Making Of 'Bagpiper'
In this Making Of, Oleg Nikolov talks us through his steps to making this whimsical character, from his inspired concept, through modeling and texturing.
Music has always inspired my art. Maybe because I play with a band in my spare time, or maybe because there is a connection between the different arts. When I play music, I take a break from 3D and also use the time to recharge my creative batteries. I received my first acoustic guitar as a gift when I was 12 years old.
In the image Bagpiper I wanted to create a fantasy creature that is a mixture between a musical instrument and a wood nymph. It is part of a series of images inspired by music. The instrument is a pipe; it's very well known in Bulgarian folklore and is often used by the musicians here. I wanted the instrument to have more pipes than the original because the creature has more hands. Having multiple pipes helps to provoke the viewer's imagination until they can "hear" the indescribable melody he is playing. The creature is a keeper of the forest; it communicates with the forest spirits, calling them with his pipe and bells, and they dance their magic ring dance around him...
In the beginning of serious 3D work it is always good to make some preparations, such as finding good reference images for the anatomy, specific types of dress, armor or adornments etc. It's important to make a rough sketch that explains the silhouette of the character, and some specific anatomical characteristics to check the composition and light. It's not necessary for the sketch to be very accomplished; it's enough to be explanatory for the artist himself (Fig.01).
For the modeling part, I usually start with DynaMesh or ZSpheres in ZBrush, but in this case I started with creating a base mesh in Luxology modo. This is my favorite software for poly modeling at the moment.
I used the standard tools. I started by creating a box, and after that I used the Edge Extend, Edge Slice and Bridge tools, then drag, weld and merge. I really like the Flex tool, the different action centers, the falloffs and mesh cleanup. In modo it is not necessary to create an instance or reference a copy of the mesh to work symmetrically. Even if the symmetry is broken I can easily fix it with the Symmetry tool. Modo also has great sculpting tools that I use very often (Fig.02).
For the sculpting I used Pixologic ZBrush. My favorite brushes are Clay, Inflate, Pinch, Damien Standard and Polish. I always try to reach maximum detail on the lower geometry resolution, and after that subdivide and go to the next level. This way, the sculpting is much cleaner and easier, and it also spares my computer resources. In ZBrush I extracted the bracelets from the base mesh. At the final stage of the sculpting my model was about 2,250,000 polygons (Fig.03).
ZBrush offers a very handy way for posing your characters: the Transpose Master. It's very easy to mask a part from the mesh by holding the Ctrl key down whilst dragging the Rotate, Move or Scale canvas gyros. After clicking once with the left mouse button and Ctrl key, press on part of the mask to blur it, which also creates a soft transition in the deformation of the mesh. This is much easier than building a complicated rig in some of the standard 3D software.
However, in this project the idea was to create a still image, not an animation, so building a complicated type of rig wasn't necessary. Maybe someday I will create a short animation with this model and I will build a rig for it, who knows (Fig.04).
Before starting to paint the textures I unwrapped the model in ZBrush using the UV Master plugin. It's very cool, offering a solution in a few clicks (I remember the old days when the unwrapping process took an entire week and you had to move the vertexes by hand in the UV window, trying to prevent stretchiness in the textures... it was a real nightmare) (Fig.05).
When the model's unwrap was done, I started to paint the textures in ZBrush using Polypaint. When this was completed I extracted Color, Normal, Cavity and Displacement maps, then flipped them in the Z axis before exporting. In Photoshop I mixed these maps to create different textures for the mental ray skin material, for the overall, epidermal and sub dermal color of the skin (Fig.06).
I imported the bagpiper and the butterflies into Autodesk Softimage to continue the project. For the bagpiper I used a skin and architectural shader (Fig.07).
The hairs on the model are a mixture between the built-in Softimage hair system and over-painting in Photoshop. Most of the hair properties can easy be controlled via vertex or texture maps, which is very handy. There are also very good tools for modifying and styling the hairs (Fig.08).
The lighting consists of key, fill and back lights, plus mental ray Final Gather. I also rendered the volume light and particles, so that the image could look realistic and at the same time fantastic (Fig.09).
I rendered everything in different passes in order to make color corrections in Photoshop easily. I combined them on different blending modes, then added the volume light, particles, glows, color grain, etc (Fig.10). In order to create the environment I found different images of trees and forests on the internet, combined and blurred them.
This is the final look with all the layers of the character combined together, plus the background and color correction (Fig.11).