3D Modeling Thesis

This is my 3d modeling thesis for the Academy of Art University. Watch the final product directly above, and further down on the page you can read the background of the project and how it came about.


For my thesis project, I will be creating 3d models from a story exploring what happens to the socks that disappear in the dryer. The main character, the Sock Gnome sneaks into people’s homes and steals single socks from dryers. In the story, the Sock Gnome sneaks into a young boy named Kyle’s room, and steals his sock, leaving his mother Stacy to question his explanation about the Sock Gnome.

I will be showcasing my 3d modeling skills for use in a fully animated production. The purpose is not to show that I can model a hyper-realistic creature used in a turntable movie in a demo reel. Instead, I want to be able to show a future employer at a studio that I can produce models that can connect with an audience, have personality, and also have my models production ready so that they can easily be passed onto the next department without causing them any headaches.


The scene fades in, it’s a young boy’s room. The young boy (Kyle) is playing on the floor by himself with his Tonka Truck. The door opens and Kyle’s mom (Stacy) walks into the room, drops a laundry basket full of clothes on the floor, and asks “Kyle, can you put these clothes away?” She turns, and walks out of the room, closing the door behind her (the door doesn’t close all the way). Kyle looks at the basket, but then turns to his truck and continues to play.

The door opens silently, and a tiny gnome (Sock Gnome) slides into the room and shuts the door. He flattens himself against the wall, scans the room, and spots a sock hanging off of the top of the laundry basket. The Sock Gnome tip toes towards the basket, keeping an eye on Kyle. He finally gets to the basket, reaches up, and grabs the sock, pulling it down. The Sock Gnome chuckles to himself looking triumphant, but hears a noise above him. He looks up, only to see Kyle looking down at him. They both yell and dash away. The Sock Gnome hides behind a chair while Kyle hides beside his bed.

Both of them peer out at each other, and then pull back into hiding. The Sock Gnome runs for the door, and Kyle walks up following him. The Sock Gnome jumps frantically trying to reach the door knob, but can’t. Before Kyle can get to him, he scrambles up the chair onto the small desk, and leaps to the high shelf on the wall. Kyle tries to climb up but can’t. “Why are you taking my sock?” asks Kyle. The Sock Gnome is looking around, frantically trying to find an escape route. “I’m not going to hurt you, who are you?” calls out Kyle from below. The Sock Gnome stops searching and peers over the edge of the shelf down at Kyle. “I’m the Sock Gnome”, he says.

Kyle starts asking all sorts of questions. “Hold old are you? You look old. Why are you so little….” He goes on and on like little boys do, and with each question the Sock Gnome gets more and more frustrated. “Why are you taking my sock?” asks Kyle. The Sock Gnome finally throws up his hands in frustration. “Alright alright, I’m the Sock Gnome, I’m 300 years old! Are you happy?!” he exclaims. “Not really. You’re taking my sock,” says Kyle. “Well I’m sorry,” replied the Sock Gnome, “but I really need it, and I really need to go.” The Sock Gnome hops off of the shelf onto Kyle’s bed, and bounces off of the bed up to the window sill. He tries and tries to lift the window, but can’t get the window up. Both he and Kyle freeze when they hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway. “Kyle, what’s that noise?” asks Stacy. “I hope you’re putting those clothes away!”

The Sock Gnome hops off of the window sill onto the bed, slides off into the basket of clothes, tips the basket over onto the ground, and tumbles out onto the floor, running for the door. As he gets to the door, the door knob starts to turn. The Sock Gnome flattens himself against the wall just as the door opens. Stacy walks in, and freezes just inside the doorway. “Kyle, what have you been doing?” she asks. “I thought I told you to put your clothes away.” Kyle points at the Sock Gnome who’s standing just behind Stacy. “But Mom, it was the Sock Gnome. See! He’s right there!”. The Sock Gnome makes a face at Kyle, and dashes out of the room with the sock in hand. Stacy turns and see’s nothing behind her, and turns back to Kyle. “Kyle, there’s nothing there,” she said. “It was the Sock Gnome! He took my sock!” said Kyle. “Hunny, there’s no such thing as the Sock Gnome,” said Stacy. She stoops down to help clean up the mess of clothes, and picks up the other sock matching the one that the Sock Gnome took. “Now,” says Stacy, “Where’s the other sock?”


