Category: Learn 3D modeling Page 1 of 2

AnimSchool Interview: Modeler Ryan Tottle

We’d like to welcome Disney Modeler Ryan Tottle. Ryan, can you tell us a little about your background and how you became a 3D Character Modeler for Disney?

I started off in
the welsh art college ‘Glamorgan Center for Art and Design Technology’
where after a foundation course in all forms of art, I decided to study
2D animation. It was a 3 year BA hons program. I made a few monster maquettes and anatomy studies in my final year and found that sculpture
was my real passion. After college I found work in the Make-up FX Industry, the first company that gave me a chance was Hybrid FX, thanks
to Mike Stringer. (That’s always the hardest part, being given your
first chance)

I continued for a few years as a freelancer in
Makeup effects, sculpting prosthetic appliances (old age makeup etc) and
big rubber monster suits. I kept sculpting my more personal work in my
spare time, building a more refined portfolio.

Meanwhile: I’m in
contact with Alena Wooten, who I met on Deviant Art and we become good
friends. She was working at Blue Sky Animation Studios as a maquette

RyanTottleSHOWREEL2010 from Ryan Tottle on Vimeo.

In 2008 I got invited to work on a horror movie at Plan 9
FX in Madrid, by my friend Valentina Visitin. We’d been working together
at Neill Gorton’s Millennium FX in London. I spent a few months in
Spain and Alena came to visit me. I remember she brought a Scrat
Maquette to show me (sculpted by Michael Defeo) it was primed grey and
the light rolled over the forms so elegantly. It reminded me of studying
the animation maquettes in college. I actually always had an interest
in those sculpts, they seemed to be a more minimal approach to
sculpting. They were more subtle and selective in their forms and so
full of character.

Once the project in Madrid was over, Alena
invited me out to stay in New York for a few months where I was
introduced to Lots of very inspiring Blue Sky artists. Michael Defeo was
Alena’s supervisor at the time and we hung out. Alena and Mike shared
their knowledge of sculpting 3D characters, it was very inspiring.

Maquette by Ryan Tottle, design by Shiyoon Kim

had mentioned how much I could benefit from learning 3D modeling
software, especially Zbrush, since I’d been working in clay for my
career to date. So, I got to work on teaching myself Maya and Zbrush
through online tutorials and help from my friend David Strick (who was
at Blue Sky at the time).

I moved to New York in 2009 to Marry
Alena. When I first arrived, I couldn’t work for 3 months because of
immigration reasons, so I kept working on my portfolio and making Zbrush
characters. Once I could work, I was hired by Tony Jung to help work on game characters at Kaos Studios in New York City. This is where I further refined
my knowledge of CG.

In early 2011 I got an email from Shiyoon Kim from Walt Disney Animation Studios, asking if I was interested in
applying for a modeling position. It turns out that he’d seen one of my maquettes based on his character design. So, I applied and got
hired as a Trainee to learn the 3D animation pipeline. I later got
hired as a Modeler on Wreck-it-Ralph, and I’ve been at Disney ever

What were some of the challenges going from sculpting in traditional clay to 3D Modeling in ZBrush and Maya? How did you work through those challenges? Are there any tips you’ve learned along the way?

I think the most challenging part for me was learning the software and the principles of CG. It was like learning a new language, a different way of thinking. But, being familiar with sculpting three dimensional form helped me see the light at the end of ever growing tunnel.

Learning what a vertex is, is pretty weird when you’ve never had to think in that way before. It just came down to repetition, doing it every day for hours on end. It took me about 2 years to say “now I’m comfortable to say I can sculpt in CG to the quality I can in clay.” It’s never quite the same obviously, they have a different look, it’s subtle.

Another challenge for me was the rendering side of things. A physical sculpture is always rendered with real world light and shadows, which is always way better for reading how light falls on the surface. So, I like to print out the models to get a real feel for the forms. My advice is to do both physical and digital. Clay sculpting feels like a mental workout for me now, I try to do it at least one night a week.

How do you think having a traditional sculpting background has helped you in the 3D Modeling Industry?

It has helped a lot. I found that having an understanding of the principles of sculpture made it easier to figure out the forms in a 3D software. I guess it’s just the amount of practice I’ve had working on 3D objects in the physical. It seems to be the same reason that things like life drawing are always recommended. It gives you a real tangible perspective on how to model shapes.

Zbrush has made this a faster process for me though, less labor intensive. It’s less about moving actual material around, it can happen instantly in a 3D software.

With having work experience in modeling game characters and feature characters, what are some of the similarities and differences in modeling in the two industries?

