WIP child's head - topology goes wild around ear

I have been lurking around this site for about a year now with sadly insufficient skill to add anything useful. I am working on a stylized model of a child that I would like to use in a short animation but I am having difficulty attaching the ears without making the topology go crazy.

I have been through several tutorials on CG Cookie, including Jonathan Williams topology series. I’ve combed the forums and found many posts about topology but it seems everyone skips the ears. I think I have decent topology for the face (red, green, blue & yellow) but once I
attach the ears, wow, (see purple, orange, pink).

I have tried reattaching those ears a dozen times but every time I make it a little worse, so it’s time to reach out for help. This is very much a work in progress, the proportions are off and it needs detail work but until I can address the topology issue there’s little point in tweaking. The ear’s construction seems to be the root of the problem or perhaps my entire mesh is wonky. Any advice would be appreciated.

I tried to attach my blend file but for some reason it uploads and then doesn’t show up in the attachment manager. I do not get any error messages, it just says progress 100 % and nothing shows up. Sadly, I cannot use links yet so I can’t use paste all either. Unfortunately, I don’t see how anyone can help if they can’t look at the file. Suggestions in this regard also appreciated.

Yea, it’s harder to comment without the file/reference and knowing what kind of style you’re going for but could still write what I’m thinking.

It would be nice to have just one continuous loop around the ear but it’s not always possible without doing a lot of rework. Good thing is, that area doesn’t usually move so it doesn’t need to be absolutely clean.

One root of the problem might be that there is quite a lot of geometry all over the head and loops make turns for no apparent reason. It’s good to have more geometry on the areas that move/deform a lot in animation so in that regard the mouth area is more important than the ear. That area has problems currently. N-gon that turns into a pole with subsurf (right/leftmost green face), pole (3 edges) on top of those that turn loops towards the nose.

Cheeks have three poles around where blue, red and grey meet. Ideally you would want just one there. Bottom of the eyelid has more edge loops than the top one and the ear needs more loops than it should. You might be able to clean the ear connection and cheeks by reworking the ear a bit. Perhaps add ear cavity and drastically reduce edges on the side that connects to the head.

Fixing the bottom of the ear by not turning face loops up with a pole (brown loop) and not having the pink loop attach to the head could also help. Or could also try reducing edge loops on the right side of earlobe with what JW calls “diamond” quad, sending 3 edge loops around the ear and reducing loops on the earlobe itself.

You have filled top of the head so that it takes very little faces to do that, which is good for density but it also has resulted to many poles and weird face flow. Might be better to have the yellow loop coming under the jaw and make a turn towards back of the head on the temple. Having that gives more room for making the ear connection on the back of the ear because sending loops towards the neck is somewhat safe. It just means more geometry for deformations when the head tilts back.

This could also mean that you have more faces on top of the head, which in turn might be beneficial for the brows. It’s a child so brow area is probably going to stay quite smooth but you might still want edge loops on them to stay put. If faces on the brows are too stretched and you need a ridge on the top eyelid (for having eyes wide open for example), that could mean adding too many loops around the eye to get that.

JA12 thank you for your detailed and amazingly speedy assessment. I must apologize for the sloppiness of that mesh. You mentioned ngons and I was flummoxed. Then I looked again at the mesh. It is a testament to how many times I had pulled that poor thing apart, adding loops, taking them out, moving things around. I didn’t even see the mistakes I was making anymore. Your reply was the slap I needed to get my head straight (sorry pun intended). I decided to go back to a version prior to adding the ears. It means redoing a lot of work but I’ll at least be back to a cleaner mesh. I will also take the ears apart and simplify them. When I am finished, I hope I can impose on you to take another look at it.

My thanks again. Hopefully, by then I’ll have figured out why I have failed at uploading my blend file.

You’re welcome but no need to apologize. Mistakes teach, trial&error hardens, and you wouldn’t be asking anything if it were perfect.
I on the other hand didn’t produce visuals like I should have and forgot about the file question. Perhaps the file size is too big for the forum to accept it. If that is the case, you could delete unnecessary objects/geometry and enable compress on the file -> save as dialog when saving. The link in my signature takes you to a short guide on how to prepare a .blend file.

