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In this tutorial we are going to model a 20th century design legend, the Eames Lounge Chair. The reason I chose this particular object are its different shapes and forms. It has both soft, organic pillows (with wrinkles) and a hard, defined structure that holds it all together, making it an excellent way to learn how to model both soft and hard structures.
This is a comprehensive tutorial with 98 steps, and will provide complete instruction to modeling high-end 3D art for the intermediate to advanced 3ds Max user.
Every few weeks, we revisit some of our reader's favorite posts from throughout the history of the site. This tutorial was first published in June of 2009.
Final Effect Preview
The first thing we need to do is find reference photos, blueprints and drawings. I usually create a collage for this kind of modeling job, so I don’t have to look through dozens of images.
I generally model these kind of models by eye, although I would suggest using the right dimensions on models you will be handing to other people, or placing in scenes. Another tip is to get one detail to exact scale or size and then model everything else in proportion to that. This will help you achieve relatively precise results in less time.
Creating the Upper Backrest
Let's begin with the upper backrest. Create a box and subdivide it. Then create a plane that is a bit bigger, and set it behind the box. It will be the wooden shell for the backrest.
Select the plane and subdivide it. To add these edge loops, select edges which will be crossed by the edge loop.
Click Connect to add an edge loop. I will use this very frequently so whenever I mention 'Add an edge loop' you should refer to this explanation.
Move forward the end vertices and scale them down slightly.
Use the Chamfer tool to split the corner edges as shown.
Add an edge loop vertically.
Delete the right half. We will be using the symmetry modifier to get the other half in place.
On top of the symmetry modifier add a shell and a turbosmooth modifier with these settings. This is just a way of optimizing the workflow, and a good habit to get into. If you want, you could also get rid of one half vertically and use another symmetry modifier, so you would need to work on just one corner. However, later on we will be getting rid of these symmetry modifiers and giving each detail a bit different look.
Below the first image you can see the result, but these settings may change as you go along. For example this wooden shell may be too thick or too thin and so on.
Now we will be modeling the cushion and we will use the box we created earlier. Select the right half of the box and delete it, then copy the turbosmooth and symmetry modifiers from the wooden shell. You may need to adjust the symmetry or maybe flip it. From the top view adjust the vertices accordingly.
Continue to add edge loops and adjust vertices.
Select the polygons on the back of the cushion and hit 'Inset'. This is to add more definition so it looks like it’s attached to the wooden back. Move vertices and polys accordingly.
Create a sphere and use the scale tool to squash it to create the button. We will use the button to adjust the cushion model itself, so place these two accordingly and sink them into the cushion model.
Select the vertex in the middle of the cushion and chamfer it, so you get these four vertices.
Using the Inset tool, inset the polygon we just created and push it inwards. You could also use the Bevel or Extrude tool to similar effect.
Using the Cut tool create edges as shown. It is very important to keep all these polygons four edged as they divide the best and the smoothing is predictable and doesn’t have any glitches.
Add two more edge loops in between the middle ones to add detail for the creases and folds. Add one edge loop vertically to the right and left of the indentation for the button.
Add two more edge loops, but now a bit closer to the center. Adjust them somewhat randomly to give direction for these folds.
Round out the overall shape to give it a smoother look.
Raise some of the edges to create a cloth-like effect.
To create additional cloth folds, create an edge loop and extrude it. Collapse the ends of the new polys.
Repeat these steps several more times across the button hole to add more creases. The results are shown below.
Next, we will be adding sewn lines around the cushion that hold it to the wooden base. To do this, add an edge loop on the side. Then, using Edge constraints in the Edit Geometry rollout, move the new edge loop closer to the sewing line. This is a very useful tool, and I use it daily as it helps to move vertices along already made edges.
Select edges using Select Ring. Hold Cntrl and click on the Polygon Subobject mode. This will select all polygons adjacent to the selected edges. This is another useful technique I use very frequently. Using the Extrude tool, extrude these polygons inwards, but don't close the Extrude dialog box. Hit Apply and then extrude it outwards. This will create nice curvature and definition in that area.
Select the edge loop as shown below and use the Chamfer tool to chamfer it slightly. This will add a more defined edge so that it looks sewed on to the base.
To finish the main modeling of the cushion, adjust the extruded areas until they look good.
Creating The Lower Backrest
Holding down the Shift key, move both the wooden base and the cushion downwards. This will create a copy of these objects. There is no need to model everything from scratch as the chair has many parts that are similar to each other.
Select the new wooden base object and add another loop in the middle, then move this down a bit. Select the lowest outer edge, and holding the Shift key move it outwards. This is how it should look.
Move the outer edge up a bit. Add two new edge loops crossing each other, like this.
