I watched The Polar Express for the first time last night and was very impressed with the realistic rendering of the 3D human characters in it. I felt a little let down by the quality of the characters’ hair though. After all, this was the biggest budget animated film of all time so you’d think they could afford to make the hair-dos a little more lifelike. It’s not like the technology doesn’t exist for modeling hair either, and there are plenty of ways to add a realistic barnet to a 3D model on your home computer.
The latest version of 3ds Max added a whole new Hair and Fur system enabling you to create and manipulate hair directly in the viewports using its selection and styling tool. Hair can be copied and pasted from one object to another, and artists can derive hair from splines and convert it to splines or meshes. Notably, any source object can now been instanced as hair strands, allowing you to accurately mimic a person’s real style.
If you’re a LightWave user then you’ll no doubt have a tougher time of rendering hair because the app doesn’t have the same fibre system as its rival. However, there are some decent plug-ins available that can help you dress the head of your models. Sasquatch is one of the most popular, integrating its own photoreal hair rendering engine into LightWave. Over 50 texturable controls give you precise control over the style, color, and shading of fur and hair. You could also try Fiber Factory, a cheaper solution, which creates polygonal fibre models such as fat hair, feathers and triangle strips.