Making of an Ordinary School Day
Freelance 3D artist Eder Carfagnini shares his process for creating teenaged superheroes in ZBrush
This illustration was made during my spare time and there were a lot of interruptions so it took me a while to complete it. I also changed render engine, from C4D physical render to V-Ray for C4D. In this making of I've tried to simplify the process to make it more understandable to the reader.
Step 1: Concept
I started this image for a contest called "Baby Comics", where you had to imagine superheroes as children. My idea was a classroom with a bunch of school aged superheroes left alone by their teacher for a moment. I put together both good and bad guys, in order to create conflicts with some of the old rivalries. I tried to give a characterization to all the kids, some similar to the original personality, some opposite:
- Superman is the class bully because he is the athletic, cool kid of the school - also vain and full of himself
- Mystique is a ditzy cheerleader, attracted to the bully, but privately unconfident about her body
- Dr Manhattan is a sensitive kid, in love with Mystique (blue like him), for which he creates a glass clockwork heart
- Thor is a baseball fan (Mjolnir is his bat) and he loves Mystique too but she only has eyes for the Superman
- Lex Luthor is a rich not-so-handsome kid and he takes advantage of the situation by putting a kryptonite marble ball in his despised enemy's schoolbag
- Spiderman is a quiet kid, too busy to learn how handle great responsibility to worry about his classmates
- Mr Fantastic is a brainiac, too curious and impatient to wait for their teacher for the teacher to give out the grades
- Rorschach is an antisocial and angry boy, fully convinced that he isn't in the wrong place... all the other kids are
- Hulk is a good and slightly dumb giant kid (I thought about a young John Coffey from The Green Mile)
- Batman has started to build his suit and his gadgets, but he is a bit of a scaredy cat
- Joker is a troubled kid and he doesn't lose a chance to bother his desk mate Bruce
- Antman... well, honestly, he doesn't have a real characterization. Simply put, he amuses me with his tiny desk and his tiny rope ladder!
Step 2: Modeling the characters
First of all I worked on the characters' heads; I sculpted in a neutral head ZBrush, in order to determine the style: a base kid from which to sculpt all the various characters, who will be different from each other but belonging to the same "world".
After I had defined almost all of the faces and expressions, I made a base body and posed each character. I used the same body for all the characters, except for the Hulk, for which I prepared a huge and muscular body.
Step 3: Composition
With all the characters modeled I worked on preparing the scene. I modeled the desks and chairs, and then I put them and all the rough characters on set to define framing and composition. I decided on the focal length, position, and focus distance of the camera at the same time and left it on those settings. I then turned my attention to the composition: the main action is on the left, some correlated situations in foreground, and many unrelated subjects in background. I used Mr. Fantastic's arm as dynamism to balance the composition.
Step 4: Refining Characters
Once I was sure about the placement set of characters I started to retopologize and refine the heads, and attach them on the respective body. In order to compensate the lens distortion, I shrank Mystique's head and body. I only finalized the visible parts of the meshes.
Step 5: Clothes
I wanted to try Marvelous Designer for the clothes. This was the first time I used it, so the result weren't very good. For this reason, I only made three entire outfits with Marvelous, some of the others I started in Marvelous then finished sculpting in CINEMA 4D, and for the rest others I directly modeled and sculpted in C4D.
Step 6: Texturing and hair
To give some of the characters a touch of realism I added texture to some features such as freckles and dark spots, this is to make sure these features are visible also on the characters farthest from the viewer.
In my cartoon models, I usually prefer to use simulated hair instead of modeling it myself, this is because I really love the way V-Ray for C4D render renders the hair. I often use several hair objects to easily shape the hairstyle. I played with hair count and thickness, in order to use the least amount of hair, for the same reason I only groomed the visible hair. For Mystique's braid I used three splines as hair guides. Among all the characters, there are almost 200, 000 hairs in the scene!
Step 7: Props
Most of the props are quite simple objects; they were the last things I modeled. I used the C4D sculpt module to soften Superman's and Mystique's schoolbags and Mr. Fantastic's pencil case. The two capes hung on the coat rack were made with C4D Clothilde plug-in, whereas the purple jacket was made in Marvelous.
Step 8: Lighting
I used a warm parallel light to simulate a low sun, two cold area lights for the artificial room illumination, and three omni lights: one fill light for Superman and Mystique, another fill to lighten Thor's face, under the hat, and a last one to make the spider webs stand out on Spiderman's desk.
Step 9: Shading
For the characters' skin I used the V-Ray FastSSS2 shader and modified it for each character. I started with a standard skin that I used for Superman, and then added some variations to each character - whiter for Thor and Rorschach, green for Hulk, blue for Mystique, and so on. All the clothes have the same fabric texture, with different colors, except the Rorschach leather coat, Hulk's jeans dungarees, and Thor's hat. The cobwebs around Spiderman's desk are simple planes with an alpha material.
As previously mentioned, this artwork was started with the intention to render it with C4D physical engine, but in the middle of the process, I changed my mind and I rendered it with V-Ray for C4D. I converted all the shaders in to V-Ray materials; this gave a far better result compared to the previous materials, except for Dr. Manhattan. I wasn't able to enhance his shader, so I just decided to keep the original render.
Step 10: Rendering and post
I used a simple preset for the global illumination, with Irradiance Map as primary engine and Light Cache as secondary. For the haze, I used Environment Fog and a huge sphere as gizmo. In Photoshop, I composed the V-Ray rendered scene with C4D rendered Dr. Manhattan. Then I made few minor retouches and color correction.
Step 11: Easter Eggs
From the very beginning, I wanted to fill the scene with as many little details as I could; some easy to spot and others more hidden. For those characters not wearing their iconic costumes I add little details that reference them.
I had a lot of fun in adding in props, such as Batman's gadgets, and creating fake book covers. Some of the desk objects should give a hint to its owner: for example, Rorschach's desk has a leather journal and an engraved symbol in the wood, or Mystique's with books on the color blue and body issues. Some details are hard to see but I thought it was worth it.
For the walls, I wanted to mockup a real classroom, with alphabet chart, maps, and a politically correct bulletin board - obviously all reinterpreted for a superheroes classroom. That's all, I hope this making of will be useful. Enjoy it!