Move the new vertices until it looks like the image below. In the screenshot I have Shell modifier enabled, so that's why it has that thickness. The second image is how it looks smoothed with Turbosmooth.
After these modifications I noticed that the cushion weren't quite sitting in right. I pushed them out according to the wooden base lines like this. Also, make sure to check the back view as in my model some vertices were sticking out.
Creating The Seat
Then again copy second cushion and rotate it 90 degrees.
Select the wooden base, go to Edge Subobject mode and again using Shift key extrude left side edges. Then select the middle edge loop and chamfer it. After that add an edge loop between these two new edges. You could also use Extrude tool with height value set to 0.
Then add another edge loop where I have shown and adjust vertices accordingly.
Delete the cushion if you have copied it from the second backseat, as its shape has been changed to flow along the second wooden base and that won't work for this part. It's easier to adjust the first cushion as it has a very generic shape. Place it in the middle of the base.
Using the Scale tool, scale it according to the shape of the base. After that, move the outer vertices closer to the edge of the wooden base. I would suggest turning Turbosmooth on from time to time, just to see how it is smoothing and to see if there are any glitches.
Now select the top vertices on the cushion and lift them up to even the surface out. This is to give it more of a volume as before it was too flat.
Select vertices along one of the sides and push them in to round-out the shape. Do the same for the other side.
If you look from the top view you will see that the wrinkles are squashed because of the scaling we did. To correct this select all of the middle vertices and some around it and scale it to the sides until it looks as shown.
As the size of the model has increased but the amount of detail is still the same, add a few edge loops.
Select the base of the seat and add another edge loop. Push it outwards to round it out. I did this because I noticed that the seat and the leg rest both have rounder shapes to hold the cushion in.
Adjust the part that touches the extruded base. You need to push them according to the form of the base, so that it looks like there is pressure for the cushion to stay in place.
Unhide all other parts. We need to group them for easier scene management, and we also need to name them. I named the second back seat 'lower back seat', for example. It's up to you how to name you objects as long as it makes sense to you.
After that I adjusted the Pivot point of the lowest back seat. This is for easier rotation and placement of these objects. After placing these objects correctly, it should look as shown.
At this point I noticed that the lowest back seat wasn't matching the photos. To correct this, I selected vertices that didn't match and moved them to the right place. This is what I got.
Group all of these objects and name the group (I called it 'Whole_seat'). Rotate it so that is in the same position as the photo references.
Creating The Chair Leg
Next we will create the main leg for the chair. Start by creating a plane and then adding one edge loop vertically and two horizontally. After that you will need to adjust them to shape, as shown.
As the main leg has a five star shape, create a cylinder with five sides and placed it next to the plane we just created. This will be useful when copying the leg four more times.
Copy the Shell and Turbosmooth modifiers from previous models to the plane and adjust them (I made the thickness amount smaller). Select its Pivot and use Alt + A (Align tool) to align to the cylinder. This is so you can easily copy and rotate it.
To copy it four more times you need to copy it by 72 degrees, and you need to do it precisely. Right-click on the Angle Snap button and make the Angle value 2. This will angle snap it by every 2 degrees. Rotate it by 72 degrees while holding Shift, and in the Copy dialog box enter 4 copies. After that, combine all these copies into one object using the Attach command. Be sure not to attach other objects if they have Shell and Turbosmooth on top of them. If so, delete these modifiers first. If you attach them with modifiers on them, they will be collapsed and attached and will have another pair of Shell and Turbosmooth multipliers on them. They will have double the amount of shell and smoothing on them.
Select 5 vertices as illustrated and click Collapse.
Raise the center vertices up to mimic the photo reference.
Create a cylinder at the edge of one of these legs. Try to eyeball its length according to the photos and scale the vertices at the bottom of it to achieve the result below.
Create another cylinder or copy the existing one underneath the one you just created. Use extrude and inset to achieve this result.
Attach these two objects together, and then align its pivot point to the center of the base that will hold them together.
Now create a cylinder, inset it a bit, and extrude it inwards. Another method would be to create a Tube object from the Create rollout.
Then create a box, and align it in between the tube and the cylinder we created earlier. I added another vertex so that fits more nicely there.
Select the polygon at the end of the box near the cylinder, and extrude it so it sinks into the tube. Then, using the Scale tool, scale it in the top viewport so that it extends a bit. Add another edge loop, and scale it down a bit to add the curvature needed.
Now we need to copy this box four more times. For this I used the same technique I used for copying the legs.
Extrude the top polygons on the leg, scale them in a bit, and inset them two times.
Now we will be creating the part which is screwed into the bottom of the chair and holds it to the main leg we created previously. Start with a plane, subdivide it similarly to what we did for the main leg, and then create a copy of it.
