Modelling a head in Blender

Viacheslav Slavinsky, 2000.
Edited by Martin Bradstreet

`You know,' he added very gravely, `it's one of the most
serious things that can possibly happen to one in a battle--to
get one's head cut off.'

Modelling a head is a rather simple task, although very few can really accomplish good results at it. The shape of a human head is nothing extraordinary, but it is a thing that we see many times everyday. That's why anything that's wrong immediately catches our attention. We feel them instinctively (and especially those of others!). It is important so, that the head should look right and be in the right place.

In this tutorial we'll create a rather pretty head. We'll use Blender's mesh editing tools. Blender is really the best at mesh editing, so why let this feature go. In Blender it is really easy to create meshes of any degree of complexity and without any constraints.With the help of other tools you can get nice smooth surfaces built with very few polygons.

Preparing a Sketch

Many people try to avoid the sketching stage. However, this is a very important stage and making a couple of sketches could shave off many hours of work later. I understand those folks who avoid doing that.. I'm not really good at pencil myself. But still, I prepared a sketch right in Blender, with the help of Bezier curves.

This is a very rough sketch and later it will be seen, how unprecise it is. But to start out with, it will be fine. If you're not a pencil master, picture something of the sort. It will serve you as a guide when you'll fill the empty space with polygons.

To make a sketch, I have prepared the golden section rulers. Pay attention to how the face parts are correlated with proportions. The eye cuts are placed approximately at half the head's height, despite of the common belief that they grow on the forehead. This is a very common mistake indeed, please avoid doing so.

Use beziers at full throttle. To make them more attentive, use vector and independent handles. Select a control vertex, press VKEY to make the vector handles. HKEY will make them independent and another press of the HKEY will make them default back again. After you're done with curves, move them back and forth in depth.

To make the sketch separate from our editing space, yet visible, it is a good idea to move it into another scene. The following actions show how to do that.

Now, after you've done all of that, if you paid enough attention you would ask: `But why? Why not rename the first scene into "Sketch", create a new one, and start working there?'. Answer: because just in case you didn't know how to link objects between scenes, now you know. Now get down to the business. Let's model the head and fill some polygons.

Lip Contours

Add a simple Plane mesh (SHIFT-AKEY, MESH->PLANE). Remove one vertex leaving so only 2 edges. They will become the lip corner.

Now and below it is the intensive mesh editing action going on. It's nice to know and remember those functions:

And now we have all the tools necessary for mesh editing. We have the lips corner. Now let's move it right, rotate and match it with the sketch line. Then add more vertices with Ctrl-LeftClick and make edges with FKEY. You should get a mesh contour, something like this picture:

Making the Volume

Now we have the lips contour. Wonderful. Now let's add volume to them. With the help of extrusion we can add some more contours for the upper and lower lips. Usually I do that vertex by vertex, or in pairs to keep the symmetry, moving them in the side view. By moving them back or forth you make it easier to edit later because it's easier to select when all points are shifted relative to each other. But keep the symmetry - the points should be in pairs: left/right. Fill the missed faces manually - select four vertices and press FKEY. Yes indeed, nobody will fill them for you! And in this tutorial you'll fill yourself about a 1-1.5k of faces by hand and extrusion - one by one.

Pay attention to the lip corners. The line that's pulled from the corner will go not to the mouth center, but in depth of it. Carefully fill that place with squares.

I prefer to model with squares. This is more convenient than triangles, because you get less edges and a cleaner look. Besides that, mesh subdivision algorithms tend to work better with squares. In the end I had to add an extra subdivision to this model and the evil triangles emerged, but at least I could move it to the place where they are hardly noticeable.

Build the Surface Around the Nose

Now that we have the lips we will just spread sidewise and up and down, stretching the skin around the skull. The most complicated part is on the way up and we will start from there. Right after the lips there is Nose. Make the filtrum (the area that connects the bottom of the nose with the upper lip), without big detail for the time being, prepare the nose contour with vertices, add a face left and right. Then pull the bottom of the nose bridge to the front.

On this picture you can see the vertices that are to be extruded forward to build the nostrils. Extrude and seal carefully by solving several head twisters about not making triangles when most tempted to do so and get something like this:


We got a 20/20 nose, but you can hardly breath through it. To fix this we need to make some holes in the nose. Let's explore the power of the extrusion tool.

