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Low-Poly Character Modeling and Texturing

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(Score 4.59 out of 5 after 78 Votes)
Date Added: 9th December 2009
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Now To Unwrap It

Most people learn to unwrap all/most of the character on to one huge unwrap sheet. It's how I learned it, and until I actually started working in a real game studio, it was the way I always did it. One big texture sheet is not a very good idea for us though. There are a few reasons. First of all, the largest texture size that we were ever allowed to use
when working on PS2 was 256x256. The largest texture size we've ever been able to use on PSP is only 128x128. Now when you're texture can only be 128x128 in size, squeezing the entire character into that space will result in very blurry low-res textures.

So instead, we segment the character up into pieces and each piece gets it's own unwrap and it's own texture. The Shoes get a 64x64 map.

The legs get a 128x128. The torso gets a 128x128, the arms get a 128x128, the hands get a 64x64 and the head gets a 128x128. Some would argue that it costs more power for the engine to read multiple textures, but that difference is nominal, and when the visual result is significantly better, it's worth it.

Another reason a studio might have for having each piece have separate textures is if they were using a swappable part system, or customizable characters.

Then having each piece with its own texture is the best idea anyways.

So, with this in mind, I split the character up into a few pieces.

I selected the polys of the feet and it the Detach button. You can name them (I named them "Shoes") or you can leave it alone, it's up to you. I did the same thing with the sleeves, and named them "Arms".

Once all the pieces are separated, I got the unwrapping texture ready. I use a simple checkerboard texture. Some people get more elaborate, having multi-colored squares with numbers or letters in them (it makes it easier to see if something needs to be flipped horizontal if you have numbers, etc. in the squares) but in this case, I don't feel anything too special is necessary.

Open the Material Editor by pressing the M key. Choose any blank material sphere and click the little Square button next to Diffuse. A list will appear and from it, choose "Bitmap" and then it will open the standard windows file finder and you can pick your texture here. Above I have the checkerboard I use, you can save it and use it.

Once you have the material setup, 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 all of the parts of the character and click the assign button(image 2 below)to assign the material to those objects.

The result will look something like the image above. The objects don't currently have any UV unwrapping done to them, so everything is a mess. This makes the texture appear all stretched and distorted on the object.

Let's start with the foot again. Select the foot. If you still had the symmetry modifier on the legs and had not collapsed it yet, then you should only have one foot that isn't symmetry here. That's good - we can throw symmetry on this later after we've unwrapped it.

If you do have both feet, and no symmetry, go to element select mode, select one of the feet and delete it.

Okay, now, make sure that you click on the word Editable poly and make sure none of the sub-selection types is selected (make sure you aren't in vertex, element, etc. mode)

Click on the Modifier List drop-down and scroll towards the bottom and find the modifier called "Unwrap UVW". It should look like the image below, with a + sign in front of the word Unwrap UVW. Click on the plus sign to expand it and see the sub selection options.

IF YOU DON'T HAVE A PLUS SIGN that means that when you applied the modifier, you were in one of the sub-selection types for edit poly (you were in vertex select mode, or one of the others). Just delete the unwrap modifier
and do it over, making sure you aren't in any of the sub-selection modes.

Once you have the Unwrap modifier on, Scroll down enough until you see the big Edit button. Click this button and it will open a window that shows you what your unwrapped UVs look like. Right now it probably looks like a mess, but don't worry. If you have dual-monitors, it's best if you can put this window on the other screen. If you don't, size it to a shape that you can work with it, but still work in the main max window. If you have to, minimize the edit window and then open it back up when you are ready to use it.

If you scroll further down in the unwrap modifier you'll see a section of Map Parameters. We will be using Planer and Cylindrical fur this character.

Make sure you are in Face select mode under Unwrap UVW and select the polys of the bottom of the shoe. You can toggle between solid red and slightly opaque red by pressing the F2 button. This will allow you to more easily see what polys you have selected (solid red) or make it so you can see the checker texture that's applied to the polys (opaque red).

Once you have the polys selected, click the planar button.

A yellow square will appear around the selected polys. It may be on the wrong axis though, so click the Align X, Y, or Z buttons until you get the planar on the correct axis.

While the Planar button is still active (yellow) you can manipulate the yellow projection square's size, angle, and location with the normal move, rotate and scale tools. Scale the box until it looks like it's a perfect square (don't worry about being a perfect square, but you do want it square). If you got to the opaque red (F2) so you can see the checker texture, you'll see why it's important to get the projection gizmo to be a square. If the gizmo isn't square, neither is the texture. When done adjusting the gizmo, just click the Planar button to deactivate it, and then you can select more faces.

Next I selected the polys that make up the heel and applied a cylindrical map (click the Cylindrical button). Change the Axis that it's aligned to until you find the right now. Now move and scale the gizmo (just use the regular move and scale tools) so it's on the heel correctly. Toggle F2 to see the checkerboard texture, and scale the cylindrical map gizmo until the checkers are squares. When done, click the cylindrical button again to deactivate it.

Next I selected the rest of the shoe and did a planar map down the center of the foot. Again, toggle between F2 so you can see the texture and scale the gizmo so that the checker texture looks square, and the squares are approximately the same size as the squares on the rest of the shoe.

And finally, I selected the top of the shoe and did another planar map on it. Rotate the plane so that it's going at about the same general angle as the top of the foot.

Now that we've done all of the projections we can go into the Edit window and start moving the UVs around themselves.

Along the bottom of the Edit UVWs window should be a bar that looks like the one below. I've circled the things that you'll frequently use from this window.

When you first go to edit the UVs after having made several projections, most everything will probably be overlapping. If you check the "Select Element" option, and select just a single vert of an unwrapped part, it will select the entire part automatically. This makes it easy to then move that piece away from the mess in the middle, so you can separate everything and start working on it.

When you're ready to edit the individual UVs (vertices) make sure to uncheck this option.

The Rot. +90 and Rot. -90 options are often useful for rotating and entire object a set 90 degrees in one direction or another, so they're useful too.

There is also a set of buttons along the top of the edit window. Move, Rotate, Scale are pretty self-explanatory. The 3rd button (highlighted in the image below) is Freeform Mode and basically allows you to move, rotate, and scale, all in one, depending on where you click on the gizmo that appears. It is a very useful tool. It also gives you more control when scaling something.

Next to the Freeform tool is Mirror. The default will flip your selection horizontally. If you hold down on the button you can choose to flip vertically instead.
And further to the right in the windows is a box icon with checkers on it. Right now your edit window probably has the checkerboard texture in the background and it's making it difficult to see the UVs. If you click this button, it will turn off the texture preview in this window.

< previous page 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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