Copy these two objects, rotate them by 180 degrees, and adjust the vertices so they are shorter than the first pair.
Use the Bridge tool to connect these objects. Copy and paste the Shell and Turbosmooth modifiers from previous models and adjust them.
Select all outer ends of the model and scale them down a bit. After that move these ends further out from each other.
Move it under the seat and rotate it to match the angle of the seat. Create a cylinder and select the bottom edge loop (to do this select the bottom poly and while holding Ctrl click on the Edge subobject mode icon). Chamfer it using similar values as in this screenshot.
Inset it and extrude it a bit.
This is how it should look together.
Create a cylinder with five sides, then move it and rotate it to match the four ends of the part that holds the seat.
Select all edges of this cylinder and chamfer them with a small value. It will yield a nicer reflection if the rendering camera is below seat level. Create another cylinder, but this time with about 30 sides, and again chamfer all its edges.
Copy them to all four ends of the object.
Create a box and place it between the main cylinder and these five sided cylinders (which are essentially screws). Adjust its vertices so that they match this screenshot.
Select the edge that is closest to the screw and chamfer it using similar settings to those show below.
Creating the Arm & Backrest Details
Now we will create the armrest. Create a box and use extrude and edge loops to create a shape similar to the one pictured below.
Add edge loops near all three vertical edge lines.
To smooth out the overall form, move the vertices at the edges so they are a bit rounder.
Select the edge loops as illustrated. Select one edge and loop it. If it is not going all the away around the object, select edges manually until you get full edge loop. At the end you should have two full edge loops selected.
Then use Extrude with negative values and click on the Apply button. After that, make the extrude value positive (something similar to mine) and click OK.
Click Chamfer and use something similar to my settings.
After that you will notice that there are some problems on some corners. To correct them, collapse the vertices like this.
Then select all the polys we just created. You could again select the edge that is in the middle of these polys, and holding Ctrl, select polygon Subobject icon. After that is done, extrude these polys a bit. This will create the right amount of detail in that area.
Below is how it looks together with all models.
Create a box with one edge loop in the middle, and adjust it so that it sits as shown.
Add an edge loop in the middle of it, and move the top vertices out.
Select the top and bottom edges that you pushed out, and chamfer them using these settings. Do the same for the middle edge loop length wise.
I modeled it slightly sunk in the chair, so move it out a bit to create some space.
Add three cylinders with chamfered tops under that object we just created. Copy it, and move it accordingly so we have two of these objects separated evenly.
Creating The Leg rest
Copy the top backseat and rotate it by 90 degrees.
Using soft selection, select the top part of the vertices and move them up to give the cushion more volume.
Copy the main chair leg and position it under the new cushion
As the leg rest base has a four star leg, we will need to modify the one we copied from the chair. Select four of the five starred shapes and delete them. Copy the one that is left 3 more times by Shift rotating it by 90 degrees (making sure the pivot point is still in the center). Remember to scale it down, as it is smaller than the main leg.
Collapse all the vertices that are near each other.
Delete all other parts of the leg except the one that you will copy. Select them and copy them three times by 90 degrees.
Copy the part that is holding the bottom of the seat and move it roughly to the center of the leg rest. We need to make all these shapes the same length, so add a Symmetry modifier and make it mirror both the shortest shapes.
Adjust the box that will hold the structure together.
Smooth out the boxes that hold it together by chamfering the side edge and the one that is closer to the screw.
Adding Additional Details
Now you will create the steel angle that will hold the armrest. Create a plane, and position it between the soft armrest and the wooden chair base.
Extrude the upper edge to the right using the Shift key. After that, select the edge that is in the corner and chamfer it. Add a shell modifier.
Next you will need to create a screw head. Create a sphere and a cylinder. Squash the cylinder, copy it and rotate it by 90 degrees. Attach both cylinders together. Using the Boolean tool cut out the cross shape into the sphere.
Squash it a bit flatter and add a cylinder at the end of it.
Copy these screws accordingly. Then copy all these objects to the other side.
Everything is almost done, but first we need to add a bit of variation to the model. This is because most of it was made using symmetry, so it looks pretty generic and computer made. To add the natural variation, we need to collapse all cushions so they don't have Symmetry modifiers. Cut out the Turbosmooth modifiers and collapse the model to Editable Poly. Paste back the Turbosmooth. Do this to all the cushions and armrests.
Using Soft selection, move some of the wrinkles around to make it more random. Make some parts smoother or more extruded and visible. As for armrests, add one edge loop between those sewing seams and then push it in to give the impression that these lines are holding it together. Don't make these identical for both armrests, as it will look copied.