Course Syllabus


Hard Surface Modeling

University of Utah, Instructor Ryan Bown

Fall 2017




Ryan Bown, Building 72, (email to make an appointment)


TA hours: Email: Isaac Kellis:, Office hours: Monday and Friday, 9am-3pm BLDG 72; RM 270 (EAE Grad Lab, email for access if locked)



Course Description 

Introduces students to asset design and production pipelines for creating realistic hard surfaces for machinima, games, and CG with a focus on high poly modeling. Students will utilize advance graphics software packages that are prominent in the video game industry. These software packages will be demonstrated from a user’s perspective and explained from the software engineer’s point-of-view. This is a project-based class that includes a teaching strategy of short lectures, project demonstrations and one-on-one training in the lab.

This course combines sculpting from the art discipline with digital tools and concepts of computer graphics.  It is interdisciplinary for artist and engineers.  Both disciplines are taught so that students from both disciplines can succeed and learn both areas of the intersection.   Form, contours, topology, and technology are emphasized.

The class is broken into 3 projects with the goal of creating high fidelity realistic hard surfaces that can be used for baking texture maps for games.  This includes finding references images and designing the final asset which will be a hard surface vehicle model of the students choosing.

The first project will be done entirely in Maya.  The second project will be entirely in ZBrush.  The final project will be a hard surface vehicle of the students choosing using either or both of the production pipelines learned.  The modeling strategy and philosophy taught are effective planning, blocking out, and creating high resolution models for baking texture maps for games, machinama, and movies.  The techniques are specific and taught with the assumption of no prior knowledge of specific techniques.


Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes

  • To teach production pipeline application for hard surface modeling
  • Assist students in mastering several complex computer graphic production software packages
  • To introduce students to algorithms used in specific modeling techniques including: smoothing, polygon, decimation, vertex merging, edge loops selection and edge loop insets
  • To understand the thought process of creating complex geometry
  • Improve drawing and observational skills and abilities
  • Create exceptionally high-quality assets for baking texture maps to be used in games, machinama, and CG
  • Learn basic lighting, rendering, and image composite using mental ray and Photoshop
  • To help students build their portfolios with rendered beauty shots


Lab Structure

Regular Lab/ class hours are mandatory (during regularly assign class times); whereas, optional lab times will be setup for working on projects with one-on-one time with TAs and/ or instructor.  The lab will have many open hours for students to work independently on their projects.



Each student will be required to complete each of the four preliminary assignments during the first 6-8 weeks.  Each assignment presents new challenges and allows the students to learn new tools to increases productivity.  Students are responsible for finding reference images and designing each of their models for the following 4 assignments:

  • Model a fire hydrant to smooth in Maya
  • Model a combat knife to smooth in Maya
  • Model a high poly fire hydrant in ZBrush
  • Model a high poly combat knife in ZBrush using shadow box

Each student will also design and develop a hard surface vehicle of his or her choosing with a focus on realism.  The final project can be something from the student’s imagination or something found in the real world.  The instructional examples will typically demonstrate modeling of real world objects, but the techniques and practices will apply to all hard surface assets.  I want you to have passion for the asset you choose or create, because for one reason you’ll be spending roughly half the semester working on it.

Student’s final projects in the past included: mechs, cars, boats, aircrafts, space stations, and armored characters, and steam punk vessels.  Your imagination is the only limit.



Students will be graded 40% (10% per project) on their preliminary projects, 20% on their class/ lab participation, and 40% on their final model.

Graduate students will be required to write a short paper on Mel, Payton in Maya, or create a tool to be used in Maya.



The final presentation of projects will be held during final hours.  All work is turned in on canvas.  Students are also required to render out one beauty shot per project for their portfolios.


Materials Required



Software (provided in labs and free downloads from Autodesk)

  • Maya
  • ZBrush


A few reading, tutorials and references for starting off (no text books to purchase)


Course Summary:

Date Details