In my experience, there has been a pretty big difference. Mainly in that a lot of the games are going for a hyper real look these days. Sculpting those characters was more similar to my makeup FX days. The characters were more organic in their shapes and were generally less criticized than animation characters that tend to have more of a clean, simple, graphic, feel. There seemed to be more room for error on hyper real characters. I found organic sculpting can be quite forgiving at times, especially when there are a lot of textures on the surface.

When sculpting ‘simple’ ‘toony’ characters, you are in a sense given a more limited palette of shapes to use and each curve/edge is super subtle and can make all the difference to the success of the piece.

The other thing is that game characters are usually made with triangulated meshes and animation characters are usually quad meshes, which can be subdivided for render time, so it’s a bit of a different challenge. I found working with triangles a bit less intuitive to get the forms I wanted. There’s something I find more natural about the flowing edge loops of quad meshes, and they’re nicer for sculpting in ZBrush, they smooth more predictably.

There are similarities of course, you still have to apply a lot of the same aesthetic rules and techniques to make a nice model, and try to hit the concept art as closely as possible.

Can you talk a little about your experience going through the Disney apprentice program?

Yes, it was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to learn more about the pipeline at Disney Animation, and 3D animation in general. I had never worked in the feature industry before. We had the opportunity to go to all kinds of lectures on principles of animation, appeal, design etc. Also, you’re assigned a mentor, who you can reach out to for any questions or help if you need it. A lot of legendary people still walk the halls in that place, so you can become a sponge of knowledge and ramp up at a steady pace without being thrown straight on to a production. I highly recommend it, it’s a great way into the studio.

What do you enjoy working on outside of work? Can you share some of your personal projects?

I’m constantly sculpting and refining my sculpting skills. I also like to collaborate with other artists, I find that you can learn a lot this way.

I’m a big enthusiast of fantastic realism and Visionary art, and have been working those things into my personal sculpture. It’s kind of the other end of the spectrum in terms of what I do in animation. I think that most commercial artists have their own personal side projects that interest them for different reasons. It’s actually good to do this because the things you learn on each side, you can apply to the other.

At the moment I’m working of a series of ‘Beings’ who’s anatomy is constructed (sculpturally) from architectural and symbolic shapes from various wisdom traditions, merged with the more classical feel of western sculpture. I don’t have much time to work on these at the moment, but when I do it’s a great treat.

Do you have any advice for those students studying to be 3D Modelers?

Practice a lot and make it fun for yourself. Look at the best work you can find in the industry and aim for that. Ask a lot of questions. Be very specific about what you want as an end goal. Study as much classical sculpture, anatomy and industry work as you can handle.

When making a reel or portfolio, only show a few things that are your very best. Keep it short and sweet because the people who review your work are usually very busy, and are probably going to scrub through it if it gets long and boring. Try to catch their eye right away.

To view more of Ryan Tottle’s work visit his blog:

AnimSchool Classtime: Environmental Modeling Critique

Disney Modeler and AnimSchool Instructor, Brien Hindman gives Mohannad Hussam Al Ratroot his weekly critique in AnimSchool’s Environmental Modeling Class.

AnimSchool General Review: Dennis Borruso by Dave Gallagher

Dave Gallagher goes over Dennis Borruso’s character design that Dennis is planning on modeling in 3D. In this Review Dave discusses line flow, straights vs curves, and the spacing of facial features.

This clip is from one of AnimSchool’s General Review sessions.
AnimSchool offers General Reviews for 3D modeling, rigging and animation
students several times a week, for those who would like an extra

Come join all the students learning online at AnimSchool. Apply for the Fall Term now!

AnimSchool Student Spotlight: Eyad Hussein

We’d like to introduce Eyad Hussein. Eyad, can you tell us a little about yourself and what 3D experience you’ve had before entering AnimSchool?

I’m twenty eight years old and I grew up in Amman, Jordan. Since my early childhood, I’ve had a passion for character drawing, and like most artists I started by drawing with pencils, because it was the cheapest and the most available medium. I was obsessed with writing short stories, and while in primary school I developed my first short story by the name of Narcissus and most of the characters for it. After graduating from high school, I obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at Yarmouk University. During my university years I started learning Maya and used it as a tool to continue developing the Narcissus characters.

 Career wise, I worked as a graphic artist in small studios until I got a job offer to work as a Photo Editor at Front Row, the pioneer publishing house in Jordan, where I was responsible in developing, creating and editing photos for six international and local magazines. Shortly after, I decided to focus more on animation, so I applied for a 3D Rigging Artist position at Rubicon Group Holding, the lead animation studio in the Middle East, and got accepted.

