Create stylized character scenes
Games industry professional Germán Córdoba walks us through the creation of his characterful personal work Abandoned Gas Station made in 3ds Max, ZBrush
When I started this piece, I had no clear concept; I just knew I wanted something with a cartoon style, totally different from what I usually do at work. At first, my idea was just to create a character to practice modeling, but when I finished I liked it so much I decided to contextualize it and develop a scene.
I modeled the character in 3ds Max in a neutral position. Even though the model was intended to be part of a static image, I decided not to take the risk of creating it in the final pose, just in case I wanted to change it later.
I always start my models from the head, because it's the most difficult part and the one I usually spend most time on. My modeling technique for this part is to start modeling with a plane, turn it into editable poly and extrude edges.
For the body, I started with a cylinder primitive for the torso and the limbs. Then I adjusted the proportions and started to refine the mesh.
I then started modeling the index finger and, making small adjustments, I created all the other fingers. Next, I modeled the rest of the hand, emphasizing the topology.
For this piece, I searched for sole reference images for the footwear. Once I found one that suited what I wanted, I started to model the pattern of the sole and built the rest of the mesh extruding edges from that geometry.
When I was happy with my model, it was time to unwrap. I started by making a basic unwrap in Roadkill UV, an excellent free program that helps you to unwrap your models quickly. Next, I exported the mesh back to 3ds Max to add the final touches and pack the UV's.
Most of the time, I maintained a uniform texel density, although sometimes it is necessary to increase the size of some of the UVs islands that need additional detail. If you plan to do a static image, this is quite a straightforward task. You can just increase the size of the UV's close to the camera and reduce the size of the ones further away from it.
Once the model is completed, I take it into ZBrush to add detail and bake maps that will help me later in the
The bike is not based on any particular model, as I have no idea about motorbikes. I just gathered some photos of motorcycle parts, especially engines, modifying and adjusting the designs to fit into my motorbike's frame. Most of the pieces were modeled from primitives, nothing complicated.
As I planned to detail all the background objects in the image, I needed to know what parts will be visible from the camera. I modeled proxy meshes for the main objects, and placed them in the scene. After that, I set the camera and started the background modeling phase.
I hate rigging and I didn't want to have a hard time with it, so I posed the biker using Biped. I only had to adjust it and weight all vertices.
The face was resolved using a few basic morphs. Since it was just for a static image I could keep it simple and there was no need for complex controls.
I used the Hair & Fur plug-in for the hair. The mesh used to generate the hair was obtained from the head. I unwrapped that mesh and made UV's to paint textures that would help me control hair parameters such as density. I then created splines to use as a guide for the modifier to create the hair style I was looking for. Finally, for the eyelashes, I used a texture with opacity.
Texturing and shading
I created baked occlusion maps for some parts of my character. Ambient Occlusion maps are a great way to give your texture that extra bit of depth. It can be used as reference when texturing, or it can be mixed with the texture itself to give more depth. Sometimes I use a gradient map in Photoshop to dye the occlusion. I tend to dye the occlusion on the skin with a reddish tint and I usually set the blend mode to Multiply.
For the skin, I used shellac material, blending the VRayFastSSS2 and VRayMtl materials to control the specular. This was particularly important to get the final aspect of skin.
As the gas station was abandoned a long time ago, I created textures by blending weathered decals and
For the rocks, grass and plants, I dyed the textures using a color correction map to have more variation. The motorbike textures are 50% tiling textures.
Lighting and post-production
When everything was in place, I set the light. Nothing elaborate, just an HDRI and VRaySun. I then tweaked the shaders until I was happy with the result.
I separated the scene into two parts and made a render of each one: the character and the background. This was done mostly for flexibility as It allowed me to modify in sections.
I rendered different passes like beauty, specular, reflection, refraction, occlusion and Z-Depth.
Finally, I merged these passes in Photoshop, added the sky, painted in some final touches and modified some parameters like contrast, saturation, levels, curves and color correction to achieve the final result.
Take a look at more of Germán Córdoba's work on his site
Learn more about creating stylized characters in 3ds Max with our onsite tutorials
Want to expand your portfolio in 3ds Max? Try our tutorial books