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Master Character Retopology: Game and Film-Ready 3D Models with Autodesk Maya and ZBrush


🔴Learn how to create a perfect topology for a game-ready or film-ready 3D character by importing high-poly meshes from ZBrush into Maya and optimizing them for production.



🔴Explore techniques such as decimation, making objects live, using the Quadro tool, extruding edges, creating quads, adding edge loops, and relaxing topology.






- Workflow

  • The first thing we want to do is to Import the high poly mesh into Maya.

  • Before importing high poly Zbrush models in Maya make sure to Decimate it.

  • Don’t change the size of the model inside of Maya because it will cause problems during the baking process.

  • To work on the topology we need to make the high poly a Live Object by clicking on the mesh and then the magnet icon.

  • This will turn the mesh into a 3D reference we can then work on with the Quad Draw tool.

  • The Quad Draw lets us draw polygons on top of the high poly mesh by adding vertices when clicking on the surface of the model.

  • To make it into an actual polygon we need to add at least 4 vertices then by holding the Shift key hover above the area and Left Click.

  • Every polygon that we add will snap onto the Live Model until it’s no longer Live.

  • The polygon is its own object inside of the Outliner and can be manipulated using the basic tools inside of Maya.

  • We can extrude polygons we add using the Quad Draw by holding down Tab and dragging out an edge.

  • We can continue adding in more polygons using this method to retopologise the entire model.

  • When we add more polygons we should be aware of how big the length of the polygon is.

  • If it’s too long it will go through the Live Model because it doesn’t have enough edges in between to make a curve.

  • To add more edges to the polygon we can hold down the Ctrl Key and just like the multicut tool we can add in edges.

  • Once we add these extra edges it will snap to the form of the Live Model and create a nice curve to support the shape of the mesh.

  • The more topology we add to the curve the better it will support the shape of the Live Model.

  • We can extrude a row of polygons or an edge loop by holding down the Tab key and the Middle Mouse button while dragging out.

  • Now that we got acquainted with how the Quad Draw works we’ll start from scratch and retopologise the model.

- Using symmetry

  • Symmetry can save you a lot of time when retopologising a model.

  • Only if your character is fully symmetrical on both sides.

  • When we add vertices with the Quad Draw in the middle of the model we can see that the two vertices are merging into one because of the active symmetry.

  • This isn’t a big issue and can be worked around.

- Retopologising

  • We want to have as little of a polygon count as possible for the low poly that we are making.

  • We still need to add extra edges in places where we need the surface to be curved but we need to do this sparingly and efficiently.

  • Starting from the center of the face we will slowly work our way to the front of the face.

  • Remember you can extrude a large row of edges by golding down Tab and the Middle Mouse button while dragging.

  • If you only want to extrude one edge you only need to hold down the Tab key and drag it out with your mouse.

  • Continue adding polygons by following the form of the Live Model.

  • If you notice places that are too flat you can always add in more edges by holding down the Ctrl key just like when we do when using the Multi-Cut tool.

  • Slowly build up your way on the face by dragging out group exudes of the edge loops.

  • When we need to retopologise circular shapes on a model we need to keep the form in mind so that we have nice geometry throughout the model.

  • Start adding polygons using the Quad Draw tool around the circular shape.

  • To make sure that your topology flow is ok you can test it by holding down the Ctrl key and hovering over the polygons and watching the edge flow, if it goes through the model completely without looping in any other direction your topology flow is correct.

  • To Relax the topology hold down the Shift key and the Left mouse button.

  • Be careful since the tool strength is a lot and it can mess up your topology flow if you’re not careful.

  • Now that we relaxed the topology we can go ahead and keep adding polygons on the face.

  • Just like we did with the circular shapes on the front face of the model we’ll do the same things around the eyes.

  • Start adding polygons around the shape and then fill in the gap inside.

  • We can add one big polygon going across the face of the model and afterward add in the edges to create the curve shape of the eyes.

  • The eyes should have a circular shape to them as well so that our geometry flows nicely around the entire model.

  • We can fill in the gap inside of the eye by holding down Shift and clicking for a polygon to appear. But this way we will get improper topology and it will mess up our edge flow.

  • We want to avoid this issue at all costs.

  • Instead of undoing these new polygons, we can instead delete them by holding down Ctrl and Shift and then clicking on the polygons we don’t need anymore.

  • Make space for new edges if needed to properly reconnect the topology.

  • If you encounter a triangle like this, delete some of the polygons and reconnect them again.

  • We can use Soft Select (clicking B to activate it) to Relax a larger area of the topology.

  • If we start relaxing the inside of the topology it will only relax the inside and never the borders.