Sabine Heller, one of AnimSchool best instructors and a Character Technical Director at Blue Sky Studios, motivated me to join the school. Back in January 2012, when I was struggling with some advanced rigging issues, I got in touch with her and she encouraged me to join AnimSchool. In summer 2012 I got accepted in the 3D Character Program.

Which artists inspire you?

Most of the time, I get my inspiration from movies, video games and people who work in the industry. I love all of Disney and Pixar creations, Tangled (2010) and Brave (2012) are my favorite movies. Three months ago I was very lucky to visit Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut, US, where I met four of AnimSchool instructors who inspired me – Sabine Heller, Chris Pagoria, Ignacio Barrios and Dave Gallagher. I also met the talented people who are responsible for creating the amazing 3D movie Epic (2013).

I always buy books from “The Art of…” series and use them as reference. The last book I bought was The Art of Epic. I would like to say that it’s really amazing, very different from many other books. I like how it presents the character development stages from 2D concept to final 3D rendered character.
I like all of Tim Burton movies and how he develops the characters inside his works. I also like Capcom style, and especially Mega Man. Because I studied Fine Arts, I like to look back into the history of art. I get a lot of inspiration from Roman and Greek sculptures and paintings.

AnimSchool Introduction to Rigging assignments, by Eyad Hussein

How did you become interested in 3D Modeling and Rigging? What do you enjoy the most? Why?

I was fascinated by Final Fantasy VIII (1999) from Squaresoft and how amazing their 3D characters looked. One day I saw a “making of” for the game on the TV, where they mentioned that they used Maya to model and rig the characters, so I started learning Maya and translating my 2D characters into 3D space.

The thing I enjoy the most when I do modeling is making the character’s face, because the face is the most prominent part of a character’s body, it is where all the emotions show, the first thing people look at. The thing I enjoy the most in rigging is posing the character and making it look alive, which gives it a personality.

What did you find the most challenging about modeling the character, Jane from your Intermediate Modeling Class?

For me, the main challenge in 3D character modeling making the character look as appealing as its prototype in the 2D design sheet, so that for people it’s love at first sight! 2D artists often cheat in the proportions when they do the posed concept for the character, so another big challenge is to match the 3D model to the 2D concept, or at least give it the same look and feel of the concept. The mission is to put a soul inside the character, so you can feel the personality and the weight of a character when you pose it. You have to make people believe that it’s really alive, and not just a bunch of polygons.

To know more about my process of modeling 3D characters please visit “Winter 2013 Review” at my blog:

As a modeler, how much do you model in ZBrush vs Maya? Can you talk a little about your process using both programs?

Chel- El Dorado ZBrush sculpt, by Eyad Hussein

Before I start modeling, I like to gather some information about how the character would be used. What would be the purpose of developing this 3D model? Is it a demonstration of a character in 3D space for the movie director? Or is it for paint-over? Or is it going to be used in animation?

If it’s for the director, I mainly use ZBrush, it’s the fastest way to get a result. The director want to see shapes, volumes and the character personality in a pose, so you don’t have to worry about the technical details at all. I used to sketch the character in three days: a day for the head, a day for the body and a day for polishing.

If it’s for animation, it’s almost fifty-fifty.  Most of the time I switch between Maya and ZBrush – I sketch up a quick volume in ZBrush, do retopology in 3D Coat, take the model to Maya and start cleaning the mesh, and then I send the model back to ZBrush to give it the final touches.

What have you found the most challenging in the Rigging process? How did you work through the challenges? Did you discover any tips/tricks?

AnimSchool Introduction to Rigging assignment, by Eyad Hussein

The rigging itself is very enjoyable if you understand the concept, the challenge is always “Efficiency vs. Time”. I think rigging is the art of finding an efficient solution for a specific problem in a period of time.

I get through challenges by following a few important steps. First of all, you have to understand the problem – a problem well stated is a problem half solved, as they say. Second, you have to do a research, which is collecting information to solve this problem. After that, you should try different solutions and pick the most efficient solution for this particular problem. Finally test it! Let other people test it too, so you get feedback.
My advice is “Understand, research, try and test!”

To know more about my process of rigging 3D characters please visit “Fall 2012 Review” at my blog:


How has your experience been at AnimSchool? What is your favorite thing you’ve learned?

The AnimSchool experience is amazing, especially because the most talented people in the industry are teaching you all of the secrets for creating successful animated movies. I’ve been self-learning Maya for long time, but the amount of knowledge that I got from one year at AnimSchool is almost equal to what I have learned in many years of self-study, so it’s without any doubt a shortcut.