It took me much longer than anticipated to rework this piece. I work at a casino and the World Series of Poker was at our place this week so my normal 11 hour workday became at 13 hour day. I did go back to an earlier mesh. I didn’t want to take too long to reply so I didn’t have much time for tweaking so it’s pretty sad, especially around the mouth but I’m more concerned with the topo. There’s no sense in tweaking a flawed mesh.

As you suggested I did not try to reduce the loops over the skull. I have only one diamond where two loops converge and this does result in a much nicer mesh. Also, I rerouted the jaw loop over the ear to the back of the skull. Also much cleaner.

I redid the ear and reduced the outside loop from 24 vertices to 17 without too much loss of detail but I’m still getting very wacky face loops through there. I’m finding pole placement very challenging and it’s so crucial. I didn’t attach the ears because I wanted you to take a look at the mesh before the crazy began.

I reread your newbie help threat (thank you for that, wonderfully helpful) & realized I missed the compress file toggle on the save screen. Duh. Anyway, success! The file should now be available. Also, you asked about the style I was going for, I’m looking to make a realistically proportioned child (5-6 yrs) but with shading & texture more toward the Pixar-esque. I may enlarge the eyes a little for emotive force but haven’t decided on that yet. I hope that gives you a better idea of what I’m aiming for.

Thank you again for your help and your patience.


child_head_topo.blend (249 KB)

Checked it quickly and I see you’ve followed JW’s topology example quite closely. Topology is better now but the ear needs work still.

I noticed that you don’t take advantage of the ear and nose cavities. You can end all loops at the end of those when you delete the faces or create n-gons there. That makes it easier to work with the front of the ear for example (bright red).

The portion that connects to the head is quite small (somewhere around the red area in the pic) so back of the ear is mostly just fills. Good place to hide reductions/mistakes there if needed, since it’s mostly hidden. Loops on the bright red area are ones that connects to the head and it’s a smooth transition from head to ear. I added more loops there but that was just to quickly shape the portion that partially hides the ear cavity when viewed from the side, which is one reason you can leave the cavity open or fill with an n-gon, not to fix the connection.

I removed one vertical loop on top of the head and moved existing loops forward to even out face sizes more (rightmost head).

When you start working with the proportions and all that, apart from the obvious eyes and mouth, pay attention to the laugh line (green face loop and inside of it). To me it looks like it’s quite far away from the mouth but can’t be sure without the reference. The transition from rest position to a smile makes polygons move away from the mouth (arrows in both pics) when the laugh line forms and polygons on the green loop can’t move towards the mouth (which they did on the middle head when I tried it).

It’s a concern because laugh line is likely to be quite prominent when a character smiles or laughs (and with other possible expressions):

Ja12 thanks again for your timely & thoughtful response. You’re right about the JW clone. This is a midlife career change for me. While I’m far too old to think about studio work, a little freelance might not be beyond the realm of possibility. Since, I have no formal art training and didn’t know a vertex from a hole in the wall, everything I know came from CG Cookie which means I’ve spent countless hours listening to JW’s voice and copying his technique. Hopefully, I will eventually develop my own style but for now his work is a solid foundation to build on.

I will revisit the ear again and try to incorporate your advice about reducing my loops at the back of the ear and using the ear canal & nostril as stop points. It actually never occurred to me to use that to my advantage. Thanks to your visual, I now understand what you meant about the lobe area.

You are certainly right about the laugh line. I’m having a problem with the whole area where the nare joins the cheek. I’ve got some weird stretching and odd angles going on there which are most noticeable when viewing the profile. Perhaps bringing the entire laugh loop closer will alleviate that problem and kill two birds. Also, the area where the nostrils & septum join the philtrum is badly flawed. I really want a little more geometry in there but didn’t want to add edge loops to the rest of the face but perhaps using the nostril I can sneak another one in there.

Well, I have much work to do. Thank you again for your assistance.

Hopefully you didn’t misunderstand me. I didn’t say it’s bad or mean anything that sort. If the example topology fits your reference/needs, by all means you should use that.

