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Building Character

Blender 2.8: Character Modeling – Simply Explained

Picture of Melanie Griffin
by Melanie Griffin
Feb 11, 2020
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Blender character modeling in version 2.8 can seem intimidating. Follow these steps, which are helpful for both beginners and pros!

Blender Character Modeling

Creating Life

Character modeling brings your character idea into the 3D design space
Character modeling brings your character idea into the 3D design space (Source: Nazar Noschenko via CG Society)

Blender is a popular program because it’s free but also robust, making its 3D modeling tools accessible to anyone who wants to learn.

That said, the sheer amount of options and functions available in Blender can overwhelm you if you’re just starting to learn character modeling. But the Blender learning community is extensive, supportive, and just as curious about teasing out the program’s best features as you are. That means there’s a huge wealth of tutorials that you can go through at your own pace. It’s the perfect starting point for becoming an expert in 3D character modeling without breaking the bank or going insane.

In the following, we’ve put together a basic tutorial on Blender 2.8 character modeling so that you can jump right in, either as a total beginner or as a more experienced user who wants to compare their own process.

There are several steps to creating a 3D character in Blender 2.8. These take you from constructing a basic framework that will be the foundation for everything else to adding texture and color shading for that final touch of realism. Keep reading to find out how to go from a cube to your own creation!

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Blender Character Modeling

Part A: Preparing Your Drawing

To begin, you'll need a simple sketch of your character
To begin, you'll need a simple sketch of your character (Source: Simple Art Tips)

You don’t have to have every single detail of your character model mapped out before you start working in Blender 2.8, but you do need a rough idea of the size and shape your character will take so that you can orient its starting position:

Step 1

Start with a 2D drawing of your character before you open Blender or use Blender’s Grease Pencil tool to draw your initial sketch right in the program. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it does need outlines for its major features like the head, body, and facial features that protrude, like the nose. Make sure you have at least a front view and a side view.

Step 2

Use the Toggle Quad View option to split the screen into four parts and center the cube so that its sides, top, and bottom are where you want your character model to sit in the X-, Y-, and Z-planes.

Pull your screen into quad view so that you can see your model from all sides
Pull your screen into quad view so that you can see your model from all sides (Source: Blender Stack Exchange)

Step 3

After that, load your 2D drawing file into Blender and use it to set each background picture of the cube as one of your character outlines. It’s just like attaching a file to an email or uploading a file on an online job application website. The drawing will pop onto the 3D planes, and you can now set it on the 3D axes so that it rests on the planes like it would in real life.

Extruding cubes
Extruding cubes into shapes is the first step in making your character 3D (Source: ablenderuser via YouTube)

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Blender Character Modeling

Part B: Inserting Simple Shapes

Shape those cubes to exactly fit your character model's outline
Shape those cubes to exactly fit your character model's outline (Source: Blender)

Now that you’ve oriented yourself and your character, it’s time to actually start building your character model in Blender 2.8.

Step 1

Go into edit mode, and extrude the cube to make a basic shape that fits your background image. This lets you segment your character’s parts to refine individually, which is especially helpful when you get to details that are tucked into other areas, like teeth inside a mouth. You can segment these into new layers to blow up the details, work with them, and then layer them back under their original area.

Step 2

If you don’t want to deal with that level of segmentation, you can always treat those types of features as part of larger areas like the head. Just remember that you won’t be able to go into as much detail as you would if they were treated as their own segments.

Step 3

Once you’ve segmented the background picture of your character as you like, sub-divide the cubes into shapes until they best fit the outline of your drawing. Use the quad view to see how this creates a mesh in the shape of your character outline and set each background picture as one of your character outlines. (This is where it’s handy to use the mirror modifier. It fills the opposite view symmetrically at the same time, so you do half the work.)

This is the base of your 3D character model in Blender 2.8, with which you can deviate as much as you want from your drawing or original plan. Once you reach a certain level of comfort with character modeling in Blender 2.8, you’ll be able to skip right to this step without needing outside guidance on build and proportion to get you started.

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Blender Character Modeling

Part C: Using Layers

Adding clothes
Adding clothes or other layers to your 3D model is easy in Blender (Source: Benmaster via Unity Forum)

Adding clothing and accessories to your character model in Blender 2.8 builds upon how you created your original character shape. By creating new layers that are copies of what you’ve already made, you’re able to move the outlines of your new layer to reflect how clothes and other coverings drape over your character without needing to start from scratch.