Rotate the mesh so that the bottom of the nose can be nicely seen. Now select the square that's sealing the nose from the bottom. Press the EKEY: Extrude? Sure, go on. Press teh SKEY right then and make the extruded quad a little smaller in size. We get this funny picture.

For free we got 4 new faces, thus added the volume where there was none. Push the new face deeper into the nose. I thought one isn't enough and I pushed some more. Then I pulled the pipes inside. Not that they are subject to be visible ever, but it won't hurt if your model can really breath.


Now we have the lips and the nose it's a good idea to build it to the eyes. Between there grow cheeks on the cheekbones. Don't forget about them, especially when you're making the face really puffy and when you decide where to place more vertices and where to place fewer vertices. It's a good idea to count in the muscle disposition around the face. Roughly they radiate around the mouth and around each eye so we need to build a smooth transition from the lips to the eye holes.

When moving vertices in side view, select them in pairs with border select tool. You will not break the symmetry this way. And, similarly, when you move points in the front view, use scale instead. It takes some time to get used to this. Actually you could model only a half of the head and then glue the halves together, but I don't like that method.

Adding the Eyes

To avoid the excessive suffering caused by the skin falling apart from the eyeballs, add the eyeballs now. The human eyes are, naturally, damned huge. It's just their bigger part is hidden under the skin. If you doubt it, touch your skull around the eye holes with a schtangenzirkul and you could note that the vertical size of the eye hole is just about the half of the eyeball diameter! Anyway, scale them to your taste. I like them eyes huge so you might think that I made them larger than normal.

The eyes can tell lots about a person. From the way he/she looks you can know a lot about a person. The character imposes on the forming of the facial features, the size of the eyes, the folds and wrinkles around them.. This might be just the first and a very subjective impression, but when I meet someone first of all I look at their eyes and lips (I started modelling with lips this time, you see). Some people, for example the designers of Lara Croft, consider other body parts to be more valuable.*

Eyelids And Eyebrows

Here it's pretty much the same technique as with the lips. Carefully extrude and fill. The eyeballs serve you as the rulers. There's not much more to say about this stage.

When the eyelids are ready, it's about time to go to the eyebrows. So far, we don't have a very realistic transition- there's no fold. But you could form it later, at the moment it's easier to edit it as it is. As a matter of fact, here the eyebrows are a little bit too high, I lowered them later.

The rest

Now it's time for sweating. We have created the main facial features, now it's necessary to fill all the holes and make the whole volume. Sculpt the chin, make decent cheek and cheekbones, make the back of the head and a smooth transition to the neck. This is a mighty work, but it's hard to describe it step by step. Now that you are familiar with all mesh editing techniques you have to accomplish it by yourself, trust your fantasy and intuition. May these pictures be a sort of a hint for you.

On the right picture you can see how to wrap up the squares avoiding triangles.

When we have the ready shape, it's the time for sculpting. When you'll turn on perspective mode (5PAD) you'll most likely get scared.

To the left there is a not so normal head for a healthy person. You should give it the correct form. Round up the mouth, create cheekbones and make the folds around the nose. The nose itself is far from perfect too. Lower the eyebrows and make decent eyelid folds and, as a finishing touch, put on the textures. And oh, the ears! Ears are harder than the rest of the head and they are subject to another tutorial. At this stage it makes sense to use a mesh smoothing tool. You have a choice of S-Mesh or Catmull-Clark. S-Mesh, being a builtin tool, is faster but does not give as smooth results as Catmull-Clark plug in.

Transforming the face from the state of the left picture to the state of the right one took me a while. During two weeks I've been touching my face and shamelessly staring at the girls in metro. Probably I could save the time by preliminary painting the sketches on paper and collecting good reference images. I wish you to touch and stare and model cute and scary heads and not only heads. Happy blendering!

For the afterword I would like to express my gratitide to _poe-t for critique and numerous pieces of advice which helped me a lot while I've been modelling this head. He was also the originator of the name Aelita. The name came up because first she was bald, although did not have the blue skin. But the name sticked to her anyway. I would also like to thank Martin "Gimpoid" Bradstreet who edited the text and eliminated some weird mistakes.

* as a matter of the fact this is almost the exact quote of Igor Posavec. Igor, I'm sorry but I couldn't resist =)