  • If we start relaxing the borders it will only stick to relaxing the borders of the topology.

  • We can change this in the Relax settings inside the Modeling Tool Kit Tab where we selected our Quad Draw Tool.

  • Inside the Quad Draw Options, you can change the Relax settings.

  • If we change it to All Vertecies it will smooth out all of the vertices no matter if they are inside or on the border.

  • Usually, we don’t want to use this instead we want to stick with the Auto-Lock option instead.

  • Continue filling in the gaps inside the face while relaxing the topology every now and then.

  • Feel free to move around edges, and delete edges/polygons to create better topology.

  • If you need extra topology you can always add in edges.

  • If your topology is messy relax it while using the Soft Brush to smooth out the area.

  • Now that the head is all retopologised we have to continue down to the rest of the body.

  • We want to have this shape at the end of the topology at the neck, one polygon in the middle with two polygons on the side. We want this so that they can help us with retopologising the body by using the same geometry we added for the face.

  • Make sure the topology on the edges is relaxed.

  • Add a couple of edges down the extended polygon to begin reconnecting it with the rest of the topology.

  • It’s always better to extrude from the front because it will lower the risk of the two vertices merging together in the center of the symmetry.

  • Always relax your topology with every extrude or major change to keep the edge loops nice and straight.

  • When we extrude from the side the vertices in the center will merge and create a triangle.

  • We can always fix it up by deleting the triangle and redoing the topology there but it is better to keep an eye out and work more efficiently to reduce these problems from happening.

  • We can change the Auto-Weld in the Quad Draw Options to be around 5 so that the vertices have a lower chance of merging when we make extrudes.

  • Moving to the side of the head we can add in an edge loop and extrude the row of edges on the side.

  • Around the top part of the head, we can add one big edge loop to meet in the middle and just add edges on the side to create a curve.

  • The back side of the head will be tricky to place polygons in but be patient.

  • Place the polygons around the back of the head.

  • Add another row going around the back of the head again.

  • Extrude a big edge from the back of the head and place it in the middle.

  • After that add some edges to create the curve of the head.

  • We’ll repeat the same process on the top of the head.

  • Same with the sides of the head.

  • We can start to fill in the gaps on the inside.

  • Make sure to relax your topology after filling in the gaps.

  • Add some extra edges on the middle of the head and relax it out.

  • Moving down to the lower sides of the head we’ll continue filling up the gaps by adding polygons and rearranging edges.

  • If you ever need to delete a polygon or edge to make room or fix up any topology mistakes feel free to do so.

  • And of course, after everything is connected relax your topology.

  • Now connect the front part of the head to the back.

  • We can see that the front part has more edges than the back. Instead of adding more edges to the back, we can use the already existing topology from the front to reconnect the polygons that we add from the back head to connect them with the front.

  • We do this by moving around topology and connecting it to near polygons as well as adding in more in the gaps.

  • In the end, we relax the topology.

  • Lastly, we’re going to connect the back of the head a bit with some extra polygons.

  • The head should look like this so far.

  • We can’t retopologise all 8 legs at once so we have to disable symmetry and only work on one of the tentacles.

  • Start by creating a rim around the beginning of the tentacle.

  • To get better curves add more edges but don’t go overboard, it’s always easier working with less topology.

  • After we relaxed our poly loop we can start to extrude the entire edge loop by holding down Tab and the middle mouse button.

  • Continue extruding till you reach the end of the tip.

  • This is where we’ll start working on the tip by hand and then connect it with the rest of the tentacle.

  • Start working your way from the bottom up.

  • When you reach the midway point you can start adding topology from the rest of the tentacle towards the end.

  • Continue working on filling in the gaps as best you can.

  • Once we are done connecting the tentacle we can add more edge in between and relax it.

  • Once we are done with the leg we can select the faces of the tentacle and duplicate them.

  • We will use the duplicate to create the rest of the legs.

  • Copy and paste the duplicate enough times, rotating each duplicate for about 30 degrees to fit the Live Model.

  • Once you duplicated and placed each leg, make sure you select every part of the octopus and combine it into one again.

  • Once everything is combined in one again connect the tentacles in between each other and below.

  • Time to connect the tentacles with the rest of the body.

  • The head has way more topology than we have on the legs but we can use that extra topology to help us connect the tentacles.

  • We’ll start off by connecting each tentacle with one polygon onto the body.

  • Add more edges to the polygons to make them curved.

  • We’ll start from the front and work our way to the sides.

  • Use the topology from the head to help you connect the polygons from the legs by moving them around and at the same time adding polygons where needed.

