Making Of 'Aquaman'
Hello, my name is Nick Gizelis and I would like to thank Jo and the 3DTotal team for their invitation to me to write a few things about the making of my image Aquaman for you.
The creation of CG characters - either realistic, or science fiction ones - is always an enjoyable and relaxing activity for me, even more so whenever I end up with a physical model of them in my hands.
Concept / Inspiration / Motivation
My main motivation behind Aquaman was to follow a concept by another artist for the creation of a CG character. Aris Kolokontes is an artist whose work I admire and am inspired by, so I decided to base my concept on one of his bust sculptures - Fishman (Fig.01) :
I also decided to make some kind of jewel for the bust, to complete the concept of such a character.
For the bust I collected several photos of the original bust, from every angle I could find, so that I could get a good idea of the proportions.
I also thought of adding a necklace to the character in order to enhance the concept of a humanoid form of life coming from another world. I wanted to make something of a classic style, made of silver, with a precious stone in the colours of the deep sea to enhance the aquatic nature of the character.
Some time ago I made a few ZBrush materials using as reference some photos of a mineral called Labradorite, so I decided to make a jewel based on such type of stone, which is quite iridescent and colored in greenish- blueish tones. So I did some searches on the web, looking for pendants made of labradorite stones and silver and this was the result (Fig.02).
Modeling - Bust
For the base mesh I used a model I'd made some time ago: a human female bust (Fig.03).
I removed the ears and modified the initial UV map of the mesh so that it was more suitable for the altered geometry (Fig.04 - 06).
Then, I imported the mesh into ZBrush where I did some preliminary sculpting on the base model to define the basic volumes of the concept.
Now, I was ready to export the altered head back to XSI, put the spiky horns into place and unwrap them (Fig.07).
Modeling - Jewel
For the model of the pendant, I worked with polygon modeling tools in XSI. I made a UV map for the stone and then exported the whole pendant to ZBrush where I subdivided the model twice to smooth out surfaces (Fig.08).
Modeling - Base
For the base model, I again did some poly modeling in XSI and then exported the mesh to ZBrush.
Modeling - Detailing
Having the base model of the bust with the eyes, the spikes and the base ready, I imported all of them as an .obj file into ZBrush, where the multiple polygroups were transformed into ztools by pressing Groups Split.
Keeping the ztool of the bust active, I selected a Clay brush, set Z intensity to 20, Draw Size 25, turned the Freehand option on, and started defining the volumes of the head, face and torso in loose strokes at first and refined portions later.
From this lowest subdivision level and up, I tried to add as much information as I could on every higher Sub-D level, using mostly a set of modified Standard, Slash and Pinch brushes, while quite often picking the Move brush to enhance the volumes and correct proportions. Sometimes I was in need of the Flatten and M-Polish brushes, to make some areas less convex and to define boney regions of the scull, or parts like the lips outline.
In this way, I ended up at Sub-D level 6, where the fine detailing of wrinkles, pores, lips surface and such was depicted, using mostly brushes with simple stamps from the ZBrush installation folder. Using layers like this during the detailing phase was a safe way to test and lock the intensity levels on the skin surface.
After I was done with the detailing, I went back to Sub-D level 1 and using a Transpose line and Rotate, I gave a rotation angle to the neck, according to the reference photographs. Climbing again up to sixth Sub-D level, and then made some minor refinements to the neck.
Among the final touches on the bust was to apply Surface Noise on a discreet scale and Depth to complete the high frequency detailing of the skin (Fig.09 - 10).
For the color map of the bust I used Polypaint and followed the color tones of the reference in a rather loose way (Fig.11).
As for the eyes and spikes, I chose to work with Photoshop on some initial photo reference I'd gotten from the web and made two textures to use on the above models (Fig.12 - 13).
For the metallic parts of the pendant I decided not to use any textures but simply to render with some suitable ZBrush materials. For the precious stone I did a UV map and then applied a texture that I made in Photoshop by blending several ZBrush renders with the Labradorite materials I had available (Fig.14 - 15).
Since my render tool was going to be ZBrush, I had to consider a few things before starting work.
Antialiasing is a critical issue. In order to have proper antialiasing in my final image, I had to keep in mind that I needed to render in twice as big a resolution and then shrink it to half later in post.
So, I created a new document with the required dimensions (2657x3636 pixels) and brought my ztool assembly into ZBrush. I activated Perspective mode and set the angle of the bust on the canvas according to my liking.
In order to save my view and avoid losing it in case of accidentally moving or rotating the camera (or in case of a crash), I opened the Document drop down menu, and then pressed ZApplink Properties > Cust1 > Save Views. In fact, by giving different names to the files I saved with Save Views, I was able to save as many different camera views as I liked, which is quite a handy tool indeed. (As an alternative method, I could have saved my ztool assembly as a .zbr document, converting my geometry to pixols and thus locking my camera view; then I could still modify my lights as much as I wanted, do detailing with stamps on the model, paint it with color and render it with materials.)
Next was the phase where I made my masks for use later in Photoshop, to crop off the several layers of rendered materials. With Flat render active, I selected one ztool at a time and rendered the same image over and over again, eventually getting a set of renders with different ztools depicted in pure white for each image (and all the rest in grey) ready to be used as masks.
After I was done with my masks, it was time to set up lights and get ready for the actual renders.
Talking about lights, the light rig I used for most of the materials - except the ones that already had specific lights information embedded - was a simple three point light rig (Fig.16).
For the rendering, I selected several MatCap materials, applied them each time on my model, and rendered them with Best Render. (Quite a few MatCaps though look better shadowed with Preview Render.)
