Creating Contours for the Head

The head is the most complicated part of the model, and the most critical for showing the character's personality. The overall technique is to use contour curves to model half the head. This preserves symmetry and also saves computation time. The contour curves become the basis for a U loft surface. When half the head is finished, you mirror the half and make the head complete.

In this lesson, you use scans of the artist's sketch as viewport backgrounds to help you make the contour curves.

Set up the scene:

  1. Start 3ds max.

  2. Choose Customize > Units Setup.

  3. In the Units Setup dialog, choose US Standard. Make sure Feet w/Decimal Inches is active, and then click OK.

    It's easiest when you work to scale. Goco will be about six feet tall, and the head will be about 18 inches from front to back.

Set up the background:

  1. Right-click the label of the Left viewport, and under Views choose Right.

  2. Make the Right viewport active, and then choose Views > Viewport Background.

    Note: You can also press ALT+B.

  3. In the Viewport Background dialog, click Files and choose head_side.png as the background source.

    Note: Files for this tutorial are on BlackBoard in the  Course Material-->Better Nurbs Head area.

  4. Turn on Match Bitmap and Lock Zoom/Pan, then click OK.

    Tip: Whenever you need to adjust the position of the background relative to the model, use CTRL+ALT+B to toggle Lock Zoom/Pan. When Lock Zoom/Pan is off, the model zooms and pans independently of the background. When Lock Zoom/Pan is on, zoom and pan affect both the model and the background.

    Tip: Another way to view reference images while you model in 3DS MAX is to display them using the Asset Manager.

  5. Right-click the Right viewport label and turn off Show Grid.

    Tip: You can also press G to toggle the grid display in viewports.

    Now you're ready to begin creating the model.

Initialize the first contour curve:

  1. In the Front viewport, create a Circle shape with a radius of 6 inches.

    The circle is a general starting-point for creating contours.

  2. Right-click the circle. In the Transform (lower-right) quadrant of the quad menu, choose Convert To: > Convert to NURBS.

    Now you can use NURBS features to adjust the contours. As you will see, a NURBS model consists of one or more sub-objects. NURBS sub-objects include curves and surfaces.

    To make sure the head is symmetrical, at first you model only half of it. The first step for the first contour is to make it a semicircle.

  3. Go to the Modify panel.

  4. On the modifier stack display area at the top of the Modify panel, click the plus icon to the left of NURBS Surface. This expands the hierarchy of the NURBS object. Choose Curve as the sub-object level.

  5. Click the curve to select it.

  6. On the Curve Common rollout, turn on Break, then click the circle at the top and bottom (12 o'clock and 6 o'clock).

    Now you have two semicircular curves.

  7. Right-click to turn off Break. Click the left-hand curve to select it, and then on the Curve Common rollout, click Delete.

  8. Click the remaining, right-hand curve to select it, and then click Convert Curve.

  9. In the Convert Curve dialog's CV Curve tab, choose Number and reduce the number of CVs on the curve to 10.

    CVs are "control vertices." They control the shape of a NURBS CV curve. Reducing the number of CVs makes the curve more efficient and easier to handle. In general, when you work with NURBS try to use the minimum detail necessary.

  10. Click OK to close the Convert Curve dialog.

  11. In the Modify panel > Modifier Stack, click the top level to exit sub-object mode.

Start forming the contour curves:

You start by creating contours for the profile. Later you will load a scan of Goco's full face, and adjust the contours to match.

  1. Right-click in the Right viewport to activate it, then click Min/Max Toggle to see only the right view.

  2. Rotate, move, and uniformly scale the contour so it sits at the base of Goco's snout, as seen in the following illustration.

    Note: Avoid using non-uniform scale with NURBS models and their sub-objects.

  3. On the modifier stack display, change the sub-object selection level to Curve CV.

  4. Move CVs in the curve so the curve more closely follows the contour of the snout, from the right view.

    Tip: Often it is easiest to move the CVs in order, from top to bottom or bottom to top. Also, when CVs are close together, the transform gizmo can get in the way of selecting a new one, so you might have to click and move a CV, click to deselect it, click to select the new one, and so on. (On the other hand, the transform gizmo can be useful when you adjust overlaying curves; for example, when you adjust contours to match the full-face sketch of Goco.)

  5. Right-click the NURBS model. In the Tools 1 (upper-left) quadrant of the quad menu, choose Sub-objects > Curve.

    When you modify NURBS models, the quad menu has shortcuts for changing the sub-object level, and performing some other Modify panel commands.

    From this point, the steps will say simply "go to a sub-object level." You can use either the quad menu or the stack display to do so.

  6. SHIFT-move the curve to create a copy of it toward the back of the head. In the Sub-Object Clone Options dialog, leave Independent Copy chosen as the method, and then click OK.

  7. Return to the Curve CV sub-object level, and again adjust the CVs so the curve follows the head.

Contour the back of the head and the neck:

The contour curves are closer together at the base of the neck, farther apart at the top of the head.

Contour the snout and the mouth:

The important thing about modeling the snout is that contours should surround the mouth but never cross it. This way, you will be able to animate the mouth later.

  1. SHIFT-clone the original contour curve, this time in the direction of the nose.

  2. Adjust the new contour's CVs, being careful not to cross over the mouth. "Pinch" the curve somewhat at the corner of the mouth, placing two or three CVs near each other there.

    When two or three CVs are near each other, a CV curve grows sharper.

  3. Create another contour curve. Don't move it much, but move its CVs to project farther along the snout.

    Tip: When two CV curves are close to each other, it can be hard to tell which curve a CV belongs to. Turn on the Keyboard Shortcut Override Toggle button, and then select a CV on the curve you want. Now you can hold down CTRL while you use the arrow keys. This moves among the CVs on the active curve, with no danger of selecting one from a different curve.

    Tip: Another tip: Lock Selection is also useful when you are moving CVs. CTRL+arrow works even while Lock Selection is on, so you can move multiple CVs without worrying about changing the selection by clicking the wrong CV.

    Tip: SPACEBAR toggles the Lock Selection Set button on and off.

  4. Create two more contours, creating four in all for the snout, not counting the original contour. The last contour follows the shape of the mouth itself.


  5. Save your work as StudentID#_goco_right.max.

    If you change the view to a Front view, you can see that while the contours of the head match the profile, they don't yet match the face of the character. The next step is to adjust CVs to match the scanned drawing, head_front.png. You can work on this if you want to, but I've prepared a file to take you farther along the way to completing the character's head. In the next topic, you load that file.

    Tip: If you do work on completing contours for the Front view, work in a Perspective view as well as Front. This helps you distinguish one curve from another. Also, the Soft Selection feature for moving CVs (on the Soft Selection rollout below the Curve CV rollout) lets multiple CVs follow a single one as you move it. This can be useful when you adjust the curves.


Previewing the Head