  • Once you are done connecting one gap make sure you relax it before moving on to the next.

  • The last part to do is the back.

  • Once everything is connected Soften The Edges of the model and our low poly is ready for baking.


- Baking

  • Before we export the model we first need to open up a UV map.

  • We’ll use the Automatic UV cutter inside of Maya to speed up the process.

  • Once we have our UV shells we’ll Lay them out and then export the model.

  • Inside Substance Painter, we’ll make a new project.

  • We’ll set up our resolution to be on 4k and import the low poly octopus we made in the previous classes.

  • Now that we’ve imported the low poly we can start baking it with the high poly version.

  • In the bake options, we’ll set the resolution bake to be 4k as well and change the Antialiasing to 4x4.

  • After that, we’ll add in the high poly and click Bake.

  • Once the bake is done we can see that we have all the details from the high poly on our low poly model.

  • If we turn on the wireframe we can see the actual topology of the model.


Making Topology on a human face


- Workflow

  • It’s nice to get all the circular shapes of the face down before we start connecting everything together.

  • These parts are the mouth and eyes.

  • It’s better to work with symmetry if your character is symmetrical on both sides.

  • Start off by making the circular shape around the eye and then fill in the gaps inside.

  • Add some more poly loops around the eye and then connect it with the middle of the noise.

  • We’ll extrude a longer polygon going down the nose and add edge loops in the middle to make the surface curved.

  • Extend some polygons going up the forehead and the top of the head.

  • Going back to the face add poly loops around the lips.

  • Make sure you also get the inside of the lips.

  • Things will get a bit tricky here since we need to add polygons inside of the mouth itself in the mouth cavity.

  • Position your camera to be directly facing the inside of the mouth through the gaps of the lips and zoom inside the mouth cavity.

  • Inside the mouth cavity, we will make a group of polygons like in the image.

  • Use the relax tool to relax the form so it turns into a circle.

  • Proceed to extrude the following polygons.

  • Fill in the sides using the Quad Draw.

  • Then Relax the topology.

  • Starting from the bottom, extrude the polygons forward and continue making the medium extrudes towards the lips.

  • When you reach the lips connect them together with the mouth cavity.

  • Going back inside again extrude the top polygons now and repeat the same process as before, this time connecting the mouth cavity with the top lips.

  • Once you connected these two parts we need to fill in the gaps and connect the rest of the topology on the lips with the mouth cavity.

  • It will be a difficult task so take your time and pay attention to the topology.

  • Start by filling in the mouth cavity first till you reach the lips.

  • Now that we reached the inside of the lips you have to add topology both to the mouth cavity and the inside of the lips, making sure there are no weird knots inside and outside.

  • Relax the inside of the mouth cavity by isolating it (Ctrl + 1 - same command if you want everything else to appear back on your workspace).

  • Fix up the form of the lips, adding another edge loop on the lips to make it into a curvier surface.

  • We’ll proceed to connect the mouth to the nose.

  • Add another poly loop around the eyes before we move on to making the cheeks of the model.

  • We’re going to make small extrudes down the cheeks and around the chin.

  • Adjust and relax the topology around the new loop.

  • Add polygons around the nose before we fill it in.

  • We’re slowly going to start adding polygons inside the cheeks, moving other topologies around to make breathing room for the new polygons, and making sure our edge flow on our topology will be smooth.

  • Here we just fill up the top and bottom of the nose.

  • We’re going to move on to the side of the ear, slowly adding polygons on the rim of the ear.

  • Add an edge in the middle of the poly loop to make a better curve.

  • Finish the loop around the entire ear and fill in the inside.

  • Add another loop of polygons around the ear.

  • Now it’s time to connect the ear to the head.

  • These extrude will help us connect the head better.

  • Now that we have our extrudes we can start to connect the ear to the rest of the topology we’ve added.

  • We’re slowly going to make our way down to the jaw.

  • Start slowly extruding edge loops to fill up the gap in the cheeks.

  • We don’t want to have so-called stars in our topology so we’ll try to fix as many of them as we can.

  • These will mess up our edge flow on our topology if left in the geometry.

  • To fix them we need to delete some of the polygons and try reconnecting them.

  • Another star.

  • Here we only have one smaller star but it is ok if we have them in the geometry and not the bigger ones.

  • We still want to avoid imperfections at all costs but everything is learned through trial and error.

  • If something happens that will cause one side to be unsymmetrical you can always delete the faces of the imperfect half and mirror it to the other side.

  • You can also do this if you forgot to turn on symmetry and only have been working on one side of the face.

  • Now we move on to filling up the top of the head.

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