DMA Central


Creating Asymmetry with 3D Models and Animation

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.

In the context of design (particularly in 3D modeling and animation), asymmetry is vitally important in establishing both believability and interest.

Finding Balance
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:

Mirror Model
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.

Animation Asymmetry
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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Thoughts on last summer's Maya classes…

By Geoff Beatty, Lead Maya Instructor – DMA @ UPENN

One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is opening doors for my students.  At the beginning of each class, I literally unlock the door to the computer lab, turn the lights on, and lead my students in.  But in a more meaningful sense, I enjoy being the one (or one of many) who introduces them to a new medium, a new set of tools for creating imagery and telling stories.  The part of that experience that is especially gratifying is seeing my students making connections between their respective backgrounds (e.g. illustration, music, graphic design) and this newfound world of 3D modeling and animation.

Last year, during DMA’s Maya sessions at the University of Pennsylvania campus, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an amazingly diverse group.  Among that group, there was the middle-aged illustrator from the midwest, learning a new skill.  There was the recent art school graduate with a graphic design degree.  There was the home-schooled high-schooler with an interest in visualization.  And there was the teenage musician and composer with a talent for digital imagery.

Each person brought a unique sensability and focus to their study of Maya.  And I can truly say that by the end, there were just as many unique 3D creations.  The characters, environments, and animations they made each reflected a personal vision.  And this is what I consider the strength of both the software, Maya, and the type of course I was teaching at DMA.  My duty as an instructor was two-fold.  First, I introduced students to the basics of the software.  This included both the explicit features and the implicit workflow, which is the proper process and sequence for using those features.  Secondly, I attempted to build on that foundational and common knowledge by guiding each student to a point where they could begin to use that tool to fulfill a personal interest or vision.

Maya Training Courses

This ends up being the point at which I grow too as a 3D artist and instructor.  DMA courses bring together such a variety of students that it ends up being an antidote to the homogeneity common to most 3D classrooms.  I learn new things every time I interact with my students.  My experience last summer was so gratifying in that respect that I couldn’t turn up the chance to teach again.  I look forward to opening doors, turning on lights, and having my students do the same for me.

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