Self-learning is great, but the problem is that there’s nobody to evaluate and criticize your work, so you don’t improve much and eventually bump into a dead end. But as a student in AnimSchool, you receive a lot of constructive criticism from the instructors, which inevitably moves your work to the next level. This is my favorite thing at AnimSchool.

What advice would you give to other artists that want to get into a 3D Character Program?

My advice is to focus on the two sides, modeling and rigging, at the same time because they are so related to each other. To do good appealing rigs, you should be a good modeler. Never give up, keep trying and always share your work with others.

To view more of Eyad Hussein’s work visit:

Photography Gallery:

Come join all the students learning online at AnimSchool!
Summer Term begins July 1st 

AnimSchool Classtime: How To Use A Point Constraint

AnimSchool recently added an Introduction to Maya class. This class is a great start to our Animation and Character Programs. In Introduction to Maya students learn the basics of Maya including: how to use the Maya interface, work with objects, use basic modeling tools, animate objects, apply textures, and use lights and cameras.

In this clip Instructor, Justin Barrett shows how to use a point constraint.

AnimSchool’s New Character, Scout!

For Immediate Release

Orem, UT  United States – February 4, 2013 — Animschool
announces today their new dog character, Scout. Scout is a fully
articulated  character rig, designed for demanding action or acting
Scout’s face is exquisitely developed to reach extreme poses and maintain maximum appeal.

and hyper-expression are our driving passions and why people are drawn
to AnimSchool,” founder Dave Gallagher said. The Scout character has
been painstakingly developed to reach artfully designed poses, and allow
for a myriad of variations in expression.
“That kind of quality and
attention to detail are a part of everything we do at AnimSchool. It’s
what sets us apart and gives our students the edge when it comes to
appeal and entertainment.”

AnimSchool characters are used by more
than 10,000 users worldwide, and have been used to win numerous
animation contests and for commercial needs. AnimSchool is known as the
most trusted name for appealing 3D characters. AnimSchool animation
students use these film quality characters to learn 3D animation, making
their animation work stand out among competitors. AnimSchool Character
program students learn the secrets of appealing character creation.

Scout is the result of months of research and development. Said
Dave Gallagher, lead rigger “So much passion and loving care
went into making this character. It seems like each part was made,
changed, then remade again to be more appealing. Realizing 3D
characters that live up to beauty of 2D designs is a real challenge. It
is truly a labor of love.”

AnimSchool students are able to use
Scout for their animation assignments. AnimSchool Character students can
use Scout to learn the arts of high-end modeling and rigging.

Now with 180 students, AnimSchool
was founded in 2010 to bring character-focused 3D animation instruction
to students all around the world through live online sessions with the
very best film professionals.

Isaac Nordlund
560 South State Street, Suite F3
Orem, UT 84058

801 765-7677


AnimSchool Classtime: Modeling with the help of Lattices

In AnimSchools’ Intermediate Modeling class, students choose a character to model into a pose, focusing on appeal. In this clip, Instructor Marty Havran, shows a convenient way to use Lattices while modeling, as he critiques Francisco Tejo’s model. 

AnimSchool Showcase: Intermediate Modeling

In AnimSchool’s Intermediate Modeling class, the students are asked to model a character in 3D based on a chosen design, while focusing on appeal. Here are a few models from last term’s students.

Special thanks to the artists that allowed their designs to be used by our modelers.

AnimSchool Showcase: Introduction to 3D Modeling

In AnimSchool’s Introduction to 3D Modeling, students’ assignments vary from modeling a physical thing they have in their home, to modeling concept art from a variety of designs by Jake Parker. Here are a few models from last term’s students.

AnimSchool Interview: Modeler David Strick

We’re here today with Modeler and AnimSchool Instructor David Strick. Thank you Dave, for taking the time to answer a few questions. 

Thanks a lot for having me!

Some of the studios you’ve worked for are: Blue Sky Studios, EA Games and now DreamWorks. Is there something that stands out that you’ve learned at each Studio?

