Head Retopology

What is the assignment?

For this particular assignment, my class mates and I were asked to complete a 3D head portrait; this could be completed solely through modelling within Maya, or sculpting through Zbrush,or Mudbox, then exporting to Maya to retopologize. I decided to use Mudbox to sculpt my head first, then I’d complete the retopology later. I chose Mudbox as it was more accessible to students.

Reference Images

Before I started, I realised it was essential to get some reference images. These images would explore different views of the face so that I could better understand my subject whilst they weren’t with me. These images can be viewed below.

maggie a
Photographer: Maggie McDermott

The image above was my main reference image through out my process. To add some personality to my sculpt, I asked Maggie to smile, and complete her hair and make up as she usually would. The images below were also essential in completing my sculpt as they included, frontal, and both side views whilst making different expressions that the one I used as my final reference; this allowed me to understand Maggie’s personal facial structure.

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Photographer: Maggie McDermott

Prep Work

Before I started my sculpt, I decided to complete some studies of my subject. These studies gave me some insight into the identifiable features of my human focus. Here are the drawings below.

Artist:Lauren Bell

I completed the work above using oil paint; whilst a study of this detail was not a necessity, I felt that it really gave me some insight to the contours of my subject’s face. Below is another study of the same photograph that I completed before the image above. I completed this using water colour and pen.

maggie 2
Artist: Lauren Bell

Finally, I completed two more studies of my other photographs to understand Maggie’s expressionless face, and her profile view. These drawings were completed with pen and water colour.

Artist: Lauren Bell

Artist Research

George Bridgman

Whilst I had became familiar with Maggie’s facial structure, I wanted to familiarise myself with human facial anatomy; a good source for this was George Bridgman. Bridgman (1865-1943) was a world famous art teacher who taught at the Art Students League in New York City. He was best known for his knowledge in human anatomy whilst specialising in figure drawing.

In particular, I found his book ‘Heads, Features, and Faces’ to be of most use. These particular pages explained the common structure of the face, and how to approach it within the visual arts. Specifically, they highlighted how the eyes were usually at the centre of the face, the nose between the chin and the eyes, the mouth between the nose and chin, and the eyes were spaces across the face as if there were room for five eyes. The images from Bridman’s book  can be seen below.

Above: P14,P15 of ‘Heads, Features, and Faces’ by Bridgman

Above: Pg 8,Pg 9 of ‘ of ‘Heads, Features, and Faces’ by Bridgman

Above: P6, P7 of ‘Heads, Features, and Faces’ by Bridgman

Joanna Mozdzen

Whilst I would be making a digital sculpt, I felt that some of traditionally sculpting methods may be transferable; this lead me to study Joanna Mozdzen. Mozdzen is a traditional sculptor who specialises in sculpting female faces. I first found Mozdzen through Youtube in her traditional clay tutorials/ time lapses.

Above artist: Joanna Mozdzen

Similarly to what I would end up doing in Mudbox, Mozdzen would start her sculpt by creating a very basic head structure on an armature, then would gradually start personalising the sculpt by adding fleshy areas (clay) that would have specific characteristics of her reference; cheek bones, nose size, for head shape etc. She would later start adding specific details by scraping, the would smooth her sculpt with a wet sponge, or scraping tool. Below is one of my favourite sculpts that Joanna completed.

I particularly liked the way in which Mozdzen create hair; adding thick clumps of clay in tube like shapes,then later scraping in details to pose as strands. This was something I wanted to do within my own sculpt.

Mudbox Research

Mudbox Basic Head Sculpting Tutorial

I realised it was crucial to research the programme I was going to use so I decided to look at some tutorials. The tutorial below by James Taylor was crucial in my understanding of the programme and it’s tools. He emphasised the importance of tools such as the ‘foamy’ tool, the ‘sculpt’ tool, and the ‘smooth’ tool. His tutroials made me realise that the size and strength of my brushes would signifcantly change the control I had on my mesh; larger brushes would make bigger changes (I used these at the start to dictate the size and shapes of my head), smaller brushes would effect the detail of my sculpt (I used these later), and I learned I had to gradually scale down my brushes as I went. Below is a tutorial I found of significant use.

Additionally, this tutorial emphasised the importance of sub dividing my mesh as it got more detailed, and creating layers whilst making significant changes.

Day Dreamer Sculpt Time Lapse

As the main tutorial I looked at was based on a man, I decided to look at female sculpting videos to understand the female facial structure. The video I looked at ‘Day Dreamer Sculpt Time Lapse’ did not have a running commentary on the artist’s steps, but it did highlight the different approach; especially in regards to lips, and cheek bones.

Retopology Research

ZBrush to Maya to ZBrush – Retopology and UVing with Quad Draw

This tutorial was signicant in my retopology work. Whilst the focus was on a crocodile, and whilst the sculpt was completed in ZBrush, I found that the techniques used were very transferable to my work. This video emphasised the use of quad draw, and how to use it (I realised I had to make my original mesh live). Additionally, it informed me how to transfer files back and forth from the programmes I’d be using. This video can be found below.

