Two of the dominating factions of 3D usage sit firmly at each end of the spectrum. On one end you'll find the high-poly world of image rendering for various uses from advertising to hobbyist. Poly counts don't matter if your system can handle it. What counts is the best possible look combined with the best possible shot to pull off a great render that can be used digitally or in print with the better renders going to cover shots and movie posters.
Way down on the other end of the lane sits the low-poly world of real-time, both gaming and animation. In fact, some tools used in low-poly are starting to blur the line between gaming and animation since each faction shares similar needs. A game cutscene is animation whereas the game assets are low-poly designed to have game screens full of non-player characters and props. This too is handy in animation as no one likes to see a near-empty scene in a supposedly public place.
Most of us know you aren't going to have a lot of luck with high-end Poser or DAZ characters in a real-time engine be it gaming or animation. Just too poly heavy. Too much weight. It's like asking your Grandma to pull a heavy sled of iron weights. In the craziest of circumstance, she might pull it off here and there, but it won't be pretty nor practical.
As was discussed in a previous article high-poly decimation is one technique of bringing high-poly work down to low-poly levels. How one achieves low-poly is varied as some start high-poly and use decimation/projection and whatever else they can think of to shave off polys.
Others, particularly 3D veterans, tend to start off low-poly or at least as much as is practical. The mean you start with a poly budget in mind, a target size like say 60k. That's right… 60k… just about the same as some accessories in the high-poly world except this covers EVERYTHING… including accessories.
So… low-poly is still, basically, a mindset that requires forethought, planning and all those other tedious, creative buzzkills that we tend to not want to deal with. Sure, you can muddle your way through without thinking past the end of your nose, but it will be far from best practices and you will pay for it with extra work.
While it is easy to take a character from Reallusion's Character Creator 3 and reduce it down to ridiculous levels without losing form this still doesn't provide a low-poly enough character to populate an army, city or basically fill the screen. At least not close up or even medium camera shots.
Once you hit a certain number of triangles the human form goes south very fast. It starts devolving into a mass then even great texturing can't save. You may not need fingers or at least 5 fingers but you do need a hand.
By starting out with a low-poly budget you know how much room you have and can even plan such as saying the weapons will be 5% of the budget, accessories 8% and so forth. All the while keeping in mind how many polys you are saving for the character.
As we've mentioned in the past… you need to plan how much modeling will be done that eat polys versus how much texturing will be used to make the mesh look more realistic while staying in budget. If I end up in quads will that help, or will the engine convert them to tris anyway making it a waste of time?
There is no one way to low-poly as it is achieved through many techniques but starting off with a low-poly mindset… (i.e. do I really need to model that ornate work or texture it) shows how just a little planning ahead can smooth out some of the rough angles of low-poly work.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.