Making Of 'Aquarian'

Intro

Hello everyone, in this overview I'll share some of the techniques I used in the creation of this image. I'll cover the basics, modeling, texturing, lighting and rendering. The image was created using Lightwave 3d, Photoshop and 3D total's texture collections. Don't worry if you don't use LW as your 3d app, what I'll show you can be replicated in any 3d app with a decent poly and subd modeling toolbox. Let's get started.

I wanted to place this character I had recently made in an unusual environment just giving a hint of where she comes from and the creatures that share it with; what lies beyond the room is for the imagination. I also wanted to add an element of surrealism by adding some fish in the foreground, almost if they were floating in mid air when in "reality" the room really is filled with clean purified water.

Modelling

I started with the wall in the background where I'll place the glass view port. I made a simple box with 3 divisions (fig 1), then using supershift I extruded the polys where the view porthole goes, on both sides at once 4 times. The first one with no shift, the second one with a bit of scale inwards, the third one pushed in and the last one scale outwards to give definition to the inside of the porthole (fig 2).

Still with the polys selected I made a bridge operation to create the hole; by using bridge instead of deleting the polys I was able to make the hole and the sides of the porthole in one step. Since this shape is not a perfect circle, just transform the cv's to shape the polys to make a better circle (fig 3).

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

After this I just added a couple of divisions on the porthole's sides polys, gave it a surface name, created the glass porthole and the air polys. Air polys (same glass geometry with the poly normals flipped facing inwards) are necessary in LW to create believable realistic glass.

I then created the floor which is another simple flattened box. After this, I made the rest of the walls with a box large enough for all my elements.

For the columns I created a profile with the pen tool and performed a lathe operation (same as revolving a surface in Maya). I then created 3 circles and arranged them how I wanted (fig 4) and performed another lathe operation with more sides, and end angle of 3000 and an offset to make a spiral type of shape but with the resulting cylinders touching each other to give the impression of a solid shape (fig 5).The base of the column is a copy of the top shape of the column. I also added a wave design decoration to the column to bring a bit of water element to it's design (fig 6)

Fig. 06

Fig. 06

Since the general composition is formal I added a handrail to place the character's hands and make for a more interesting portrait pose. During the modeling process I thought that the wall was a bit boring and thought of once again bring the ocean reference to the design and created the golden waves. This shape was more challenging that it appeared since the waves perfectly curl and change of thickness while the flow remains smooth. I decided to model this as a flat shape starting with a single poly subdivided several times and then sculpted (fig 7). After the first wave was done it was a matter of copying and transforming it to make the other waves. (fig 8)

I wanted to make some unusual fish to better place the viewer in an alien planet so after some browsing I found a very cool thread of sea creatures photos at a concept art forum. I selected some that grabbed my attention and that I thought would suit the image well; specially since I wasn't looking to replicate them but rather make them my own. Let's begin with the spinney looking fish.

First for all 3 fish I created an image background to use as a template in Modeler. I placed those images in the corresponding view port. Since these are just reference images and I'm not looking for a perfect match I didn't need top and front images, I just used the side views, besides, finding those images would have been near impossible. I started by once again plotting flat polygons and tracing the features of the fish. I didn't worry about the twisted tail too much, this will get fixed after the UV's are laid out (fig 9). After I was happy with the flat mesh I extruded it and began the sculpting process. There is nothing special in particular in the sculpting of this fish, I just moved cv's to achieve the shape I was after, I used different tools like "Taper" for the tail "Magnet" for pushing and pulling groups of cv's with different falloff settings and the "Move" tool to move single cv's; basically use whatever tools you have at your disposal to sculpt the mesh. (fig 10)

Sometimes I like to isolate part of the mesh I'm working on in a different layer and then merge it with the rest of the mesh. In this case I selected the top row of polys and the bottom row of polys, the ones that make the fins, and shaped those in separate layers, (fig 11) that way if I didn't like what I had done I would just start that particular shape over without reverting or opening an older version of the mesh, btw, always save incrementally in case something happens, I usually save a new increment version when I think a "big" change has been done. When I was happy with the dorsal fins I created the mouth by making a series of extrusions with "supershift" but if you have LW 8.5 it was replaced with "multishift" which is essentially the same with some added features like being able to save a multishift session and apply it later on to some other geometry. Figure 12 shows the finished mesh.

With the black fish on the bottom of the image I started using the box modeling technique, the shape of the fish lend itself for this type of modeling. Figure 13-19 shows the sculpting process of this fish.

