Cartoon Critters: How to Stylize and Create Animals - Mosquito
Hello, my name is Marcos Nicacio and I'll show you the process I used to produce this cartoon character, Captain Mosquito.
References and Concept
When I was invited by 3DTotal to produce this tutorial, they offered me the chance to make a cartoon character with some individual characteristics, in this case a mosquito. I thought it would be cool to make him like those old style pilots with traditional hats, big chins and a friendly smile on his face.
I looked for references of old pilots and their clothing as well as flies and mosquitos, including cartoon characters like those in the bar scene of the movie A Bug's Life. I'm not great at drawing, but I'm working on it. For this concept I asked a great friend of mine called Roberto Moreira to draw a concept based on the references I found. This concept helped me a lot. Fig.01 shows the concept that is based on my references.
I always start by modeling the head and depending on the circumstances I use poly by poly or box modeling. In this case I used poly by poly modeling to have total control of the edge looping on his face. After I finished the head I selected the border of the neck region and extruded down. To do this press Shift + hold the left button and drag in the direction you want to extrude (Fig.02).
The same technique was used on the antenna, arms and legs. I extruded them and gave them shape by selecting vertices and scaling them. The accessories like the hat, scarf, glasses, wings and little spikes on his body were also modeled using this technique.
For the hands and feet I changed the way I modeled. I started with a box to model the hand, foot and fingers, and used the Connect tool to adjust the edges and create the shape I wanted. To attach pieces I used the Bridge tool (Fig.03).
The mosquito's hair was made using the Hair and Fur modifier. First I took the polygon on top of his head and added the Hair and Fur modifier to it, creating the hair and pulling it all to the front with the Translate tool in the Styling tab. Using the Puff Roots toll I gave the hair some volume. Then I used the Translate tool again to brush and shape the hair into a 1950's style.
Texturing and Shading
To start the texturing process I opened the UV using UVW mapping and an Unwrap modifier. Firstly I applied the UVW mapping and used the mapping mode, which is more compatible with the object shape. You can see how I did that on the mosquito's arm in Fig.04. I added an Unwrap modifier to make a few adjustments with the Relax tool and weld the unattached vertices.
Next I split the mesh into named parts like the body, head, hand, leg etc. UV unwrapping can be a little bit boring and slow, but it will become easier with practice and there are specialized pieces of software that can help speed things up. Once the UV was done, it was time to start texturing.
I'll show you how I made the Color and Bump maps that I used to texture this character. Firstly I exported the body mesh as an OBJ file to paint in ZBrush by selecting the object and exporting the selection. Choose the OBJ extension, choose ZBrush as the preset and Export.
In ZBrush subdivide the mesh seven times and change the shader to the basic material so you can see the color better when you use the Polypaint tool. I used this to block in the color and add details like the little dots and scratches on the mosquito's skin. By creating the Color map in ZBrush I avoided having problems with seams in my texture (Fig.05).
The next step was to export the color texture from polypaint with a resolution of 4096 x 4096 to Photoshop and do a few little adjustments to the brightness and contrast. Still in Photoshop I separated the color texture into folders with the name of each part of the body on them to organize the files and have maximum control when I added details (Fig.06).
The color map was done now so I used it to create a Bump map by removing all the saturation and then using Levels, Brightness and Contrast adjustments layers to get the right black and white map. To conclude I gave the Bump map some scratch details on the top layer, which was set to Overlay blending mode.
All the other parts like the wings, scarf, hat and the glasses were rendered using a Solid map with a Unwrap modifier just to get the color. I used the same process that I did with the mosquito's body, split the parts into sections inside Photoshop and worked on the detail on each map, for example the leather texture on the hat's Bump map.
The mosquito's body, eyes and accessories shaders are really simple V-Ray materials with variations in reflection, opacity, glossiness and bump. Here is an example of the mosquito's body, scarf, wings and hat shaders layout inside the Slate Material Editor (Fig.07).
Rigging and Skin
When I start the rigging process I always think beforehand: what's the character for? To pose the mosquito I needed something basic because he didn't need to be animated, just a simple pose for a still image. A rigging setup using Character Studio would be more than enough. I did add few extra bones to his nose. I adjusted his facial features and the antenna were done with a basic Bend modifier. The hat and glasses are linked to the head bone and wings, and the scarf to the top of his chest bone.
Here is a tip - before you add a Skin modifier centralize the pivot in your mesh and apply a Reset xform (inside the Utilities tab) to clean up your mesh vertices and make it 1 by 1 in 3D world space. It helps you avoid having problems in the skin process, mainly in Mirror mode.
In the Skin modifier parameters I began checking the vertices option to make the selection of the vertices possible and then changed the weight of each bone. I also removed the Show No Envelope option in the Display tab to make the interface easier to work with (Fig.08).
Lighting and Render
The lighting setup is quite simple too. I used two V-Ray lights, one stronger in front to give a highlight to the mosquito's face and the other was a little weaker on his back.
Before I explain about the render settings it is important to say that the character is over a matte plane to get the shadow, alpha and GI on him. To set matte in an object just right-click on the plane and check Matte Object, Alpha Contribution -1 and Shadows and Alpha.
For the render setting I mainly changed the color mapping to Exponential and checked the Clamp Out and Sub-pixel options.
The other important changes that I made to the render settings were inside the Adaptive subdivision image sampler; I like to use Min. rate = 1 and Max. rate = 4. It makes the antialiasing smoother without any serrated problem on the final render (Fig.09). To better control the post-production in Photoshop I did a unique render of the body, hair, wings and a last pass for the shadows with the render elements.
This is one of my favorite parts of the process. Here is where you can use your imagination to create a background and practice your knowledge of lighting and photography. Inside Photoshop I split my image into two treatment groups, one for the background images and textures and the other group for the mosquito.
In the background group I used seven layers. It may sound like a lot, but they were all very simple and each one helped to build my desired image. The basic color came first, then three kinds of paper texture, cardboard, cracked paper, and then some light coming from the center of the texture.
In the mosquito group I had six layers to control all the details that I wanted. The first thing to do was organize the mosquito's passes. This is the order I used from the bottom to top:
- Wing color correction
- Eye reflection
- Extra Light
I worked on the mosquito's body layer to adjust the brightness and contrast. The eyes looked a little lifeless so I added a layer with a little window reflection. I adjusted the hair and wings too, mainly for color and brightness. To finish I selected the alpha channel for the body and added some extra light using the Standard brush in Overlay blending mode. In Fig.10 - 11 is a screenshot of the layers in Photoshop and a comparison of the raw render and the final composition.
Firstly, I'd like to thank the 3DTotal staff who gave me the opportunity to show my workflow. I hope this tutorial helps you create your next character.