The selection of the materials was done according to the type of renders I looked for, like diffuse, speculars, rim lights, cavity and so on (Fig.17 - 18). Of course, the same procedure was followed for every other angle of the bust.
In order to composite the several renders I'd made in ZBrush with the different materials and for the five different angles, the first thing I did was a test compositing for one of the angles so that I could replicate this with all the others as soon as I was happy with the result.
I imported the renders in Photoshop, gathered them in groups respective to their material attributes (diffuse groups, specular groups, lights groups, etc) and saved masks selections for every part of the bust to use them later on separate materials. Then, I started the actual compositing work, blending the multiple layers in different modes and opacities.
Initially I thought of going for skin tones similar to the reference photos of the actual statuette, but after experimenting with interesting layer combinations in Photoshop I decided to work on three different approaches for the color tones. The first was warm, with fleshy tones, sticking more closely to the color choices of the reference, the second was blueish, to serve as a pale/cool-tone approach with an eerie look and the third was a greenish-blueish combination, perhaps a bit more iridescent flavor, as an alternative between the other two.
Using the Lens Blur tool in Photoshop, with the depth pass as a layer mask on the flatten composition, I tried to give a feeling of Depth of Field in my renders, while with Lens Correction I also added some Chromatic Aberration to try and simulate a photographic look (Fig.19 - 20).
For the background, again I mixed together some photographic reference with layers of colored strokes and other detailing in Photoshop and ended with a couple of images that somehow reminded me of a deep sea environment, presenting several blueish tones along with debris and plankton-like particles. These images were put together with a radial gradient vignette mask, to serve as the template for the background, before the final touches of color correction, saturation and levels tweaking took place (Fig.21 - 22).
The decision to go for a 3D print of the Aquaman bust was something I thought of a few days after I was done with the digital output. I wanted to make a color 3D print this time, since the other two 3D prints I'd had done of other models in the past hadn't contained any color information.
In the meantime, I was told by a friend that there was a 3D scanning and printing facility here in Athens that was able to produce color 3D printed models. So I got into contact with them and started making modifications on the bust to make it 3D printer friendly.
The geometry format specs for a color print were .wrl (vrml 2), so I had to export the bust in this format from within ZBrush. Concerning the geometry specs, all the parts needed to be waterproof (close meshes) - and they already were so. Very pointy parts, like the spikes, had to be rounded off a bit at the tips, so that they could be printing without breaking.
In the case of the spikes, in a different scenario I could have printed them separately from the main bust - so that it was safer for them to be printed without breaking - making sure that their lower ends fitted well into the holes in the skull. A lesson learnt for the future!
Regarding the colors of the model, there was an issue for the 3D print: the polypaint color information was too subtle for the printer to catch properly, so I had to enhance the colors somehow.
Firstly, I converted the polypaint to a bitmap texture, so that I could work with it in Photoshop.
After that, I baked the Displacement, Cavity, Ambient Occlusion and Normal maps from the bust model, so that I was able to use their information in Photoshop as well.
After some work with blending the above maps with the diffuse data, and several tests with contrast, levels and saturation values, I ended with a bitmap that was applied to the bust in ZBrush. At that point I noticed some seams on the texture that needed fixing, so I used ZApplink to transfer image captures of the texture to Photoshop, where a couple of strokes with the Healing brush were enough to eliminate the seams (Fig.23 - 27).
Initially, I sent a solid bust model to the 3D printer. As it appeared, the product was rather heavy and expensive for the required size (about 17cm total height), so my next move was to make a hollow bust instead of the massive one.
In XSI I made a shell of a certain thickness out of the base bust (the subdivision 0 level mesh) and exported it as an .obj. Thankfully the UV map did not need any fixing, at least on the visible parts of the bust. In ZBrush, I then imported the above Sub-D 0 level .obj of the currently active high poly sculpt and replaced the initial cage model.
From that point, the model - as it was expected - presented quite a mess, so the work by hand was about to start. With brushes like Move, Flatten, Polish and Tweaked Standard, the surfaces began to take the appropriate shape. A uniform thickness had to be completed between the several subdivision levels, while making sure I had Backface Masking active on my brushes, so that my strokes didn't affect the outer surface of the shell, but only the inner polys.
Of course, much of the sculpting information on the surface was lost in the end, so I had to use - being careful with the settings - the Project tool between the initial solid sculpt and the new hollow one, in order to transfer all the detailing information to the bust shell.
For the base to become a hollow shell, I worked with the initial model in XSI. Then I modified the spline that was used for the Revolve by Axis mesh, so that the final model reminded me of a bell (being hollow).
Another valuable lesson I learned at this point was that it is much preferable to begin sculpting in ZBrush with a base model that is already a hollow shell, than making a shell out of the final sculpt (Fig.28).
Eventually, having finished with all the nitty gritty of the modifications, I exported the assembly in .wrl format and it was off to the printer (Fig.29).
The 3D printing was done here in Athens, by 3DPS facilities (http://3dps.net/) with a ZPrinter 450. Many thanks to Phaedra and Panagiotis, the heads of 3DPS, for their great support (Fig.30)!
The work I did for Aquaman was a valuable, interesting and enjoyable journey. I had the luck of being able to work on a beautiful concept by a great traditional artist like Aris Kolokontes and to explore the aspects of a pipeline to digitally replicate a physical model in a rather loose way, lending to it some of my own taste.
The whole range of steps needed to transform a sculpted mesh into a digital composition presents a great compilation of interesting, challenging "problems" that ask for solutions, ensuring an exciting and ever-learning procedure.
I truly hope that this Making Of provides some interest to an aspiring, digital, character-loving person and that it helps someone to enjoy my creative process and learn from my mistakes. I myself try to do that all the time by learning from others' work.
Thank you for bearing with me!