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Low-Poly Character Modeling and Texturing

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Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Welcome back to the concluding part of this character modelling and texturing tutorial. This part will cover texturing our character.

Setting up the Photoshop file with UV ref

I'm going to explain two ways you can do this... I can think of at least two more in addition to these I'll explain. (It's amazing how you can do most anything in Photoshop at least two or three different ways....)

If you didn't save with an Alpha / didn't use TGA format

  1. Open the file in Photoshop
  2. Click on the Background layer and drag it to the new layer icon (this will duplicate the layer).
  3. Go back to the background layer, set your background color to white, Select All (Ctrl+A) and Delete (Del).
  4. Go to the Background layer copy. Choose Image > Adjust > Invert.
  5. Choose the Magic Wand tool and in the menu bar along the top of the screen uncheck anti-alias, uncheck Contiguous, and set Tolerance to 0.
  6. Click anywhere on the white part of the image and Delete.
  7. Rename the layer to UVs or something similar

If you saved your images as TGA files with Alphas (32-bit

  1. Open the file in Photoshop.
  2. On the Background layer, select all (Ctrl+A) and Delete (Del) and it will replace the whole thing with whatever the background color you have selected (preferable white right now).
  3. Go the Channels tab. You should see 5 channels, the RGB, Red, Green, Blue and an Alpha channel. Hold Down Control and click on the Alpha Channel.

4. Go back to the Layers Tab, Create a new layer.
5. Select BLACK as your foreground color, right-click in your image anywhere and choose FILL from the drop-down.

Go back to the Channels tab, click on the Alpha channel, and drag it into the trash-can at the bottom of the channels window.

This is just a precaution, but it's a good idea to do it now rather then have something mess up later (if you load a texture with an alpha channel on it, in max, it may assume that you want to use that channel as the alpha and you could end up with some stupid headache when you render - just easier to fix it now to avoid a problem later).

So now it should look like the image above. Name the new layer whatever you want (I usually go with UVs or UV Ref, or something along those lines).

Now save the image as a PSD file.

Texturing the Head

The technique I'm going to cover here works for making a low-res real-time head texture. If you're intent is some high-res, high-poly head with a 1024x1024 res texture map, there are different techniques that I'd use. But when you're end result is gonna be small, there are some tips in here that will get a better result.

Start by getting some photo ref. It's really best if you can find front and side views of the same head with the same lighting so you don't have to try to match the skin tone too much.

This is the one that I've decided to go with. These images also came from Like I said at the beginning of the tutorial - this is a seriously awesome site full of reference and texture good-ness. I HIGHLY recommend getting a month's subscription and snagging as much from it as you can manage. It's so nice to be able to start texturing and not spend several hours Googling and sifting through photos and textures on the net to try and find something almost useful. It's much easier to just open my local texture storage (basically a download of large portions of and find what I need within minutes.

Click to Enlarge

First let's set max up with our work-in-progress texture. In 3dsmax open the Material editor and choose a slot that doesn't have any texture in it right now (blank gray sphere). Click on the box next to Diffuse and choose Bitmap from the window the pops up.

From the select bitmap image file window, set the Files of Type: to All Files, or to Photoshop files. Either is fine, so long as you can find the PSD file with your UV template that you saved earlier.

After you click Open, a PSD Input Options window will pop up. Just leave it on the defaults (collapsed Layers) and click OK.

Click the button in the material editor (in row of buttons along top, just under all the spheres) so that the texture will show in the view port.

Then Select the head of the character and click the assign button to assign the material to that object.

Making the Texture

Go back to Photoshop now and click on the background layer so that you're under the UV ref layer.

From your reference image of choice, make a selection around the eye, copy, and paste it into your texture work file. Right-Click anywhere in the image and choose "Free Transform" to be able to quickly scale and rotate etc. the pasted image.

Move and scale the pasted eye so that it lines up with the UVs of the character's head. Next go back to your reference image and make a selection around the nose, copy, and paste it into your work image.

I copy each piece of the face separating because it gives me more control over scaling and moving those parts to line up properly to the UVs. It's rare that you'll be able to copy an entire face onto your UVs and have everything line up and be the right size, right off the bat.

While doing this, save your image and go back to 3dsmax to check on the placement of things. It should refresh the texture automatically every time you save your PSD file.


Do the same thing for the mouth and check your progress in Max. Make sure that the mouth actually falls in the correct parts of the geometry on the 3D model. If it goes too far past the lip or doesn't line up with the crease between lips, go back into Photoshop and scale/move things around some more.

Once the majority of the face is down, I copied the side angle of the head and scaled it so it was approximately the correct size and shape. Now to open one of Photoshop's most helpful tools when making textures from photo reference....


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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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