Well, Blue Sky was my first real job in the animation industry, so I think I probably developed most of my technical modeling skill there. I learned a lot about how a production pipeline works, and saw films grow from ideas, to storyboards, to artwork, to animation and so on all the way to the big screen. I genuinely love the team there. On a side note, I started there as a production assistant, and the thing that immediately jumps to mind that I learned (the hard way) is to never, never use the paging system to make a page that the whole company can hear without carefully considering exactly what you’re going to say. Think of what you want to say,  hit the page button, say it, hang up…. I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, my time at EA definitely taught me about efficiency. The deadlines tended to be very tight, so time management became an essential skill. Though EA is a very big company,  the team doing the project that I worked on was relatively small,  which made it pretty nimble when making big decisions concerning software or pipeline. That definitely put into perspective how difficult and slow it can be to implement those same kinds of decisions at a large animation company. It was a very eye opening and humbling experience.

Dreamworks has been an amazing place to work so far, and what stands out is the level of talent of the people working around me. I constantly feel pushed to do my best work and constantly draw on the collective knowledge of my team. It reminds me a lot of my experience at Blue Sky. We use a very similar pipeline, we encounter all the same problems, and the people are very similar in temperament. I suspect that applies to most of the other animation studios. Artists leave one studio for another all the time so end up with studios that are built from the experience of many of the same people.  

From your experience, what are some of the differences between working in Feature and in Games?

Apart from the tighter deadlines, I think the gaming pipeline placed many more technical limitations on artists,  which forced artists to do a lot more creative problem solving. I also think that in gaming you’re able to try on more hats. In 6 months at EA I did modeling, texturing, and particle effects. While in the animation industry I’ve pretty much only done modeling. There seems to be an attitude in gaming of just doing whatever works.

Many modelers want to model characters. What advice do you have for environmental modelers who are trying to become character modelers? How did you go from modeling environments to characters at Blue Sky?

Actually any modeler who wanted to model characters at Blue Sky was usually given the opportunity. Some studios do divide departments by character vs. environmental work. I know that’s the case for Pixar,  and it was at EA.  Blue Sky and Dreamworks both combine character and environmental modeling into one department. I think the best advice generally if you’re looking to get into character work is to simply do a lot of it on your own and get good.  

How long ago did you start using ZBrush and which studios have you worked with ZBrush as part of the production? How often do you use it in the studios?

I started fiddling with Zbrush on my own about 4.5 years ago. I did an awful portrait of another Blue Sky modeler. Both Blue Sky and EA use Zbrush in their pipelines. EA actually can use Zbrush to create models, textures, and normal maps, Blue Sky mostly tends to use it for visual development. I hear Disney and Pixar both use Zbrush, though I think Pixar may also use Mudbox.

How is ZBrush/Mudbox or traditional sculpting used as part of the pipeline in the different studios? What kind of data are you able to keep for the actual production model?

I think many studios used to rely a lot on traditional sculpting for visual development. Someone would sculpt a physical model, that model would be scanned, and then someone else would take that 3D digital information and create a separate 3D production model. That work flow seems to be going away now, and is replaced either by simply direct modeling in Maya or by using Zbrush/Mudbox to make the 3D data without having to scan anything.  

I’m a big fan of using Zbrush to find the look and feel of a character without thought of the technical limitations. Once the look is found and agreed on, then the production model can be created to suit the technical requirements. It’s a fun and efficient way to work.  

Most data can be kept when going from a viz dev sculpt to a production model. Some of the detail work will diminish a bit, but hopefully that can be brought back by Surfacing. Additionally when neutralizing a character for Char TDs or Rigging a modeler has to remove any expression from a character’s face, making it look little zombie-ish, however any lifelike qualities that are lost tend to be found again when the character is animated.

You have a huge variety of artwork on your blog. It was refreshing to see such a mixture of traditional and CG work. What’s your favorite medium to work in?

 I made that blog as kind of a motivational tool to try out different techniques. It also nice to have a place for only personal work as a sort of compliment to a professional portfolio or demo reel. I really don’t have a favorite medium; I think all artistic mediums are totally intertwined, and if you improve your skill at any medium it will boost your skill in all of them.  

You did some beautiful sketches in Europe. What inspired you the most while you were there, and how often do you fit drawing into your schedule now? Do you think it is important for modelers to draw regularly?

That’s a very kind question, thanks. It’s not hard to find inspiration when traveling. I particularly like seeing places with a lot of visible history, with monuments that took people generations to build. It’s amazing to see the kind of dedication people had to creating beautiful things four hundred years ago. It makes me wish we had more of that today.

I think drawing regularly, or painting, or sculpting, or just going to museums are all really good for modelers or any artist really. Developing a good confident aesthetic sensibility is really the goal. I think that completely trumps any technical knowledge about a specific software. As a modeler, if you’re making an object that you can envision, you’ll get there eventually even if you barley know the software.  


To view more of Dave’s work visit: 

Interview by: Amber Dempsey Shikuma

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