Corvids and other birds! WIP

~ Preview from latest post ~


Now I’m wiser and older and know a bit more about vectors I revisited an old eye shader useful for small critters with relatively fixed eyes and… I accidentally the whole bird.

I enjoy sculpting fine details, texturing, and even rigging when it’s weird stuff. I hate, HATE modelling. Proper topology, loop techniques, what’s that even about? Hah. So yeah, I could use the practice.

The mesh

And learned things I have! A quick rig later and it’s clear I need to take a long hard look at the beak because the cursed thing is just not stretching correctly right now. Not enough loops at the corners. Don’t even tell me about the pincers-like opening. And the neck is also just… not working. I may have to straighten the poor thing’s spine because modeling it upright was a serious rookie mistake. I won’t get any closer to proper wings while I don’t solve the basics. :sweat_smile:


(a haphazard test with barely combed feathers)

But I’m thinking about feathers already, and that’s a good thing! I couldn’t get my hands on enough featherless corvid references, so I’ve been looking at whatever naked bird comes my way like chickens and newborn chicks and one thing I noticed is how slim they look. I expected something like this, but feathers can really double a bird’s size! That’s something to keep in mind if you’re using a particle system for feathers.

Here are some tests of the feather shader in Cycles and Eevee with provisional maps while I don’t get some white feathers to create better ones.

Corvids_WIP_feather.shader.CYCLES_update1 Corvids_WIP_feather.shader.EEVEE_update1

A quick inherit-from-emitter setup to test patterns because I have plans.

Annotations about feathers flow for later usage. It’s cool to see how this same flow blueprint stays true in the most varied bird shapes and sizes.


Reference board

In theory I’m doing a Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) but I’ve been looking at everything I can use to fill in my knowledge gaps. I fully intend to use this model as springboard to doing other birds in the future.


Quick update because it’s late and I’m tired.

I’m right in the middle of the Big Mesh Overhaul™. Can’t say I got around redoing the rig yet, so it’s kinda adorkable right now. But it looks promising, I’m no longer getting those weird neck issues!

I was reluctant to do a more anatomically correct model because it looks so weird when naked, but with particle feathers it’s inevitable. I want to try to bake the feathers in a lowpoly version, so I’ll probably end up with a more classic bird-blob model besides the fancy one.

Oh, it has a tongue now. Yes, it’s peeking through the beak in the topology screengrab. :rofl:

That’s it. Tomorrow I’ll reposition the bones and do the real test: Auto weight. If it deforms nicely without weight painting I’ll know I’m in the right path.

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So I’m here, working on the mesh over lunch and stuff and realized I forgot to show you what kicked off the entire thing…

…eyes that stare straight into your soul!


This is the eye shader I mentioned in the first post. These eyes use no extra geometry for corneas, no iris or pupil indents to bounce light. They’re just a material applied to a sphere. Witchcraft! Vector manipulation! Cool, right?

It’s not ready to be shared yet, but I promise I’ll when I’m happy with it. I mean, not even I know everything it can do yet. Just yesterday I accidentally discovered that slightly deforming the sphere can produce cool effects like the look of sew-on glass eyes for stuffed animals (as pictured in the gif above).

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Noodled around with methods for generating wing feathers today. I’m not entirely comfortable with it because particles. Alas, those break-at-mere-glance little devils! But hey, if it works and creates feathers in the right places at right rotation and size who am I to complain? *shrugs*

Please don’t mind the demonic eyes.

Here’s one for the “Things I never thought I’d do in my life” list: Count the feathers in a crow’s wing.

The Rig

Also auto weighted the armature and set up simple IK chains (no poles, corrective smoothing or tricks yet) for testing. I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the preliminary results. :star_struck:

It lives!


I used a slight spine rotation to make the breathing cycle more realistic, but I couldn’t get completely rid of the head bobbing yet and that’s an issue. I don’t want to make any prospective animators’ job harder.

However… small head and wing movements are anatomically correct when breathing, so, dunno. Maybe I’ll do a on/off switch for the spine and secondary movements.

Neck deforms

The neck turned out surprisingly well after the body axis correction. An angry bird-like stretch was something I was planning to implement, but it already works by pure accident. I’m so keeping it for future evil geese! >)

I think I only need to add clavicle bones to hold the base of the neck in place during some movements and this section is ready for fine tuning.

Jaw and Wings

Good news: Beak is no longer a pincer.

I just started rigging them so they’re far from impressive at the moment, but I’m excited. I think I’ll be able to repurpose the rig for various other flying critters, like dragons.


What I should be doing:
Implementing full torso and wing rigging. Correcting legs anatomy and refining the feet to fully rig them.

What I’m actually doing:

Ruffled feathers proof of concept

Because when you have a bird able to angrily stretch its neck feather ruffling is merely the next logical step, right?

I’m fairly happy with of this control solution, so much expressiveness potential out of the box. :smiley:

And it reminds me of this characteristic studio Ghibli animation detail.

What brought other scenes to mind, and another rigging detail to beautifully complement neck and feather animations…

The inspiration (it's a bit gross, so, hidden):

Sen to Chihiro No Face Reference

Esophagus control

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you end up creating a bird that can retch.

Spent the morning severing and reattaching toes to bring y’all a lovely pair of bird’s feet!


Aren’t they charming?


I modeled the scales using simple subdivided planes and a combo of subsurf + shrinkwrap + solidify + bevel modifiers to put off sculpting for as long as humanely possible. They’re rigged for now to check how they look when moving, but they’ll actually be used to bake maps for the multiple LOD bird versions.

Now, I have to tell you something: Rigging the feet was hell. A fun challenge, yet simultaneously annoying as hell!


Simple rigging won’t cut it. You can ignore jerky movements when it’s a model for static posing, but this is not one of these. When your goal is something easy to animate, ensuring the transitions of automated gestures are smooth becomes vital.


~ I could play with making it jump all day long ~

Next stop

Wings, refining the mouth then rigging the eyes. Texturing and sculpting come only after all rigging seems ok. Except for the beak + feet roughness mask I’m relying on procedural maps while topology may still change, and I trust my 2D skills—so no need for tentative previews. (:

And the feathers… I’m afraid I’ll be forced to sculpt them. I know of a costumes store with a high chance of carrying the white feathers I need to create the maps, but in times like these going to the buzzing center of one of the most populous cities in the world is out of question.

Anyway, new references dump!

I want this book so badly, but dollar has been skyrocketing. :sob:

All of this guy’s videos!

Blinking bird