Of all the concepts, terms, and techniques that beginners have to digest, one of the more confusing appears to be morphs. Even novice modelers can be caught off guard by the finicky requirement of the morph having to be the same polycount as the original model.
There is a reason polycount has to remain the same. The morph is merely reshaping the existing original model which requires the polycount to match in both the original model and the morphed model. If there is just one poly difference, the morphs will not load.
For starters, a morph can be applied to just about any mesh be it a character, prop, or accessory. In the example below I created a simple, very low poly, sword in 3DS Max from a cylinder by manipulating the loops at the poly level reshaping the sword point to a hammer head like a war hammer.
I created the example below in 3DS Max but the same applies to other applications like Blender, Maya, and so on. The gif shows the sword point morphing into a hammer head as I dial the amount up in the Morpher extension. In 3DS Max you load the original sword model then add the Morpher modifier and choose the hammer head version for the morph.
Using the Morpher Modifier in 3DS Max to Create Morphing Sword
You can see how the bottom portion of the sword was reshaped into a simple hammer head which is the basis of the morph. This would work the same for a character flexing its muscles or a skinny male morphing into a hulk type of character. Landing gear moving up or down can be accomplished with morphs. Doors, drawers, and cupboards opening, and closing can likewise be created with morphs.
Morphs are a powerful tool for the developer and storyteller. You might even consider them to be the special effects of mesh as they can do a lot with proper planning and little forethought during the creation of the original model. It would be just as possible to shape the blade into a scythe or other formidable weapon or tool.
The reshaping itself is not that complicated and certainly not on an advanced level by any means. In my 3DS Max version, I manipulated the endpoints of the sword into a block as shown below.
Reshaping the Sword Point to the Hammer Head
As you can see nothing is added that would increase the polycount as the hammer head was merely a fundamental reshaping of the original sword tip. This is why you may want to think ahead and add some extra polys to that original low poly model so you can have more mesh “handles/manipulators” to grab and use for reshaping.
If you jump into ZBrush and use the wrong brush or Sculptris Pro mode where the polycount changes as you brush, then you are out of luck as it continually changes the count. There might be times your morph won’t work because of a polycount mismatch even though you thought you were being careful. In this case, you have to backtrack through your work to find at what point you altered the polycount or, as some do, start over with a more watchful eye.
NOTE: BE SURE TO CENTER BOTH THE ORIGINAL AND THE MORPH BEFORE EXPORTING AS OBJ OR FBX, OTHERWISE THE OBJECT WILL DRIFT TOWARDS THE POSITION THE MORPH OCCUPIED IN THE ORIGINAL SOFTWARE.
The iClone Morph Creator and Animator that comes with the software are simple to use tools that help you load your morphs into iClone 7. As shown below, with a textured version, you can see the final effect of the morph.
Textured Sword Hammer Morph in iClone 7. Only the original mesh needs texturing.
The next time you set out to create a morph, whether it’s for humanoid, beast, or machine keep a watchful eye on that polycount and some applications have a poly budget tool that can help you keep your eye on that critical count.
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.