Creating dramatic 3D artwork - Mangbetu Woman
Martin Nikolov explains the workflow he used when re-imagining a vintage photograph using ZBrush and Photoshop to create his striking Mangbetu Woman...
This was a personal work, made for fun. I saw this picture of a Mangbetu Woman from Citroen's expedition to the Congo in 1925 and I just loved it, so I needed to model it.
The base mesh
Usually I start directly in ZBrush with DynaMesh because I have more freedom to experiment with the shape and form, but in this case, I wanted to stick as close as I could to the silhouette in the picture.
I started to define the profile using an existing base mesh, which I adjusted according the picture. The head gear was modeled in MODO, using simple box modeling – nothing fancy here. I also used the Edge Extend tool for the hair and apron base meshes, the Tube tool for the rope accessories, and lots of Bevel for that cone-shaped headgear.
When I was happy with the base mesh, I was ready to start sculpting. I imported the model into ZBrush and split it in different Polygroups to make it easier when separating the different parts.
My favorite brushes, and those that I use the most often are: Move, Clay and DamStandard with lots of smoothing. For the torn apron, I used the SnakeHook brush with Alpha 23. This part was a good exercise in anatomy and cloth. The finer details were made with custom alphas I downloaded from ZBrush Central.
When I finished the sculpting, I decimated the model to around 800,000 polygons from 6,000,000 and moved the image back into MODO.
At this point, I wanted to make a basic clay render of the model. The render setup was really simple, with 1 background plane and 2 area lights. You can see the first result here in this image. After a few hours, when I looked at the image again, I decided to go further and try more dramatic and contrasting lighting. I decided to accent the silhouette of the Mangbetu woman in front of the African sunset.
To start this, the render setup was built with 2 area lights and a HRDI light from the Studio Environment Set 1, from 9B Studios. I used a black box (a cube with one side deleted) in front of the model, which hid it from the HDRI light, and added a background plane with a yellow luminosity material.
For the body I used MODO's default skin shader with a few tweaks, and the rest of the shaders were made from the default material.
I rendered 4 passes to use later on, for the final compositing and color corrections in Photoshop. These were: Final Color, Ambient Occlusion, Material ID and Depth passes.
In Photoshop, I darkened the body and played a lot with the Curves and Contrast. Finally, I added a slight gradient to the background. You can see the final result in this image.
Hope you liked my project overview and thanks for reading.