For this project, I will be creating the following four models from within this storyline. They will be production ready, meaning that they have excellent topology and in general will be in a state ready to be passed along to the next department. These models will also be created with a realistic/believable look, yet with a stylized and soft feel, comparable to what Disney and Pixar have been doing in their feature films. Each character model will be presented as 3 sets of turntable renders: a wireframe render showing the topology of the model on a clay material, a clean clay surface render showing the quality of the surface, and a full color/texture render. The environment will consist of still frame renders showing the topology of the models on a clay material, renders of the environments with a clay material, and full color renders of the environments.

Sock Gnome

The “Sock Gnome” is a stout little gnome who spends his time stealing a single sock from each household in order to find the perfect match to a sock that he possesses. He is roughly 300 years old, appearing sometime early in the 1800s around the time of the first washing machines, but has similar looks to that of a 60 year old man. The Sock Gnome is roughly 6” tall, small enough to fit in a standard dryer vent (which is how he gets in and out of the dryer).

He’s a little overweight with a bit of a belly on him, a full white beard, and very round features. The gnomes proportions follow that of a dwarf or little person, with a small, but proportional, body and head, and small limbs. His clothing is that of the early 1800s, when he came about.

The Sock Gnome will be an entirely polygonal model, and will be the only character I will be texturing. Instead of traditional UV mapping/texturing techniques, I’m going to texture this model using the somewhat new technology PTex. Instead of storing texturing data on the model as a whole, requiring an unwrapping process, the texture details are stored per face, and are painted onto the model in a 3d view. The reason I’ll be doing this is that this is where the industry seems to be heading, and I’d like to show that not only to I have current skills, but that I can embrace emerging technologies. This means that my texturing will need to be done within Mudbox, and that I will need to do my final renders of the Sock Gnome within Pixar’s Renderman or Renderman for Maya renderers. The final products for the Sock Gnome will be a wireframe turntable render, a clay texture turntable render, and a fully textured turntable render. In these turntables, he’ll be posed in a mid run carrying a sock with him. Having three separate renders will highlight the topology, clean surface, and texture details.


Stacy is Kyle’s mom. She originally went to college to be an elementary school teacher, but ended up dropping out, and is raising Kyle on her own. She’s 32 years old, and has a medium build. She has blue eyes, medium brown shoulder length hair, and is of European descent.

Stacy works at a small local coffee shop, and earns a modest living. Her house, though nice, is modestly furnished with older used furniture. Her clothing is clean, though it is a mixture of used and homemade clothes. In the story, she leaves the house to take care of an errand, leaving her son Kyle at home to discover the Sock Gnome.

Stacy will be an entirely polygonal model. The final products for her will be a wireframe turntable render, and a clay material turntable render. Stacy will be posed with her weight on one leg with a laundry basket on her hip. She will not be textured. These turntables will highlight her clean topology, as well as surface details.


Kyle is the young boy that discovers the Sock Gnome stealing socks when he opens the door to the dryer. He’s an only child who’s been raised by his mom. Kyle, 7 years old, and a good boy filled with curiosity, is intrigued with the gnome rather than frightened by it. He is of European descent, with medium length, curly, light brown hair and blue eyes.

Kyle will be an entirely polygonal model. The final products for him will be a wireframe turntable render, and a clay material turntable render. These will be posed with him kneeling on the ground playing with a toy truck. He will not be textured. These two renders will highlight his clean topology, and surface details.

Kyle’s Bedroom

Their home is based in Portland, Oregon (adding a magical element to the story as Kyle and the Sock Gnome are transported across the US in an instant). Because of Stacy’s job working at a coffee shop, and being a single mother, the home is a small 2 bedroom house. The paint is fading and peeling on the outside, but there’s a quaint charm to the building, like they still take care of it and do the best they can to make it nice. There’s a small yard with yellowing grass, and a few trees with overgrown bushes.

The set of the story all happens within Kyle’s bedroom. Like the rest of the house, his room is small, and is influenced by his mother’s crafty nature. The room feels cluttered, but isn’t dirty. It’s just that Kyle has a lot of things, and there isn’t a lot of room to organize it. The items in the room are going to be mismatched, though still somewhat tying together. The reasoning behind this is that in their situation, most of their furniture or belongs have come from either garage sales, or they’re pieces that the two have made themselves, following the craft/DIY nature of Stacy.

