Digital Art Hand Topology: Mastering Hand Modeling

Hand Topology: Mastering Hand Modeling

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Creating a 3D hand from sculpting to modeling to retopology has always been one of the trickiest parts to do even when drawing hands is also very hard to tackle. From my experience in teaching students also struggle a lot with creating their first hand in 3D.

In this Hands-on article, I will go over the best way to tackle creating a clean topology for the hand and how to think about it methodologically so you can do it over and over again without any difficulties let’s jump right in.

Check out this tutorial on Retopology if you want to learn more about the process – Link Here

Why Hand Topology is considered hard?

There is a lot going on in hands from an anatomy standpoint. There are 27 bones in humans’ hands 14 of them are finger bones. As far as muscles there are more than 29 muscles in a human hand all of that determines how a hand looks and how it deforms.

If you’re wondering why am I going into bones and muscles, its because if you want to create something in 3D you have to know what are the underlying parts that make it, and in organic shapes, it’s a must to know where the bones are and how the muscles work, even if it’s just a small glimpse but it will help you understand a lot more of what you are building.

One of the trickiest parts of a hand is the Thumb finger, the reason is unlike other fingers the last bone of the thumb is within the hand itself just next to the wrist section.

In addition, the orientation of the thumb is different than other fingers, if that’s not fixed the hand will look ape-like with a thumb resembling other fingers in orientation.

How to start doing Topology for your hand model?

After finishing the sculpt of the hand in Zbrush or any other sculpting package you prefer (Blender sculpting tools are getting better each day) topology stage begins, if its your first hand topology i advise you follow the next steps:

  • Deciminate in Zbrush or Make an automated low poly version of your sculpt so topology can be done easily and without any lag.
  • Research hand anatomy pictures and understand more how the hand functions and the bones and muscle structure.
  • Paint over screenshots of your sculpt to define the main edge loops that you plan to do,
  • Choose a Retopology Software that works best for your needs. (I use Topogun)
  • Start with your main loops and keep the mesh your creating low poly as long as you can because its easier to control.
  • At the final stages add in edge loops where joints are, best case 3 edge loops where a joint is, for the best deformation in animation.

Hand Topology

Alright you got everything ready and now its time to start with your first retopology, i know it might seem scary at first but the 5 minutes rule always worked with me.

The 5 minutes rule is that in case your procrastinating starting on something try to trick your mind and say i will only do it for 5 minutes and once you start working on it you will slowly get sucked into the task it self and realise its not as hard as your brain made it to be.

Use your Hand as a Reference

Everyone recommends gathering reference for what ever Art asset you are creating, and i am 100% with that, no one knows everything by heart and you should always keep a Puref board open with references of styles and images of what you will be creating as it will help ground you and create something relevant.

I have written a guide on retopology in blender you can find it here.

But with hands topology, well you have 2 of them really and they are right there in front of you mind aswell just look at them, take some photos move them try to understand and see them from different angles.

your hand as reference

Main Parts of the Hand to Consider

With whatever task you will in life and in 3D you should always try to be smart and not re-do work that could be duplicated, and in our case the 4 fingers of the hand (excluding the thumb) are all somehow similar in shape and form, only different is the length.

So a smart thing would be to create 1 finger topology and duplicate that for the 3 other fingers and scaling each one down accordingly.

Below is an image of the 3 main parts that you should consider when doing hand retopology:

  • Main Finger
  • Duplicate Fingers (these are duplicates of the main finger you did)
  • Palm

Lay out your main edge loops for the Hands

Clean edge loops are essential in any 3d model you will do that will animate, and in our example the hand it becomes crucial as they are lots of joints and moving parts.

But whenever you have a hard task at hand, first thing you do is break it down to small easier tasks and tackle one after the other.

as you can see in the picture below the black lines are the main loop of each finger and its in the middle and goes across the whole finger, start with that and keep things low poly.

the second set of important loops are the ones at the finger joins (orange ones) these are very important especially the ones that connect the finger with the palm it self.

main hand loops

Ngons and triangles are a must in every hand topology, in case you don’t know what these are please refer to my Topology Guide i wrote a while a go. Its important you know where these Ngons site in your hand topology.

Usually as we mentioned in depth in our topology guide, Ngons signifies a change in direction or several mesh islands connecting with each other, and this makes total sense with our 5 fingers connecting to the palm mesh, this means its a must that an Ngone will be at that point and its normal and natural for it to exist there.

Below i have marked where Ngones are with black circles in case you want to try my Reverse Topology Technique.

ngones hand

Think beyond Topology

When doing topology often we get busy with solving the next Ngone issue, see its like a puzzle and sometimes you loose track of the point and the goal.

Creating a clean working topology is one part of the maze, its a process once your done with your topology the next department will take over your mesh and continue on the pipeline, and if your part isn’t done to standards the problem will continue to grow, its like a snowball effect really.

For Blender users, I can easily recommend RetopoFlow addon as it will make the process quite easy and enjoyable.

So in order for the next department (which is in this case UV and texturing and then comes rigging) to do their job easily and fully, your topology has to be perfect, so keep that in mind while your working as you will be either ruining peoples day or making their life easy.

Conclusion

Hand topology is tricky but nothing is impossible, everything gets easier with practice, if your just starting out i am here to tell you even if it feels uncomfortable it will get easier in time.

Hopefully i explained a thing or two about Hand topology if you have any question don’t hesitate to reach out.