Face Retopology: The Essential Guide

Face retopology simplifies complex meshes, improves performance, and ensures a smooth animation workflow.

Retopology (retopo) is a powerful way to simplify the topology of a mesh for a 3D object. By simplifying the arrangement of vertices, edges, and faces, you can reduce file size, speed up rendering times, and make animation more efficient. Our article covers the basics and gives you specific advice on face retopology.

What is retopology exactly?

Retopology is a crucial part of many 3D projects. When you sculpt a 3D object like an alien creature, destroyed spaceship, mutant lizard, wounded soldier, or futuristic car, it usually has an extremely complex polygonal mesh. Why is this an issue? Just to mention a few drawbacks:

  • It increases the file size.
  • It prolongs the rendering time.
  • It makes texturing more difficult.
  • It slows down real-time rendering and reduces performance.


This is where retopology comes into the picture. But what exactly is retopo? According to Western Kentucky University, retopology is defined as follows.

"Retopology is the act of recreating an existing surface with more optimal geometry that is a clean and quad-based mesh. It is the process of converting high-resolution models into something much smaller and into simplified versions that can be used for animation."

The benefits of retopo

Streamlined modeling process

For larger 3D projects, the modeling process is often divided into sub-stages and assigned to different teams or experts. Based on industry practice, sculpting is typically assigned to a more art-focused team. After the design is finalized, the retopology stage is often assigned to a more tech-focused team.

Optimized file size

All 3D artists know that file sizes can get out of hand. If you want to spare your storage from a couple of gigabytes or even terabytes, retopology can help a lot. Smaller file sizes often translate to a faster and more efficient animation process as well.

Effortless texturing

Texturing your 3D model is one of the most important stages of the 3D design process. A clean topology makes UV mapping, one of the most popular texturing methods, significantly easier and faster.

Preserving the artistic intent

Do you need to sacrifice artistic vision for performance? The answer may be surprising, but retopology (if done correctly) allows you to keep even the finest details.

Better rendering and animation performance

A clean and simplified topology improves rendering time and makes animation faster. This is why retopology is extremely important for game art and animation.

Face topology can be extremely difficult to simplify.

Face retopology advice for newbies

Face retopology can be extremely difficult, even for experienced 3D artists. Faces have many different elements, including:

  • eyes,
  • eyebrows,
  • cheeks,
  • chin,
  • nose,
  • ears,
  • jawline,
  • facial hair,
  • hair,
  • wrinkles,
  • scars and
  • jewelry.


To make things even more complicated, many of these facial elements move, which can make face retopology even more challenging. We collected a couple of tips and tricks to help you speed up your face retopology learning process:

  • Use face topology reference maps and images.
  • Try to find video tutorials that explain the exact steps with examples.
  • Do not get anxious if you cannot do face retopology right for the first time. Keeping your patience and practicing go a long way.
  • Start the face retopology around the eye area and move slowly outwards.
  • Create loops around the eyes with the same number of polygons on the bottom and top parts.
  • Make a loop around the nose, cheek, and chin. This will help avoid distortions during the animation process.


Before diving into face retopology, you will need a 3D object to work on. If you are on the hunt for a great sculpting tool, consider Shapelab. It is a VR sculpting program specifically designed for creating organic shapes. It is perfect for sculpting faces for games, characters, and more. With its powerful features, you can create high-quality models and even export them for 3D printing. Shapelab is ideal for beginners because the VR environment can make sculpting more intuitive, potentially speeding up the learning process.

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