Why Topology Matters in Modeling

An overview of why topology is vital to high quality modeling

Topology is one of the most vital aspects of high-quality, subdivision-surface modeling. In many cases, it is the most vital. However, topology can also be quite difficult and time consuming to learn, thus the details of topology are a mystery to many artists.

In the below article, I attempt to shed a little light on a few of the key points of topology. Gaining an understanding of topology will not only improve your models, it will also make you a better modeler by giving you the knowledge needed to manipulate your mesh exactly as needed and desired. This is not a topology tutorial, but more of an overview to the benefits of  clean, effective topology.

If you are not familiar with the basics of topology then please check out my tutorial collection on Learning Mesh Topology

Clean Animation Deformation

When animating characters and other organic objects it is very important to get clean deformations and movement. If your character does not have good deformations and such you’ll likely get odd results that distract from the actual animation.

To learn more about topology and how you can dramatically improve your modeling skills join my Mastering Modeling in Blender Workshop – scheduled to re-open in January 2013 Pre-Registrations this December.

By structuring the mesh in an effective manor you are able to get much cleaner deformations with less work. The idea, when working on character models, is to lay out the edgeloops in such way that they follow the contours of the muscles and other key forms

Topology is vital during character animation

Improved Surface Quality

Crucial to a models quality is the surface treatment. This is everything from smooth, flowing curves, to sharp corners. How you treat the surface can take make the difference between a decent model and a great model.

 Tip: outline key details with an edge ring to get better surface transitions and control

By creating your topology in such a way as to accent these surfaces you’ll find it much easier to achieve the surface presentations you need. This can be everything from outlining key details with a series of edgeloops to using all-quad junctions for small parts and transitions.

Clean topology provides better surfaces

Models are Easier to Modify

When a model has clean topology, that is designed to flow with the surface, you’ll find the mesh is much easier to modify as the mesh naturally flows with the subject matter.

Tip: select complete edge loops with ALT+RMB and edge rings with CTRL+ALT+RMB

By taking care to structure your topology in clean, orderly ways you’ll find it much easier to select specific portions of the model, making it much quicker to make changes to the mesh shape.

Clean topology makes models easier to modify

If you take the time to learn how clean topology can benefit your modeling workflow you’ll be able to make smarter decisions during the modeling process and likely end up with high-quality models.

Additional Tutorials with Emphasis on Topology:

Modeling the Female Head

Modeling a High-poly Car

Modeling an M4 Assault Rifle

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21 Responses to “Why Topology Matters in Modeling”
  1. Posts: 7
    GK says:

    That’s very interesting, but what about the female body modelling series?

  2. Posts: 103
    glakie says:

    Thanks Jonathon for putting this up again. I just re-downloaded them again because the Topology Studies version I had before wasn’t HD. I think they have helped me in the modeling process, because I always try to keep them in mind when modeling. Keep it up man and try to ignore the rants from the occasional “person” (for lack of a politicaly correct name). You’re usually right about that stuff and there’s the site itself to think about. Thanks again.

  3. Posts: 1
    pkisme says:

    thanks for the article.

    good topology also vital for texture maps and other maps like normal/displacement maps

  4. Posts: 29
    Guest Guest says:

    I design/model dynamic cloth for export to Poser. (“Design’ is perhaps a vainglorious word given my skill level: still, I hope it reflects my understanding that dynamic cloth for *any* sim engine requires a bit of thought and design). Topology is a crucial factor in getting the cloth to sim appropriately, depending on the figure’s end pose (after a sim). The things I’ve learned in this course are really good – I realise there aren’t that many engaged in this sort of modelling, but I would love to find a discussion group on cloth topology.
    Thanks for focusing on this crucial aspect of modelling… I’ve learned enough to realise that my understanding is fairly circumspect: much more to learn!

  5. Posts: 27
    retasaur says:

    This is more like common sense to me.

    • Posts: 4193

      Topology becomes common sense after a while, but many artists starting out are not aware of what topology is or what the benefits of good topology are. In fact, in my experience, a lack of topology knowledge is one of the most common problems for new modelers.

      • Posts: 1
        Barbara says:

        Man, what happened to the female body modelling series?

      • Posts: 4193

        Hi Barbara,

        The series is still in development, I’ve just had to focus on many other projects at the same time. My hope is to finish the female body series very soon, I know many of you are eagerly waiting and I hate to keep you waiting so long.


  6. Posts: 120
    Sven Neubert says:

    I myself try often in difficult windings model to look at the problem on the topology. To some others, it might simplify some of these small tip – the uv lines should not wander randomly in the body adapt to the special shape of the figure. It is best to imagine the body is cut in horizontal and vertical pieces.

  7. Posts: 75

    I have found that the tips about topology have been a big help when it comes to my more detailed models. I’m still working on a Camaro right now as I get time and with the knowledge of topology I’ve learned from this site things are comming along nicely. I have seen how important topology can be :)

  8. Posts: 8

    For me there is no point to do 3d modeling without a very good understanting of topology at least if you want to go to the level of professionalism. I completly agree with you.

  9. Posts: 16
    Annonymous says:
    The user has disabled their account.
    • Posts: 1
      rogdor says:

      If anything, that Pixar talk demonstrates that topology will still be important. Their examples of real-time subdivision on GPUs appear to require all quads.

      At the same time though, if that’s the future, then loop cuts may become “bad” topology. I’ve often wondered about that, even before OpenSubDiv. Loops for good deformations are one thing, but loop cuts otherwise seem to be more about workflow than good topology as an end result. And topology for workflow IMHO is only good when its matching your preference for workflow.

      One thing that bugs me about Blender’s remesh for instance. It creates a ton of surface complexity across even co-planar surfaces, with all of those equal quads. I’d be much happier if it (or some other modifier) had a co-planar reduction built-in, because any remesh with small detail, even on a cube, becomes this insane beast of quads.

  10. Posts: 12
    Moritz says:

    Very good article! How did you render the car at the top in this wireframe style?

  11. Posts: 12
    Moritz says:

    Great Article! How did you render the car like this?

  12. Pingback: 3D Realisation – “Nets or UV Maps”, A quick test/discussion point for Games Students. | apophenia inc.

  13. Posts: 56

    Jonathan, the wheels on your modelled car look like a lot of work, all those details.

    Do you mind if I pin your picture at Pinterest? Your consent is needed. In the link below, my pinboard holds examples of topology – just a collection of artists’ wiremeshed 3D models for study purpose.

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