Fig. 19

Fig. 19

For the creature seen outside of the viewport I approached it in a similar fashion but the reference image on this one is in a 3/4 perspective view, so I kinda sculpted it as I went along without worrying about accuracy. I created a box with a few divisions (fig 20) and then converted it to a subdiv surface by simply hitting the "Tab" key"

Fig. 20

Fig. 20

I sculpted this simple box until I had the general shape of the creature and it was no longer a cube (fig 21), at this point I could start adding details and keep shaping the mesh. It is a good idea to take advantage of the symmetry mode in Modeler so we can just worry about shaping one side. I selected a poly on the side of the mesh and beveled it a couple of times (fig 22), I did the same with a poly located lower and towards the front than the previous one; I then selected the ends and did a Bridge command to connect these two appendages (fig 23). I sculpted the mesh further and when I was happy with the result I subdivided the mesh once using a LW tool called metaform, this added more resolution to my SubD surface so I could add more details (fig 24). I kept shaping the mesh and adding more detail using a tool called "Cut" and re-arranged poly flow using "Spinquad" this tool is one of my favorites, it will spin a set or even groups of quads to quickly change the flow of the polygons, a tedious task without it (fig 25). I selected a small group of polys in the front of the mesh to create the eyes from; I once again I used "supershift" (multishift) to create the shape (fig 26). This surface will be semi-transparent so I created an inside shape to give the creature inside volume.
I made the shape using the existing eyes which I copied to a new layer and shrank down a little, I then connected the eyes to a subd box and sculpted it to some interesting shape (fig 27). I thought that I could make the creature more interesting by giving it an obvious method to swim so I made a few long subd boxes to create some unusual flippers. The mouth tentacles are simple tapered subd boxes with every odd/even poly on the bottom beveled. I didn't need and extraordinary amount of detail there since it will be a small part of the picture. Then using mostly "Twist" "Rotate" and "Move" I created a morph target for the tentacles (fig 28). I knew exactly the look I wanted for the tentacles and since it is for a still image a morph target was perfect for this, otherwise I would have rigged each tentacles with bones (Joints in Maya). Talking about rigging... I wasn't exactly sure the shape I wanted to have for the long flippers; I had an idea but didn't know if it would work in the scene so I rigged the rest of the creature to be able to pose it in the scene. Figure 29 shows the skeletal structure, quite simple really. That's it for modeling! Let's move on to texturing.

Fig. 29

Fig. 29

Texturing

Here is some food for thought: "Good texturing makes your model and good lighting makes your scene" Meaning that if you have a fantastic model but a lousy texturing job your model will look lousy, no matter how many thousands of polys worth of tiny details you have in there, on the other hand, you can have a beautiful textured model but if your lighting rig is not up to par your scene won't be as great as it should be. This might be common sense to most of you but I say it as a reminder because I have seen this happen time and time again, it happened to me when I started 3d more often than not, trying to rush and get to the next step, at the end I ended up redoing a texture and thus wasting time or my model flat out stank, just spend the time you need to get it done right the first time and you will save time and have a nicely textured model from the get go. With that said lets get some UV maps layed out, shall we?

These models are actually quite simple to UV mostly due to the general shape they have. For the spinney fish I just made a planar UV on the Z axis, this gave me almost a perfect layout, I fine tuned it by massaging some vertices on place and since the fish is relatively flat I didn't have to worry too much about the top and bottom. After the UV's were finished I took the time to straighten the tail. Then I placed a grid image as a texture to test for distortions. New in LW 8.2 and above is the UV texture interpolation that you can use for subd meshes, this will get rid of those nasty distortions made by the nature of subd surfaces (fig 30). When the UV layout is done it is time to take a screen grab to use as a template or you could save an eps template to open in Photoshop. I usually just take a screen grab as large as I possibly can. Now that you have your template to paint on is time to move to photoshop.

Fig. 30

Fig. 30

In photoshop, open your eps template at whatever resolution you need or paste your screen grab in a new document. After my template was set up I loaded up several Total Textures images to paint my fish with. A pressure sensitive tablet is a huge help when painting textures, I can't imagine painting textures with a mouse again. Figure 31 shows the images I used in the painting of the fish skin and the finished texture map and the corresponding specular, diffuse, and transparency map which were painted after I had finished the color map. I approached every object's UV's and painting pretty much the same way, There weren't many UV challenges in these shapes. As far as painting goes... well, that would be a tutorial by itself... maybe in the future ;) In general I used several images from the 3D Total's texture collection, blended, painted, color corrected, erased etc whatever it takes to get me there.