Yea, I’m still not sure about that. I do know that with cartoony models it could be as simple as dividing the laugh line face loop into two and use the middle edge loop to define the laugh line. Won’t necessarily be that simple with a realistic model but at least you’re aware of it.

Yes, with that you could very easily add multiple supports there if needed. I deleted the face inside the nostril and then used inset and bevel to add support loops. I left the inside of the nostril open for the screenshot, which can be fixed by just extruding in and shaping it a bit.

Strange that no one else has posted a reply, I was hoping someone would. Perhaps even someone who could give more insight about character facial articulation.


While I doubt you’d have any reason to revisit this thread, I just wanted to apologize. Apparently, my last message did not post. Since I’m new, my posts are generally held for a time, so I never noticed that it failed to post at all. I had to shelf the project while I was getting a new business off the ground. Now I feel terrible. It must have looked like I just blew you off after all your help. At any rate, I just wanted to say sorry for the disappearing act.

Nah, it’s alright. Intentional or not, quite many on the forum don’t return to do a follow up and I’m quite used to it. Can’t take those personally, it’s understandable that people are busy, forget, technical problems, or just life happens.

Thing is, scaling that to hundreds or thousands of posts and conversations elsewhere, all kinds of negativity will eventually get to you if you let that happen. A thread without a follow up is nothing compared to some people… Different attitude is needed. Hard lesson to learn, especially for someone who is helpful and considers him/herself generally a nice and polite person.

It’s hard because one way of dealing with that is to think selfishly: it’s not me who asks support and if someone doesn’t want to spend time to communicate properly or don’t reply to continue with the support, it’s their problem to deal with. What I am getting from this? Is this an interesting topic, am I learning anything? Forcing the thinking to that direction may sound like a systematic way of turning a nice guy to a jerk, which might be how it comes out sometimes but it’s really a mechanism to not try help everyone and not take in the negativity.

So no, didn’t bother me at all. Topology is one of my favourite topics and would’ve wanted this thread to continue but you of course have to follow your own priority list. Hopefully you can get back to it or pick up another modeling project later on.

Sometimes threads keep going even if the thread starter is not posting replies anymore though, so it might be a good idea to check old posts if coming from a break much later.


Well, you seem to have found your balance and remain helpful and nice. You could have made me feel like a jerk but you didn’t. It is people like you, who are generous with their time and knowledge, that make sites like this possible. Hopefully, in time, I will be able to pay it forward by helping someone else. For now, there is a half-finished child awaiting my attention. With luck, I’ll be able to post a critique piece soon. Keep the faith, JA, and thanks.

Well, I’ve done some revisions. Still haven’t gotten the ears on but I’m so frustrated with that now that I’ll leave it be for the nonce. I think I’ve gotten her about where I want her for the overall look but still having some problems.

There’s something wrong with the jawline. One problem is that I’ve got a pole on the jawline that is giving me grief. It’s the pole that turns the face loop to the front of the ear. I don’t know how to move it without blowing my face loop but it’s right on the margin of the jaw and causes an unwanted divot. I tried shifting all the loops up a little but that was only partially successful.

The mouth is still not quite right. Surprisingly, my nasal-labial fold is working out pretty good for the smile animation. With a little tweaking I think it’ll work but the upper lip looks like crap. Now that I added the c-loop the lip looks decent at rest but it deforms badly.

Needed at second post for the blend file.


child_head_topo1.blend (365 KB)

I don’t think there is an easy way to remove that pole without reworking the flow elsewhere. I did it but it would take too long to tell how and wouldn’t probably help much.

On the left there I changed it so that there is continuous face loop that defines the jawline (green on left). You’ll notice that I didn’t clean my way very well and that there are poles, like one on the chin that migth get in the way. I chose spans next to it to try form the laugh line, leaving the pole alone.

I’m not very good with the facial articulation thing but I’ll try to describe which parts to pay attention to when defining topology for animation. I probably fail to describe this very well, someone else might do a better job which I was kinda hoping earlier.

