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Constructing the Human Head In 3D By Mike Brown and Ron Lemen

Drawing the human head in 2D may seem like a difficult task, now consider constructing one in 3D. To many, this process might sound daunting if not impossible, but with a little practice and a basic underderstanding of human anatomy, anyone can build a convincing human head.

I constantly see experienced 3D artists and modelers become frustrated when trying to build a convincing human head. The main problem is they haven't been shown some of the basic rules of proportion that dictate how the human head is constructed. The underlying structure is what is important. Once you understand how the structure and proportion of the human head fits together you'll be able to build any human character type, from realistic to cartoony, with relative ease. Many tutorials have you begin by tracing an image of a head from the front and profile. Others begin with a box and have you extrude, bevel and slice the box into shape. This is NOT one of those tutorials. I'll begin by showing you how to build the underlying structure of the head and then, how to refine it into any character type you can imagine. Before going any further, if you haven't already checked out Constructing the human head in 2D by Ron Lemen, do so now. Make sure you not only read it, but also practice the exercises Ron has outlined there. This tutorial builds directly on top of those lessons.

For this tutorial I'll be using 3D Studio Max R 3's spline modeling tools as well as Max's Meshsmooth NURMs sub-division surface modeling tools however, there are many other great modeling tools available (Nendo/Mirai, Lightwave smoothshift, Pixar's sub-division surfaces) that are capable of producing similar results. Where ever possible I'll try to make the concepts and ideas of this tutorial general enough that they can be applied to whatever software you are using.

Now let's begin. The first step in creating a convincing human head is understanding a little about the structure and proportion of the head. To do this we'll need a template, or road map of how the head fits together. Start by drawing a circle with a radius of 50 in an orthographic view (i.e., Top, Front, Left.... ). Make sure your circle and it's pivot are centered around the origin of your world (i.e., the position of your circle should be 0, 0, 0 for x, y, and z). This will make aligning things easier and will be important later on.

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Now, copy and rotate the circle 90 degrees twice. You should end up with something that looks like the diagram below. Basically a sphere made out of splines.

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We'll use this spline sphere as the basis for finding the major landmarks as well as the basic proportions of the head. The next thing we'll need to do is shave off the sides of our sphere. In the front view, select the vertical center line of of the sphere and copy and rotate it 60 degrees twice.

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Now do the same in the top view. These new lines are temporary. We'll delete them later, but first we'll use them to find the side planes of the head.

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Finding the side planes of the head.

Now we will use the temporary lines we created to shave off the sides of our sphere. First you need to Trim off the segments between the temporary line (note: In Max use the Sub-object>Spline>Trim command) as in the next Diagram.

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In the left view, create a circle and align it to the outer most vertex of the spline sphere in the top view. The circle should have the same radius as to hole we trimmed out earlier. To find this radius simply select one of the outer most verts of the spline sphere in the front view and get it's Z position (note: Max is Z up, other 3D applications may use Y up. Consult your user manual to find out).

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Once you've aligned and set the radius of the new circle, mirror it across to the other side (note: In Max do not use the mirror tool. Instead use the mirror modifier or mirror clone in Sub-object>Spline>Mirror). Now, delete the temporary lines we created earlier. The last step here is to connect the verts of the side-plane circles together. It should look like a pie sliced into four equal divisions.When you're finished you should have something that looks like the image below.

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It may not look like much but as you can see we've already begun mapping out the landmarks of the head. Just by building this simple sphere we've found the Centerline, Browline, Jawline and side planes of the head. The next landmark we'll find is the Hairline. Once we've found the hairline we will use that landmark to find the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin. First, select the jawline spline in the left view. Now, copy and rotate the jawline 40 degrees in the left view. Finally, delete the extra lower segments from your new line and cross insert a vertex where the hairline (the line we just made) and the sideplanes of the head intersect. Great, we've just found where the hairline and temple of our 3D head will go.

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Hopefully your beginning to understand why I started at such a basic level in the tutorial. We could just as easily have built a sphere and shaved off the sides but want everyone to really understand the rules of proportion that govern how the human head fits together. Each landmark we find on the head will allow us to find a new landmark. Kind of like a road map, but in this case instead of finding roads, we're learning our way around the human head.

OK, now that we have our Hairline we'll use that to find the bottom of the nose and chin. In the front view select the center vertex of the Hairline and get it Z position.

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This is the distance of the bottom of the nose from the Browline and the bottom of the chin from the bottom of the nose. Select and copy the Browline segments and move them down so they are the same distance from the Browline as the peak of the Hairline. Repeat this step with the bottom of the nose to find the bottom of the chin and connect the bottom of the browline, nose and chin together.

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Now we know where the major sub-divisions of the face are and, our roadmap of the head is almost complete. The last thing we need to do is complete the jawline and chin. In the left view select and rotate the bottom of the chin 10 degrees from it's center vertex. Re-align the end points of the chin to the lines that connect it to the nose. Extend the nose and chin segments toward the back of the skull. Extend the Jawline straight down. Trim off the excess lines and cross-insert vertices at all the intersections. Connect the back of the chin together and delete the interior segments.

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Now you have roadmap of the human head. This template is the basis of all human character types. By shortening or lengthening sections of this template you can build any variety of human head. Hopefully, if you've worked through this tutorial to this point you're beginning to get a pretty good understanding of how the head fits together. Part 2 of this tutorial we'll begin chiseling out the features of the face.