We’ve had a number of new hires recently at March. Our new Character Lead showed me something the other day that on the surface of it was so simple, but the application of it is likely to change the way I work entirely with regards to character workflow.

I’m not a bad modeler. (I’d prove it with some images, but all my coolest stuff is still under NDA.) I’ve spent the last year or so focusing on topology flow for animation, and until about a week ago I thought I was doing alright.

But yesterday I was watching the Character Lead remodel (or rather, reshape) a character on our show. The mesh is much more dense than I’d expected, and his technique for doing mass changes in large sections of verts is very interesting (similar to how I do retopology in Blender).

While the new application of that modeling technique is going to be very useful to me when I return to modeling, what really got me was when I asked him about workflow and on keeping triangles out of the mesh. His answer? Add edge loops / splits to the model and force the triangles into quads; don’t be afraid to make the mesh higher resolution.

I ended up thinking about that for the rest of the day. It echoes a conversation I had with Mike years ago when I was dithering over the purchase of my current MacBook Pro. He was pushing for me to get it because he thought my work was being limited too much by hardware considerations. At the time I hadn’t considered that I was doing more work than was necesssary on my 12″ Powerbook, building scenes with a lot of structure for keeping a limited number of polygons on screen to keep the interaction speed usable. When I moved to the new laptop and loaded the animation I was working on at the time, the difference was night and day: the file in which I was previously hiding so many things and using low-res proxies now ran at full speed with final geometry. I realized Mike had been right all along (as he is with many things), and that simple hardware change had a fundamental and lasting effect on how I work and how my work has developed.

However, that nagging sense that things can always be lighter, more efficient, has never really left. I model defensively for rigging– there are always exactly enough loops and lines for the shape I want, but no more. I try to keep poly count low so things like skin clusters and other deformers don’t work overtime, and so that weight painting isn’t painful. While these are valid concerns, the conversation I had yesterday made me realize that there’s a fine balance between keeping things light and having enough polys in there to make modeling and blend shape building easy.

I guess the point is, the next model I make is going to be significantly higher poly. And I need to always be aware of my old habits and whether or not they hold me back as I continue to hone my skills. When it comes to animation, don’t fear the poly!