Head Modeling Project

Christopher Rabl - CPSC 3710 - Spring 2013


In order to go from reference images to a full 3D model, I used the freely-available Blender package. As I had not used Blender since version 2.3 (about ten years ago, when I used it in a junior-high graphics class), it was a challenge to get up to speed with the software again. Even going from version 2.49b (installed on the department's Linux machines) to 2.65 (current version on my home PC), the interface has matured significantly, as has the feature set.

I will probably never be a Blender expert, but thanks to some of the fantastic tutorials I followed, I may have a shot at a job with Pixar one day (though I require a great deal more practice). Some of the resources I found include:

Reference Images

I would like to specially thank my wonderful model, Justin Voogel, who graciously volunteered his head to be immortalized in Blender. The model of his head was created using a set of eight reference images, two of which were used within Blender: the others were used to refine the completed model.

Blender Challenges

In the beginning, my biggest challenge was getting re-acquainted with Blender, as well as with 3D modeling. It is a completely different process from the 2D design that I am used to, so an adjustment period was necessary. I started out by watching various tutorials and capturing the reference images, and then proceeded to start modeling

Most of the issues I had with Blender were quirks in the user interface: in version 2.49 for instance, a short right click is used to move a point, while a long right click opens a menu. These quirks made it frustrating to learn and work in Blender, but this concern was addressed by upgrading to version 2.65 on my home PC.

When learning how to create models, I found that many of the video tutorials either went too fast or too slow for my liking. There are presenters who assume no knowledge of Blender (and thus wish to teach viewers about the interface) and there are those who assume that you are a 3D modeling prodigy for whom explanations of concepts are not necessary.

Modeling Process

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Modeling Challenges

This head was modeled gradually over the course of two weeks, working for at least an hour every day. Most of that time was not spent modeling, however, as I was learning the ins and outs of Blender as I went along, dealing with its great many quirks. In the end, I feel like I have not even scratched the surface of learning this massive application. It was very daunting to start a project without any idea of how to complete it. In the end, the result is mostly what I expected, but with a few minor differences.

What did I learn from this? First of all, I learned that modeling a human head to any degree of accuracy in Blender (or any other 3D package for that matter) is definitely a non-trivial task. It is very tedious process, and I would not recommend a project of this scale for someone whose last 3D modeling experience was with Play-Doh in kindergarten.

Second, the tedium is not nearly as bad as the frustration that one will certainly experience while using Blender: there is a shortcut key for absolutely everything which requires a great deal of memorization and retraining one's brain. For instance, the shortcut key to pan around an image in Photoshop is "H". In Blender, this hides the currently selected object or face. For someone who is used to working in Photoshop a lot, this behavior and its solution (use Middle Mouse Button + Shift to pan, obviously...) is very frustrating.

Third, the documentation that is available (or not, as the case may be) for Blender is either incomplete, outdated, or non-existent. To learn how to perform even basic tasks such as create an edge between two vertices (requires the creation of two faces...) is very tough to find.


Finally, in order to have a chance at printing a 3D model of the head, I opted not to model the ears of my subject. Doing so would have required the addition of myriad support structures, which I neither had the time nor the inclination to include. The final product looks something akin to a character from the Sims, except far more terrifying.

Overall, creating this model was about a hundred thousand times harder to create than a good-looking website through which to present it (many thanks to the developers of Twitter Bootstrap). I have gained a new appreciation for 3D animators and the incomprehensibly massive amount of artistic ability and talent that they require to do their jobs. As for my career at Pixar, I think I'll stick to Play-Doh.

My 3D modeling tool

Photo Credit: Hsing Wei

Final Product

Here is the final render of the head model, with textures and lighting. I used four point lamps in a square orientation around the model to light it evenly from all angles. There are a few artifacts in the final product as a result of my (bad) texturing attempt, but I think it does the job.

Video Animation

Since I was playing around in Blender, I figured I should try my hand at a little 3D animation! The result was better than I expected, and it was pretty easy to create the keyframes of the animation using the timeline/animation views. Rendering the video at 1080i (30 fps) took about an hour. Your browser must support the HTML5 <video> tag.


I have released the Blender model on Github, which includes the reference images, screenshots, and other assets. There are also options to download the textured and lighted .blend file for use in Blender, as well as an untextured .STL file for use in 3D printers.

Fork on Github Download .blend File Download .stl File