The goal is to hold the shapes for every expression everywhere on the face. With the shown setup (right) the resulting expressions would all have smooth shapes because there is minimal amount of spans to hold them. Expressions like squinting would be hard/impossible with the current amount of loops that are in place (brow area, between the eyes)

There are 3 spans for everything. One in the middle and two to support. For creases, openings, symmetry, and those continue across each shape for easier control and precision. Eye has three vertical loops and those continue across lower eyelid so that it can deform with the eye. Three horizontal loops to make eyes open and close - one to define the corners and one loop each side to hold the shape. Between those horizontal and vertical spans there is only one loop to hold the transition between corners and the middle so the result will be smooth, which could be enough for the eye.

The mouth can do much more complex shapes than eyelids and there is minimal amount of loops currently. Three horizontal spans to open the mouth, three vertical spans to lift/pull down the lip on each corner and three in the middle to hold the lip curvature. I think the nostril is not supported well in my screenshot and would need additional loops. With the C shape nostril inner region is supported with just one loop on both sides. Could put 1-3 loops going across there, leaving or removing the C shape.

Btw. you are viewing subdivided result in edit mode. Remember to check the actual vertex positions too. Object scale is way off.

child_head_topo1_ja12.blend (257 KB)

My thanks once again. No doubt trying to explain your changes would leave me banging my head on the desk. Topology obviously not my strong suit. I have a better understanding now of why you want certain loops to go certain ways, theoretically. In practice a little harder to achieve. I have read the sticky by toontje(?) on poles and loops (which is excellent) numerous times. It all makes sense while I’m reading it but once I’m back in my own model … sigh. I will once again study the changes you made and try to reproduce them. I find this to be good practice in learning how to place and move poles and loops to produce a specific result.

As for the articulation, I am assuming that by “smooth” you’re not talking about the actual transition but the resulting expression being too smooth as in flattened out or artificial looking, which is exactly what happened with my upper lip. I do understand what you’re saying about the 3-loop spans, that makes perfect sense and is something JW stresses repeatedly. Of course, it’s all about the application.

I think it’s time for me to do a little research, start looking at other people’s articulated faces, so I can understand what works and why. In the meantime, I’ll rework the topo. It’ll probably take me a couple of days. It takes me forever to figure out how you did whatever you did. I guess I could just snag the model you reworked but that wouldn’t teach me anything. And, come hell or high water, I’ll have those ears on (although I have considered making her an alien so I could skip 'em, lol).

Thanks again for your time and patience.

Yes, that’s what I meant. Mesh being too smooth for the expression because there aren’t enough control loops to define them.

Yea sorry about that. It’s not always clear what should be done to get the desired result. When I opened the file the goal was to get the green face loop going like it does. I may have started by turning the face flow near the ear since it only takes one rotated edge and deleting a vertex, but can’t remember. I just worked the mesh until I got that face loop going and tried to fix the errors it made elsewhere. Couldn’t list the steps that I did.

What you could perhaps do to not get bored is to make it look like the actual character you want with the good overall topology (it’s so nearly there) and try creating some expressions with shape keys. If there aren’t enough loops, you could reduce loops around eyes and mouth a bit and then apply one subdivision level to double the vertical and horizontal loops. That gives you extra loops elsewhere but should also give enough loops to work with for more complex expressions. Animated heads are more dense anyway.

I sincerely hope you are not apologizing for not breaking your fix down step by step. That would be an incredible waste of your time. My comment about taking time to figure out what you did was not a complaint merely a statement of fact. You are giving me exactly what I need. I show you a problem, you show me a solution and allow me to find my way from point A to point B.

It’s like the old adage: give a man a fish and he eats for a day… A quick answer is just that, a quick answer. You are giving me something much more valuable. You’re helping me build a fishing pole, filling my tackle box with the tools I will use in model after model by guiding me as I learn to think through the problem. It is a process you must find very frustrating but without which I would forever be running for help every time I encountered an obstacle. Your patience is a gift, don’t ever be sorry for that.

As for the animation end of things, I was going to do a multires on her for baking purposes, perhaps I’ll keep the subdivisions low and try out those shape keys. But, ears first, oh joy. Thanks again.