Head Retopology in Maya

I struggled to find tutorials which were relevant to specific head retopologys after sculpting, so I had to settle for time lapses. This tutorial was usful in understaning that there was a particular formation and method in retopologizing a head; you do not simply make random markings with your quad draw tool, you have to follow a particular formation. This video can be viewed below.


Maya 2016 retopology tutorial

This video was signifcant in realising more up to date sculpting tools within Maya. I found the use of the x-ray veiw to be particularly useful as I was able to jump back and fourth between this view, and my normal mesh. Additionally, the use of symmetry made my task significantly easier as it literally cut my work in half. This video can be viewed below,

Student -face editing in Maya – Creating good edge flow

The video below was crucial in my understanding of how I’d clean my mesh. This particular tutorial makes use of the sculpt geometry tool; this tool allows you to smooth your surfaces so that they are less messy, and erratic. This video can be viewed below.

Retopology Structures

Images were crucial in understanding the flow of my head retopology; my research lead me to understand that all retopology is relative to the model, but is neat, structured, and is heavily rounded around the mouth and eye areas. I also realised that retopologys consisted of mostly squared faces and could be of different sizes. The image below was significant in my understanding of this.

Image: Head retopology from Pinterest

As I had decided i wanted to model hair, I realised that this would be an important area of my research. I decided to look for photographs and realised that the contours in the retopology followed the direction of the hair. Additionally, many examples showed hair with a different rows of vertices than what would be found leading from the face. Below is an example of hair.

Image: Hair retopology by Jeff Horal

My Head Sculpt

Below is my first head sculpt that I created in Mudbox. As you can see, it was a total disaster. The main reason for this was because I did not have my symmetry switched on. Additionally, I did no realise to significantly distort the shape of my mesh to make it ore feminine.

model 1
Artist: Lauren Bell

Artist: Lauren Bell

Below are the images from my final head sculpt (before I started the retopology). I’m very happy with the turn out of this work as I feel like it closely resembles my reference. This time around I used symmetry, and I gradually built up on my detail be gradually starting to use smaller brushes. Additionally, I found great use in the knife tool whilst creating detail; I found through my research that other seem more lenient toward the pinch tool for detail. And finally, I found Joanna Mozdzen’s technique especially useful whilst detailing the hair.

model 2
Artist: Lauren Bell

model 3
Artist: Lauren Bell

model 4
Artist: Lauren Bell

model 5
Artist: Lauren Bell

My Retopology

Below are the images of my sculpt after I transferred it to Maya and performed my retopology. Over all, I am fairly happy with the outcome; whilst I notice some faults, this was the first time I created something of this nature.

Whilst I used the quad draw  tool through out the majority of the process, I found that other sculpting tools such as the multi cut tool, and the bridge tool were of significant use; at points were my quad cut tool was being difficult, I could just switch tools to create my faces. Additionally, I found that toward the end of the process, it was hard to decipher which mesh was my retopology, and which was my sculpt (even without x-ray mode on, I found the process too difficult). To solve this, I would continually select ‘Modify Centre Pivot’ and separate my meshes to look for faults.

Toward the very end of the process, I deleted my original sculpt from the scene altogether (this helped Maya from crashing on my laptop), and I selected my vertices and moved them to clean up my mesh.

Artist: Lauren Bell

final 4
Artist: Lauren Bell

final 3
Artist: Lauren Bell

Artist: Lauren Bell

Below is an imaging highlighting my mesh.

final 5
Artist: Lauren Bell


Over all, I am fairly happy with the outcome of my retopology, and my head sculpt. I feel as if the research I completed for both these tasks was relevant, and is also reflected in my final outcome.

In terms of my actual sculpture in Mudbox, I am extremely happy with it’s outcome; I feel as if I have accurately created a likeness. In future I feel as if I would be interested in creating more models through sculpting as I found the process quite enjoyable. I would quite like to try other sculpting programmes within future assignments.

With my retopology, I feel that I have genuinely dedicated a large amount of time into creating my desired result; the model quite closely resembles the original sculpt. However, I feel as if I was not as strong in my retopology as I was in my Mudbox work; to fix this, I feel that I would need to expand my research more, and have more practice in retopology based work. Additionally, I found great difficulty in retopologising the hair,and ears; in future I should pay closer attention to research within these areas.

In future, I feel that I would like to create a more detailed retopology; whilst I was aware that our ploy count was to be under 10,000, I was worried about creating a mesh to high poly so I restricted myself. As I love detail with all of my art, this would be important to me. Additionally, I had originally planned on creating glasses alongside the rest of my sculpt; I did not have time to do this so I abandoned the idea. In future, I would like to have better time management in order to add personal details such as these.






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