertices (vertex) are the dots, Edge is pretty self-explanatory, Border will select all the edges on an external border that you click on, Polygon are the faces of the model - the squares/triangles that make up the surface (you should avoid n-gons in your geometry at all costs. An n-gon is a polygon with more then 4 sides.) And element will select the entire object.

You can also change selection type by clicking on the icons just below the word "Selection".


Useful Tip most people don't know!

If you have a selection of one type, you can convert that selection to another type by holding down the Ctrl Key and clicking on one of the other type's icons under Selection. Example: You have a group of Polys selected, hold down Ctrl and click on the Vertex icon and your selection is converted to all of the verts that made up the polys you had selected.

The options and tools available in the edit poly modifier will differ depending on what you have selected. These are the most important tools that you will use over and over and over again while modeling.

The image on the left shows what tools are available if you are in the Edges selection, and the image on the right shows the tools for Vertices. You will find that you often use Remove, Bride, Connect, Chamfer, Target Weld, and Weld.

Some of the tools have a box icon next to them. With these, if you click the box instead of the main button, you will get a window that opens with several options to choose from. You will click the box most often. Clicking the button will use the tool with either the default settings, or whatever settings you entered into the box last.

Go to vertex select mode, and grab the verts of the back of the box in the left viewport and pull them back to the heel.

Go to edge select mode and select the vertical edges (the front and back of the foot) and click the box next to the Connect tool. The window pops up - we only need one segment right now, so the defaults are fine.


continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Glenn Campbell on Mon, 15 February 2016 11:28pm
The best 3DS Max tut online. Superbly handled and capable of engaging users at all levels of experience. A great deal of work went into this, a great deal of expertise was shared freely and by far and away the most effective, interesting, absorbing and enriching short course of its kind on the internet. My sincere gratitude for your efforts; I trust your career has since been nothing short of meteoric, as I'm certain mine will be, influenced as it is by you. That was awesome and more fun than you can shake a stick at.
Maru on Sat, 27 December 2014 4:20pm
Thank you for the tutorial! I would like to ask about a little detail, since I've just started using 3d max, it's quite confusing for me. Well, it's about the first step in the second page. I connected the two vertical edges of the foot, but i don't know how you got all the other edges :s Would you please explain it to me?
Again on Thu, 06 February 2014 11:06pm
Best tutorial for unwrapping !!! lots of usefull tips !!!
SEMO on Mon, 01 July 2013 10:14pm
great tutorial , can i make one by max scripts that include all process in order if i want to use this script in making human models ?
Chris on Mon, 03 June 2013 12:59am
Nice tutorial, very informative! I recommended this to some fellow students for a project we are doing. Well done!
Sudhir on Sun, 31 March 2013 3:39am
Very good tutorial for beginers I've made the same thing in 3ds max
Kjuu on Sun, 25 March 2012 4:03pm
Great tutorial. I'm just starting with 3d graphic and that helped me alot. Thanks! PS. XellD, it's much easier to use planes and apply images on them. Then you can easily manage their size.
Sizza on Mon, 27 February 2012 10:03am
A very in depth tutorial, just what I'm looking for, need to download 3DS MAX to try it! Thanks for your time making this.
ErroR on Sat, 25 February 2012 3:27pm
Excellent tutorial. Covers everything in-depth while keeping it pretty simple. Will definitely try this soon. Thanks!
Djcliverson on Thu, 26 January 2012 10:40pm
Great tutorial, these were my first few days of 3d graphics, and you teached me really a lot, easy and funny, thank you so much
Tanbeen Amin on Tue, 17 January 2012 10:26am
Thank you very much for your tutorial... :) i needed this ..!
XellD on Tue, 03 January 2012 12:08am
OK, i don't know if this is still recently read, but I got stuck already on the first page. When I add Backgrounds for front and left viewport (even if I take yours), they end up not being the same height for the feet (also both pictures have the same resolution and so on, as you mentioned). I found many people on forums having the same problem: the background image cannot be aligned inside of 3DS Max. What can I do about that?
Krisu on Wed, 21 December 2011 4:32pm
That is what i was looking for, this kind of tutorials! Thanks you all so much! >_
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