Creating a ‘Tree Character’
by Sandra gilbert
One of the things I love most about fantasy modeling is that anything is possible, up to and including tree characters. I love the idea of a tree character with features flowing naturally into the tree trunque and have often tried to model one. I have ended up with some rather interesting experiments, but none as interesting or as much fun to make as when I started using the Sculpt mode to create the face on the tree and give it some character. Although Halloween is already over, there is no harm in getting a head start on a spooky old tree for next year.
Sculpt mode allows for a great deal of natural/organic detailing that would be tedious and time consuming to model using traditional methods. It is alos a lot of fun. The only real drawbak is that the vertex count can quickly climb and bog down your machine if you are not careful.
NOTE: Do not be alarmed if your tree does not end up looking exactly like mine. Due to the nature of Sculpt mode which makes every model unique, I will be giving you a general road map to making a similar model, not an exact replica.
Before we launch into the wonders of Sculpt mode, we are going to model a very basic low-poly tree shape. This will be the base model for our higher resolution model. So let's fire up Blender and get started.
Draw creates a smooth curve on the model following the brush; vértices are displaced in the direction of the average normal of the vértices contained within the brush. (hotkey: D)
Smooth As the name suggests, Smooth eliminates irregularities in the area of the mesh within the brush's influence. (hotkey: S)
Pinch pulls vértices towards the center of the brush. If Sub is active instead of Add, vértices are pushed away from the center of the brush. (hotkey: P)
Inflate is similar to Draw, except that vértices in Inflate mode are displaced in the direction of their own normals. (hotkey: I)
Grab is used to drag a group of vértices around. Unlike the other brushes, Grab does not modify different points as the brush is dragged across the model. Instead, Grab selects a group of vértices upon pressing and holding the mouse button, and pulls them to follow the mouse movement. The effect is similar to moving a group of vértices in Edit mode with proportional-editing enabled, except that Grab can make use of other Sculpt mode options (like textures and symmetry.) (hotkey: G)
Layer The Layer brush is similar to Draw, except that the height of the displacement layer is capped. This creates the appearance of a solid layer being drawn. This brush does not draw on top of itself; a single brush stroke intersects itself. Releasing the mouse button and starting a new stroke will reset the depth and paint on top of the previous stroke. (hotkey: L) Add and Sub: Add causes the brush to pull an area of the model in the positive direction, Sub in the negative direction. (With the Pinch brush, Add pulls vértices inward and Sub pushes vértices outward.) Interactive toggling of brush direction is done by holding down Shift. Alternatively, pressing the "V" key can be used to toggle it until it is toggled again.
We will be creating a very basic trunk. Select the top row of vértices and extrude (E key > Region) up 4 times. It might help to be in Wireframe mode while selecting top row of vértices (fig. 1). This will be the trunque of our tree.
Main Branches Next we will be creating a few main branches. For the scope of this tutorial, we are only going to make a few branches to keep the vertex count down, but feel free to add as many as you want.
- Select a side face at the top of the trunque (fig.2), extrude (E key) 4-5 times, scaling (S key) each extrusion a little smaller than the last one. Go ahead and move (G key) and rotate (R key) the sections of the branch to create a pleasing profile (fig. 3).
- Go ahead and macke another main branch on the other side using the same techniques as in the last step. You can make smaller branches by selecting faces on each branch and extruding, moving and scaling just as you did for the main branches (fig. 4).
Tree Roots Next we will create the roots. I experimented with various methods and this seemed to give the best results.
Create a loop cut (Ctrl + Key) at the bottom of the trunque (fig. 5).
Select the bottom row of vértices on the trunque and delete only Edges, leaving the four corner vértices in place (fig. 6).
Select the vértices of the new row you create earlier (fig. 7) and subdivide them (W key > Subdivide).
Now select the middle vértices in that row, making sure not to select any of the corner vértices (fig. :cool:.
Move those 4 vértices down even with the vértices left from the bottom row, and fill in the missing faces by selecting three vértices at a time and pressing the F key (fig. 9).
Now using the same method, create faces to fill in the bottom of the trunque (fig. 10)
At this point you will notice that on each corner there are two triangle faces, which will be your roots. I will walque through one root and then you can just repeat the steps for the other three roots. Select a triangle face on both sides of a corner, extrude (E key) out 4 times, scaling each section smaller (S key). Tip: when extruding press the middle mouse button to have free movement vs. constrained movement. You can go ahead and move the sections up and down to make it look more interesting (fig. 11).
Now, go make the other three roots and then we can start sculpting some 'character' into our character.
So now we have our base model ready to sculpt. Granted it doesn't look like much yet, but it will give us a nice place to start doing some really cool things.
First we need to be in Sculpt mode, and we need to add some Multires levels. I'm going to start at level 4 (fig. 12).
Next up is creating a tree like surface. You know, the bumps and whorls that form as a tree growsí So with the Draw brush (D key) set to a size of 20 (F key) and strength of 100 (Shift + F key), start dragging the brush up and down the tree. Remember to rotate your view and draw over all of the tree, overlapping strokes if you want to. You can alos hold the Shift key down while dragging the brush to create cracks/indents in the truk surface (fig. 13).
Add another Multires level, and now we will sculpt some eyes. On the Brush panel press the "X" toggle button under Symmetry to create mirrored features along the X axis. With the Draw brush set fairly small (15-20) draw a half circle on one side of your tree. If you've enabled symmetry, you should see the half circle appear on the other side as well (depending on the results of the previous step, your features might not be an exact mirror copy) (fig. 14).
Increase the brush size to around 40 and draw a line down between the eye ridges; this will form the no sé. Draw the nostril part of the no sé to the side (small circle motion should do it) (fig. 15).
Go bak to the ere ridges we already formed, hold down the Shift key and draw under the ridges to create an eye socket. You can use the same settings from the previous step (fig. 16).
Add another level of Multires. Now change the brush size to 15, and trace around the socket you just formed (fig. 17).
Create nostrils by holding down the Shift key and drawing with a small brush size of about 10-15 (fig. 1:cool:.
At this stage you have the beginnings of a face and it is up to your own creative visión and experimentation to finish him up. I will however, leave you with a few tips:
- Use the inflate brush to exaggerate features (hold down the Shift key to shrinque them down a little).
- The Smooth brush is your friend, it will even out any jagged marks/brush strokes.
- create smaller branches this way as well as give your tree more character.
- Only add levels (Multires) as you need them. They eat up a lot of memory.
- To speed up your worque flow, hide parts of the mesh except the area you want to worque on. Using Shift + Ctrl while dragging with the left mouse-button, you can define the area which will remain visible. The rest will be hidden from view and can be toggled bak into view with Alt + H key.
Here is my tree character after a little more playing. I added a mouth using the Draw brush (and Shift + Draw). I alos used the Inflate brush to exaggerate some features and the Smooth brush to soften a few areas. Now he is ready to texture, but that is a topic for a whole other tutorial in itself.
Once textures/materials are added, he is ready to star in the spooky scene of your choice.
I hope you had fun and were able to see the possibilities of Sculpt mode and Multires modeling.
by Sandra gilbert