Step 1

Copy the layer of the specific area you want to cover, such as the legs and waist for pants, skirts, or boots, using the UV sphere tool. This lets you wrap a 2D image around a 3D model. So, for instance, to make a layer where the legs of a 3D character are a different color to represent pants, using the UV sphere tool will wrap that color around the leg area you want, which you can adjust separately from the actual leg layer underneath it.

Step 2

Then, using the same line adjustment tool you used to outline your original shape, tweak the new layer’s shape into whatever you want the covering to look like.

Step 3

Save the new layers on top of the body layers, and voila! Your character model now has a costume that fits perfectly with no extra effort or knowledge needed on your part.

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Blender Character Modeling

Part D: Texturing Your Model

Adding textures
Pretend this mushroom is a character... (Source: Expose Academy via YouTube)

Here are the basics for adding textures to your model:

Step 1

To make your 3D character model all one smooth color within Blender 2.8, add a subsurf modifier in the modifiers heading. You can custom-smooth beyond the initial result using the smooth shading option in the edit panel of the tool shelf.

Step 2

If you want to add a more complex texture to your 3D character model, you’ll first have to unwrap it so that the 3D surface becomes one flat shape. Do this by selecting the edges you want to be seamed, press control + E, and then mark the seam. Finally, select the whole mesh, and press “unwrap” to get the full shape you want to texture.

The texture paint tool lets you shade, color, and add texture to your character model
The texture paint tool lets you shade, color, and add texture to your character model (Source: Rendorosity)

Step 3

An easy way to add the texture is to use the texture paint tool. Set up the shading type texture, add a new paint slot in the tool shelf, and then add a new texture in the texture panel. This can be any pattern (or solid color) you choose as the texture for your character model. Choose a brush, paint your texture, and save it.

Step 4

Finally, add a material to your object by going to the material heading and adding a new material. Then, go to the texture heading to choose your new texture and set the viewpoint shading to texture. This will make the texture show up on your model.

For more information on this part, check out our article on adding textures in Blender.

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Blender Character Modeling

Part E: Rigging Your Model for Animation (Bonus)

Rigging your character model preparies it for animation
Rigging your character model preparies it for animation (Source: Blender Stack Exchange)

Character modeling in Blender 2.8 concentrates more on building a static shape. Animating characters is another process altogether.

For this, you’ll have to think about how your character model is joined together, how it rests on joints, and how it’ll use them to move. Aspects like these affect their stance and demeanor, even if you don’t end up animating them.

This sounds more complicated than it is to execute:

Step 1

To begin, create a skeleton of your model by adding bones through the armature tool and extruding them in edit mode. You’ll have to connect the skeleton piece-by-piece, but don’t worry, you don’t have to replicate the actual bone structure of your model. Just do enough to prop up its body. Plus, you can mirror limbs for both symmetry and better sync, just like with the body outline itself.

mesh and armature
Combine your mesh and armature to get the correct weighting on your bones (Source: Eventil)

Step 2

Next, bring together your mesh and rigging in object mode. Select your model, then your skeleton, and press control + P, choosing automatic weights. This command lets Blender automatically calculate how your 3D model sits on the rigging you’ve built for it.

Pose
Put your character in various poses (Source: Thilakanathan Studios via YouTube)

Step 3

If you want to animate your 3D model, a simple way to do so is in “pose” mode. For each frame of animation, move parts of your model to create the appropriate pose and keyframe it. Do this as many times as it takes to create the full movement you want.

These details make all the difference when you’re aiming for realism in your character models, whether they’re photo-realistic replications of your friends or a completely original squid monster from your own sci-fi universe.

For more information on this part, take a look at our article on character rigging in Blender.

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Blender Character Modeling

Part F: Rendering Your Character

Rendering is the final step to making your character realistic
Rendering is the final step to making your character realistic (Source: IgelRM via Imgur)

Now that you’ve done the hard parts, it’s time to let Blender do the rest. Your final step in the character modeling process is rendering your creation to bring out its most realistic details:

  1. Go to the Render menu in the Main Info menu at the top of the screen.
  2. Select “Render Image” if you’re completing a static character model and “Render Animation” if you’re creating a moving one.
  3. The rendering will come up in a separate window, which will show the rendering process and final product.
  4. To save, go to the Image menu in the Render window, and select a save option (save as, save a copy, etc.). Name your file, make sure it’s saving to the place you want, and there you go – your character model is complete!

Creating a character in Blender 2.8 might seem intimidating, but if you take it step-by-step, and you’ll find yourself an expert in no time.

(Lead image source: Blender Nation)

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License: The text of "Blender 2.8: Character Modeling – Simply Explained" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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