Fig 32

Fig 32

Texture 1

Fig 33

Fig 33

Texture 2

Fig 34

Fig 34

Texture 3

Fig 35

Fig 35

Texture 4

Fig 36

Fig 36

Colour

Fig 37

Fig 37

Transparency

Fig 38

Fig 38

Diffuse

Fig 39

Fig 39

Specular
The only model I did not UV was the creature outside in the ocean, it wasn't really necessary. I just used a spherical projection on the shape (fig 39), most of the stretching was going to be hidden by the shader's transparency ramp. I wanted to have a similar look to what the real creature looked like so I added a ramp in the luminosity channel, and I added one of the images from the Texture CD "Textures from around the world" collection to give the creature an organic pattern. I also added a diffuse ramp and a small procedural bump to the surface.

Fig. 31

Fig. 31

Lighting

As I mentioned before, lighting can make or break your image so try not to rush through the lighting process. I usually have some set up in mind when I'm creating an image. I work this out during the concept stage; that way I have a clear thought of the mood I want to achieve in the image... it may or may not work and I might change it during the process depending on how the image is looking like. I always have a key light, fill light and a rim light to start with but most often than not my scenes end up having a totally different rig at the end of the lighting session. In this scene I knew I was going to use Radiosity to get nice bounce light off the surfaces and I also knew beforehand that photorealism wasn't my goal in this scene so with this in mind I started the lighting work. I was looking for an even lighting set up in this piece and was looking for a comfortable feeling, casual almost like a gallery but not so bright. I first killed all of the ambient light in the scene, and changed the default light from a distant light to an area light, I placed this light pointing to the main subject and brought down the intensity to 45% this will be my main fill light. I added a blue spotlight with an intensity of 115%; I placed this light outside of the room pointing at the main subject of the scene, this is my key light. At this point I started to do test renderings and then add lights slowly as I went until I was happy with the look. I never add a bunch of lights at once and then fine tune, this is a practice that you see alot with newbies, what happens is that you will end up tweaking lights forever without even knowing exactly which is the light that's really causing the problem. You can also end up with an over-exposed or under-exposed image and once again you will be tweaking lights forever without really knowing which light is having what effect. In this case I'm also using F-Prime which gives me almost immediate radiosity feedback and thus making the process more enjoyable. Figure 33 shows the layout of the lights in the scene along with each light's corresponding intensities.

Fig. 33

Fig. 33

After a test I thought that the left side was a bit dark and added another area light, this light as the other one, doesn't affect speculars; I also reduced the intensity to 3%. I wasn't completely happy with the look I was getting and added another area light, this one is pointing straight down to our subject and is the main shadow casting light, also this light emits speculars adding that highlight to the metals in the scene and the other reflective surfaces like the girl's eyes. I brought down the intensity to 20% since I'm using radiosity I didn't have to increase the intensity of this light quite so high, Radiosity was going to help quite a bit. Radiosity also likes some ambient light so I increased it to around 10%. After a test render I decided to bring the radiosity intensity up a bit and viola I was quite happy with the result.

Rendering

Due to my schedule I didn't have the time to set this scene up in layers which I normally do; instead, to save some time I just rendered everything in one pass and then tweaked some things in photoshop. Very simple since I just rendered in one pass, I also rendered the image using F-Prime so I was able to render radiosity faster. I would like to cover render layers in detail in the future.

Post & Final image

After the image was rendered I opened it in Photoshop to finish it off. I painted subtle caustics to help the viewer realize that the whole room is filled with water. I also retouched the top of the back wall and painted a subtle pattern using yet another image from the texture CD library, it almost looks like a turtle's shell pattern. I then painted 2 layers of particles which I then selectively blurred at different levels, they are subtle but they do add an extra bit to the image just like the tiny bubbles I also painted. BTW the "God rays" are also painted, since this was for just a still image I was able to paint some features that would have had to be done in either 3d or in a comp package such as Digital Fusion or After Effects. When I was happy with the comp I added a couple of Curves adjustment layers to get rid of some green and add a bit of blue to the image; I also added a screen layer of the whole image and brought the opacity down to 11%. I also added a vivid light layer set at 8% this layer added a bit of contrast and made the colors a little richer. Done!

That's pretty much it. Ever since I created this girl I wanted to create an environment for her and finally was able to make it. I really enjoyed writing this overview and I hope it has given you some ideas that you can apply to your own work. Till next time!

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