When you are creating a 3D object for IMVU there really is no reason you can’t creatively balance the simplicity of a low polygon mesh with details that suggest more information than is actually there.
As a case in point, I have created this simple building mesh and with a few clever tweaks and twists I have been able to suggest a lot more information than actually exists in the mesh.
To help illustrate this point, I created this very simple building mesh. This is meant to belong in our Renaissance Faire environment so I want to build something rustic and fairly organic looking. I have added just enough detail in my mesh to help me break up the tiling textures I will be applying to it, and allow me to distort the structure to give it a little charm. Models created in the computer can be very geometric and display a mathematical perfection that just doesn’t often exist in our physical world.
I like to add life and believability to my model by distorting the mesh and adding a little asymmetry to it. Here I am creating a sag in the canvas awning that hangs in front of my little building. Even with this little bit of geometry I can create a sense of weight and personality. I am also lifting one edge higher than the other to add some variety to the finished shape.
There is a fine balance between making something charming and making it look structurally unsafe. When tweaking your geometry you need to avoid the “cake in the rain” syndrome, or the tendency to lose the believable integrity of the structure. Play with your mesh and see what you come up.
A little tweaking goes a long way to adding life to your creations. For the two posts that hold up the canvas awning, I wanted them to look like branches rather than milled poles. To do this I took a five sided cylinder with five segments and pulled each section slight off center, then twisted the sections to suggest an organic structure.
It takes very little to create a believable end result and adds variety to your mesh without adding complexity. Although this example has not been textured yet, I customarily texture my meshes before distorting them. This helps with the organic quality of the finished product.
This also makes it much easier to Map the textures on an object made of right angles than my eventual distorted end product.
Letting Textures Do a Lot of the Work
Since I know that I will be creating several textures that will need to visually work together I often start with the same base texture. In the above examples I start with a photograph of wood grain and soften it by running the Cutout Filter on it in Photoshop.
Cutout turns photographic images into a more graphic image and has the effect of minimizing the contrast , giving a painterly quality to the image. I then add separations in the wood texture to suggest planks or individual boards.
Next I copy and paste one of these boards to the top and bottom of my planks and darken them slightly. I repeat this to create the additional cross pieces, finally adding minor details and highlights to the surface to add interest and suggest the surface is weathered.
This also assures that there is a cohesive quality to all the textures, making my finished model look more believable. As I have said in other tutorials, texture creation is often the most time consuming aspect of 3D model building.
The quality of the textures applied to your mesh will determine the quality of the finished product. I often create master versions of each texture at twice the size of the eventual finished file, which is where I do all of my finer details. In this example I have added nicks and scratches to help break up the more linear edges and suggest age. I personally like a more impressionistic approach when I create textures and find they often suggest more detail then is actually there.
When everything comes together you get a better idea of how all of these choices can add complexity and interest to even a simple model. You can also see how only a few textures, all based on the same base source image, can work to make your model “feel” like it is made from similar materials.