How to Make a Woman

By Shamus Posted Saturday Dec 23, 2006

Filed under: Projects 12 comments

Deoxy brought up a very interesting point in my post about Girl Games, suggesting that the large bust size of videogame women is to make them more clearly regognizable as women. This reminded me of the time I had my own run-in with making female characters.

Back in 1999, my company wanted a new set of 3d male and female characters. For various reasons, the job fell to me even though I’d never done that sort of thing before, and I wasn’t really sure how it was done. I was part of the art team, but I have no art training and no real artistic talent. My skill was in writing tools and coming up with new ways of making old stuff so that it was smaller or faster to render. If you had a 30 polygon tree that looked terrible, and you wanted to cut it down to 15 polys and at the same time make it look better, download faster, and use less textures, I was the guy. If you wanted a realistic car or a gothic building: Well, I could do it, but it would be lackluster and sort of sterile.

But time was short and we needed those male & female figures. The job needed doing. I jumped in, learning as I went.

Stating with a blank slate, building from nothing, I managed to make a pretty good male. Starting a whole new mesh from scratch takes a lot of time, so to speed things up I started my female with the already-completed male. I planned to just modify it until I had a female. I made her more slender. I made her hips curve out. I made her legs thinner. I added breasts. I changed the shape of the face. When all of this was done it looked like a man in drag. An ugly man.

I figured it was the head, so I made a whole new head and put long hair on it. By itself, the head looked pretty good (by 1999 standards) but once I put it onto the body it again looked like a man. Maybe a trans-sexual, at best – but it certainly didn’t look anything like a biological woman. (EDIT: I apologize if this offends any trans-gender people. I’m just trying to hang all of this on familiar terms because we don’t really have good words to describe degrees of femininity.)

My eye was telling me it was wrong, but not WHAT was wrong. It just looked too “butch”. I made the breasts bigger, the hips more curvy, the arms and legs and neck more slender. By the time I was done my “woman” was an anorexic with a gigantic chest and she still looked like a man. I tried putting clothes on her – which helped -but I couldn’t get rid of the “mannish” look.

Time ran out and in the end I just covered the shortcomings with clothing. Later – after I was out of crunch mode – I went out and got some books on anatomy and tried to figure out where I went wrong. I learned what most artists learn on day one of art class: Male and female proportions are very, very different. The most major change – and the one that was tripping me up – was that the ratio of torso to overall body height is different. Once I corrected that, My “man in drag” female transformed into a woman. Then I did what I should have done at the beginning, which was toss the male mesh and start over. My next generation of characters looked much better, and would have been passable in your mid-range 3d games of the time.

Still, I’m glad I’m a full-time coder now. The 3d modeling was fun, but in a lot of ways I was Michael Jordan playing baseball.

LATER: Upon reflection, the Jordan comment sounds a little prideful. Just to be clear: I’m not suggesting I’m the Michael Jordan of coding, I’m just saying I wasn’t using my primary skills.


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12 thoughts on “How to Make a Woman

  1. Sartorius says:

    Starting a whole new mesh from scratch takes a lot of time, so to speed things up I started my female with the already-completed male. I planned to just modify it until I had a female.

    You should have started with one of his ribs – I hear that works.

  2. ;)

    Glad you learned.

    These days there are so many good models it can be amazing.

  3. jdhays says:

    I wonder what would have happen if you did the woman first and then tried to male it up.

  4. Shamus says:

    If you went female to male, and made the proportion mistakes I made, you would need lots of muscle to look relly manly. Your guy might be sort of anime-style. (Lots of anime draws males and females with longer legs / shorter torsos.)

    In both cases, fixing the hips & pelvis is almost more trouble than it’s worth.

  5. Carl the Bold says:

    lol, Sartorius

  6. Deoxy says:

    Wow – I get 15 seconds of fame! Or at least Fame-Lite (TM). I’ll try not to let it go to my head. “Heh.”

  7. I really enjoy these kinds of anecdotes. More :)

  8. Deoxy says:

    Oh hey – nice effect on the (TM)! Nifty! I didn’t notice it when I posted it…

  9. unbreakable says:

    [i]jdhays Says:

    December 24th, 2006 at 11:00 pm
    I wonder what would have happen if you did the woman first and then tried to male it up.[/i]

    Take a look at any Final Fantasy game ;-)

  10. In Basic Instructions, a webcomic you mentioned at some point that you enjoyed reading, I noticed this same issue in “How to Show Off a Scar”.

    The character on the right looks like a man in the first two frames. The artist is trying for a woman, but it just looks like a man. Finally, in the third frame he seems to pull it off and the character looks like a woman.

    I can’t put my finger one why she looks like a man in the first two frames. She just… does.

  11. Tessa says:

    Um. I guess it’s a little odd to be commenting on something from four years ago, but I feel I should mention:

    I’m transgender, and I found your ”Maybe a trans-sexual, at best ““ but it certainly didn't look anything like a real woman.” comment to be quite offensive and hurtfull.

    I know it’s nothing to do with the topic of the post, but I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while now, and decided I ought to mention this, since you referenced this article in one of your more recent posts.

  12. Vi says:

    Maybe “biological female” would have sounded more impartial? (Just a guess; I don’t know how to talk about sex/gender-related subjects either.)

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