Have you ever wondered how animators manage to realistically model the 100,000 hairs on the average person's head in a reasonable amount of time? The answer lies in grooming! In this post, we take a closer look at the intricate art of grooming and how skilled artists handle the complexity of these 3D models to bring them to life in the animation pipeline. Get ready to be amazed!
Grooming is the process of creating and styling hair, leaves, feathers, scales and other types of simulated "fuzz" on 3D models.
Tree leaves, for example, all look similar, so you don’t need much variations between each individual leaf model. But because you need to model a huge amount of elements and the physics involved are complex, you need specialized techniques to automate the process while keeping the result realistic. That’s where grooming comes in.
Grooming helps to create more realistic and unique characters. For example, it isn’t unusual to use hairstyles to convey a character's personality and make them more relatable to the audience. Well-groomed characters are visually more appealing to look at.
Grooming also allows animators to create realistic hair and fur movements, which can help to bring characters and creatures to life. It can also add a sense of weight and motion to the animation. This directly contributes to improve the overall quality of the animation.
Who Is Responsible For Grooming
Groom artists take care of hair, fur, and other fuzzy models. They work closely with the character design and modeling team to ensure consistency with the character's concept art. Groom artists also collaborate with the texturing, shading, and lightning teams to ensure that the models look realistic in different lighting conditions.
Grooming can be a challenging and time-consuming process, as it requires a good understanding of real-life physics. Groom artists must be able to create different styles, types, and lengths of hair and fur, taking into account factors like gravity and wind.
Groom artists work closely with rigger artists to keep animations smooth and realistic.
The Animation Grooming Process
Grooming mainly happen during the pre-production and production phases of the animation pipeline, but minor adjustments can also take place during the post-production phase:
- Define the type of hair / fur / leaves - This includes the length, shape, and direction of individual strands or fibers, as well as any patterns or variations in the hair or fur.
- Create the 3D models using specialized software tools - Once the type of hair or fur has been defined, the groom artist uses specialized digital content creation tools to model it.
- Integrate the hair/fur in the parent 3D model - Once the hair or fur has been created, it needs to be attached to the 3D model. The groom artist sets up the hair or fur using the rig created by the rigger artist. A rig is the digital skeleton of a model used for animation. They use the rig to ensure that the hair or fur moves and interacts with the 3D model in a realistic way.
- Refine and test the animation - Once the hair or fur is attached to the 3D model, the groom artist tests and refines the animation. They make adjustments to the hair or fur as needed to ensure that it moves and interacts in a given situation in a realistic way.
- Add final touches - Once the hair or fur has been fully groomed and tested, the groom artist adds final touches to the grooming. This can include adding textures with texturing and shader artists, adjusting the color, or adding accessories.
Different techniques require different tools, as we’ll see in the next section, but this is a typical grooming process in an animation studio.
Techniques & Tools Used In Grooming
Grooming used to take months of work to get right, but newer techniques and tools make it much easier to create realistic models in much shorter iteration cycles. Here is a non-exhaustive list of common grooming techniques:
- Clump and Frizz - Clump and Frizz is a technique used to create more realistic models by grouping individual strands together into clumps and then adding some randomness to the clumps through frizz.
- Sculpting - Not unlike other 3D modeling tasks, sculpting is the process of manipulating hair strands or fur fibers using grooming tools to create a desired shape or intricate details like facial hair or feathers.
- Layering - A technique to create the appearance of depth and complexity in hair or fur, by layering different textures and colors on top of one another to create a more realistic and visually appealing effect.
- Cards - Cards are flat planes used to create hair or fur by placing multiple cards over the surface of the 3D model and then using grooming tools to manipulate the cards to create the desired look.
- Simulation - For dynamic hair and fur movement, using physics engines to simulate the way hair or fur moves in the real world.
- Texture painting - Texture painting involves using 2D painting software to create detailed textures that can be applied to the hair or fur. This technique is often used to create intricate patterns or colors that are hard to replicate manually.
Procedural techniques like fractal noise can also be used to randomize the shape and distribution of hair strands to obtain a more organic finish.
Like other 3D modeling tasks like texturing, grooming heavily relies on UV mapping―a 2D representation of the 3D model's surface―to position the different elements on the parent model.
Best Practices Used For Grooming Artists
Best practices for grooming artists are similar to the ones used by 3D modelers in general. It’s important to use the right modeling technique and gather as much research material as possible to fit the director’s creative vision, while striking a balance with the allotted budget and schedule.
Because grooming is a collaborative job, it’s also important to have processes and tools in place to communicate effectively with teammates. At CGWire, we built Kitsu to help animation studios keep track of their production pipeline. It’s especially important to regularly gather feedback, create new revisions, set the right priorities for your tasks, and have a central place to share and store 3D assets.
Grooming may not be the most visible aspect of the animation process, but it is a crucial element to bring characters and environments to life. It is important to recognize the hard work and dedication that goes into grooming, and to appreciate the subtle but significant role it plays in the world of animation. Next time you watch your favorite animated character, take a moment to appreciate these precious details.
If you are a groom artist, an animation student, or someone who simply enjoys learning about the animation industry, we invite you to join our Discord community. Here, you can connect with fellow artists, share your work, and learn from others in the industry.