When you create a 3D animated character there are several things to keep in mind. 3D modeling and animation is a process that requires you to constantly evaluate what you’re creating. That’s why it’s helpful to group the thousands of visual choices you have available to you according to basic, fundamental principles. One of the most important of these principles is the idea of asymmetry.
Why is asymmetry so important in 3D creation? Asymmetry helps establish believability. Just take a look at the world around you. For the most part, unless it’s a car, machine or other man-made device, it’s naturally asymmetrical. Asymmetry also helps establish interest because of variations in the object. Take a look at the example below…
The image on the left side is asymmetric, while the image on the right side is symmetric. As you can see, my face isn’t as interesting to look at when it’s the same on both sides.
How does this translate into 3D modeling and animation? How do we achieve asymmetry in 3D creation program like Maya? Actually, there are some easy ways to accomplish this:
One common approach to modeling characters is to work on one half and then mirror the geometry to the other side. This is a smart way to work, as it resembles the rough symmetry of most characters and simultaneously cuts the work in half. However, this leaves us with a completely symmetrical model when we want something more believable. It looks manufactured. Avoid this by simply altering certain elements of the object on one side of the model. Do this by scaling or sculpting or using lattice deformers.
Altering little details (like eyebrows or the corner of a mouth) can help make a character asymmetrical.
Modifying a 3D model can easily add asymmetry, but how do we incorporate asymmetry into animation? One is posing your model with asymmetry. Take a look at the two poses below:
Of these two poses, the model on the right is more dynamic and more believable.
Finally, during the animation process, motion curves representing opposite sides of the body can be offset to provide a sort of temporal asymmetry. This creates a pleasant overlap and flexibility to a character action, and it’s an important step in creating a believable sense of weight.
In summary, asymmetry is a vital step in creating believable characters. When you use asymmetry, you demonstrate to the viewer your thoughtfulness as a animator, modeler and designer.
Geoff Beatty teaches 3D modeling and animation using Maya for Digital Media Academy. He was previously profiled on DMAC. Geoff is one of only a handful of Autodesk-Certified Instructors in Maya, the leading 3D animation software program.
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