What Is Retopology and How to Use It to Improve Your 3D Models

a render of a tiger looking off into the distance

As technology and software have evolved over the years, the process most 3D artists follow to create their models has also evolved. Originally, most artists worked directly with polygons, the shapes used to create the topology of a 3D model, from the get-go. Not only can this method be time-consuming, but it also requires a great deal of foresight as the artist had to work out a model that not only looked good but was also efficiently structured. For most artists, this method ultimately felt counterintuitive and made it difficult to focus on the art of 3D modeling.

Retopology — the process of simplifying the topology of a mesh — became the perfect solution to this problem, all while offering plenty of other functionalities as well. Retopology tools allow creators to focus on how models look without worrying about polygons because you can use these tools to clean up and simplify the topology of the mesh after it has been sculpted! If you haven’t mastered the retopology tools in your chosen program yet, this is especially important to review! 

Uses for Retopology

To better help you understand what retopology is and why it is important in creating 3D models, take a look at these sample models of an avocado. Notice how the mesh, or grouping of polygons that create the model, differ in complexity. While the general shape of the model is identical, the version of the model on the left uses a lot more polygons to create its mesh than the other.

three images side by side displaying a rendered avocado and two different meshes

Whether you are creating a piece of fruit or a character, topology is an important concept to keep in mind. If you made this model to use in a video game or an animated movie, for example, depending on how close it was going to be on screen, you would need to be choosy in how detailed the mesh is. The less of a focal point an object is, the simpler its mesh can be. And then again, even if this avocado was the main event in my scene, I may still want to retopologize it and see if I can’t simplify and streamline its mesh.

The number of polygons matters because one scene, shot, or level of a video game is going to consist of thousands of polygons. This puts a lot of strain on computers and can quickly throw a wrench in your movie or level design as polygons could quickly get out of hand.

Not only that, but retopology can have direct creative applications as well. These tools can be excellent for creating clothing that fits to a model as they will simulate how clothes might cling or mold loosely around a person’s body. It would be difficult to simulate clothing perfectly without the aid of retopology tools, which help generate simple polygons that form the same shape as the model you are using them with. This render by Daz artist iSourceTextures really shows how these kinds of techniques can improve a 3D scene.

a render of a woman leaning on a fence
“Aino’s Day Out” by iSourceTextures in the Daz Gallery

How to Use It

The main goal with retopology is to preserve high-detail elements of a model, while also making it more efficient for animation. Many 3D software programs have slightly different ways of handling this. While the tools may work differently or have different names, ultimately, they can help you accomplish the same end results.

If you are working in Blender, you will definitely want to check out the documentation on the fairly new Poly Build Tool. This useful tool can help you clean up and simplify meshes by intuitively adding, deleting, or moving geometry within a mesh. Blender artists all seem to agree that this tool really speeds up the retopology workflow.

3D design program Maya offers a similar tool known as Quad Draw, which also allows you to quickly recreate a simpler, cleaner topology that mimics a reference surface.

Put Retopology to the Test

Ultimately, how you go about the retopology process and the exact workflow you follow will depend on the program you are using. Now that you know what the possibilities are, be sure to dig deeper into the documentation and available tutorials for your program of choice!

While many 3D models in the Daz Studio marketplace created by our published artists are already optimized, you may want to change or further improve them depending on the application you are going to be using them for. This is easily accomplished with our free Daz Bridges. Check out the marketplace for the bridge that links Daz to your program of choice so you can try out the retopology tools available! 

Speaking of improved workflow, also check out How to Use Free 3D Models for Faster Game Development!

Featured Image: “Siberian Tiger” by My 3D Spin in the Daz Gallery

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