Oh that is bizarre! No, it doesn't make a difference that its Windows 8 because so is mine
Its very odd because all the vanilla skyrim meshes and textures should be in there too, not just for mods.
I'm very impressed by your work - I'd love to become a Games Programmer when I'm older.
I can only suggest some ideas I have for you, unfortunately I cannot guarantee you a solution! Have you tried researching for this problem?
Just to check, you are going to this file path: C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Skyrim\Data ?
If you right click Skyrim in your Steam Library and go to properties, you could try the options 'browse local files' and 'verify game cache' on the local files tab.
Perhaps to narrow the search down, you could try looking for the 'actors' or 'characters' folder.
Do you have loads of .bsa files? I really don't know why your vanilla meshes and textures would be in bsas but some mods use bsas instead of loose files, if so then you simply need a bsa extractor.
How do you install your mods? I use Nexus Mod Manager and it always puts them in the right place.
Although doing a search may take some time, perhaps you could leave it searching overnight?
What mods are you planning to use to create your follower? Perhaps you could redownload the character mods you want to use manually and put the meshes and textures of them in a separate folder for your follower.
Best of luck!