The bedroom will be primarily made up of polygons, though NURBS will be used when it allows for easier creation. The room and all of it’s props will be textured, but with traditional UV mapping/texturing practices. This is in contrast to the Sock Gnome, so that I can show that I also have the ability to texture using the current standard. The final product for this room will be still renders each showing a wireframe render, a clay material render, and a fully textured render. Each render will highlight different areas of interest, those being clean topology, clean surface details, and the final textured product.

For this environment, I will need the following props:

  • Two interior doors with glass door knobs
  • A laundry basket
  • Folded clothes consisting of 2 socks, 3 pairs of jeans, and 4 shirts
  • A floor rug
  • A toy truck (used with Kyle’s pose as well)
  • Wooden Chair
    A metal school desk with a wooden top
  • Globe
  • A two drawer dresser
  • A wall shelf (the red one pictured below)
  • A handing shelf with coat hooks
  • A bed consisting of a frame, headboard, footboard, mattress, 2 pillows, a sheet, and a duck patterned quilt
  • A ceiling fan with a light bulb and pull chain
  • An alarm clock
  • A money jar
  • A box of 32 crayons
  • A coloring book
  • Desk lamp
  • Basketball
  • Wood baseball bat
  • Books for the shelving above his bed and for the shelving by the door
  • One light switch
  • Two wall outlets with a single plug each
  • Wall mirrors
  • Several of Kyle’s drawings taped on the walls
  • Several movie/location posters taped to the walls
  • Skateboard
  • Wooden toy chest
  • Several photos in wooden frames
  • Four canvas prints of hand prints
  • A four pane window

Areas of Concern


An area of concern with this project is how to handle the hair on the characters. One option would be modeling the hair as a large surface, and texturing on the hair details. The second option would be modeling individual strips or strands of hair, similar to using FiberFX within Zbrush and outputting actual geometry. The last option would be creating the hair with hair simulation software. Creating the hair with hair simulation software would be the most appropriate for a feature production that would be animated, but it is outside of my current skill set. Unless I end up having extra time in my schedule, I will be modeling the hair as geometry.

How I addressed this
I addressed the issue of hair in my thesis with a combination of modeling/sculpting. For Kyle, the Sock Gnome, and Stacy, the base hair geometry was extracted from the body geometry in Modo and then sculpted in Mudbox. FiberFX was out of the question as I was working within Mudbox, and regardless the sculpting option felt more appropriate for the simplified style. FiberFX would have drawn too much attention to the hair. Hair simulation was out of the question as I didn’t have time to learn proper hair simulation and felt it was more appropriate to put any time I had towards modeling.


Using PTex for the Sock Gnome presents an area of concern for me just because it’s an entirely new technology to me. I’ll need to invest some time into the correct way to implement this into my project, using several tutorials found several places on the internet, including Digital Tutors. The strengths I have that will help me with this is that I generally paint my textures in a 3d view anyways, and have for some time. Whether it’s been in something like Bodypaint within Cinema 4D or the painting engine within Modo, I’ve been more comfortable painting materials directly onto a mesh, rather than a flat view within Photoshop. The other advantage I have is that I’ve used Renderman for Maya in the past, so there will not be much of a learning curve for me to integrate that back into my projects.

How I addressed this
Ptex itself posed absolutely no issues within my thesis, and was a dream to work with. I’m enthusiastically looking forward to this technology being implemented in other programs including Zbrush and Modo, and using it in the future. One thing that was a frustrating yet rewarding trial was using Renderman for Maya. Out of the box it works pretty well, but I wasn’t getting the results I was expecting. After lots of trial and error and pouring through the Renderman forums, Digital Tutors, and more, I learned a few key items. The biggest was that I needed to use the RMSGPSurface material in order to get the most out of using vector displacement. The next lesson learned was how much the Shading Rate in the Render Globals controls. There was a lot of time spend confused and frustrated, going back and forth between Mudbox and Maya, as to why I wasn’t getting fine displacement, only to realize that I just needed to drop that Shading Rate even further, sometimes below 1.