Making Of 'Barack'
Portraying a real person is an artistic challenge that I've always wanted to take. I chose Barack Obama, not only because he's someone that inspires me, but also because his omnipresence in the media meant it would be easy to find reference (Fig.01).
I actually started his portrait before he even got elected, but I only got time to finish it much later. I decided early on to not simply recreate one particular photo taken at a given angle, but instead to portray him in an expression and lighting of my own. Â However it turned out to be much more work than expected, since there was absolutely no leeway for any interpretation. I realized that it's one thing to just sculpt a bust of someone and make it look good in ZBrush, but it's much harder to maintain the likeness once you add textures, shaders and a non-uniform lighting.
I had a good idea of what I wanted the final image to look like. My ambition was to portray him in a less iconic and more human way, thoughtful and slightly troubled. This would be reflected in numerous details like a bad tie knot, a tilted US flag pin or an imperfect shave. I think it's essential that one's work expresses something. I'm tired of seeing CG art being used mainly to create monsters, pin-ups or super heroes.
Using Silo, I started modeling a bust that would then serve as a base for some ZBrush sculpting. Image planes of a frontal and a side view were used only at the very start of the modeling process in order to learn the particularities of his physiognomy. As you can see in Fig.02, the topology follows the anatomy of the face muscles, especially around the eyes and the mouth. This helps to keep the mesh in a good flow even after extensive sculpting. Already at such an early stage, I tried to push the likeness of the model as far as I could.
Once I was satisfied with the overall proportions, I exported the mesh to ZBrush. When sculpting wrinkles and minor facial features I avoid using masks, which sometimes produce unnatural results. Instead I swap between the standard, inflate and clay brushes. I also work a lot with layers to maintain an optimal flexibility. For instance, I tend to sculpt everything much more deeply than needed and subsequently adjust the intensity of the sculpted layer. As you'll notice in Fig.03, I don't sculpt textures like skin pores as they might conflict with the final painted textures. And even though sculpted textures look nice on a ZBrush sculpt, they sometimes draw the attention away from crucial mistakes.
In order to be able to work in symmetry for the initial sculpting, I posed the bust in a separate level 1 layer and turned it off. Every now and then I activated it to check if the facial expression held up (Fig.04).
Since my goal was to create a single artwork, I could have cut some corners and simplified the whole texturing process by using techniques like camera mapping. However since I work as a character artist in a games studio, I also wanted to hone my skills in traditional UV texturing. As I was aiming for a realistic look, I had to use photo references as a base for the textures. Using Photoshop I matched several high-resolution photos of Obama from different angles, i.e.: from frontal to 3/4 to profile views.
The first thing I had to do was get rid of every shadow and every specular highlight on the photos, so that in the end I had a solid diffuse color map. To achieve this, I painted masks on Level and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers, and even performed a Select > Color Range and filled up a selection with a solid color (Fig.05).
The second task was to match the different photos using more Level and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers. To blend the photos into each other, I gave them each a layer mask that I painted to add or remove their visibility (Fig.06).
In order to make the whole fit to the UVs, I used Liquify and the stamp tool. Unfortunately finer details got lost in this process, so sometimes I had to use the Healing Brush to grab details from an intact zone to a blurry zone. At points like this it's important to respect that skin pores and wrinkles are quite different in the various areas of the face, i.e.: nose pores are not like forehead pores.
The next mission was to paint details and highlight areas like digital make-up. This was done especially around the mouth, eyes and the hairline.
Finally, I created a specular map and a bump map (Fig.07). The latter was used on top of the ZBrush displacement map, in order to reinforce the diffuse map and create the skin pores.
Once the textures were done, it was time to start some rendering in Maya. For lighting setups, I tend to follow the Occam's Razor principle and use as few lights as possible (Fig.08).
The right side of the image was deliberately kept darker to add a particular mood. I used an HDR image as an Image Based Lighting environment for my reflections. When adjusting the lights and reflections, I just had a basic lambert or blinn shader on the model (Fig.09). Once my lighting was set and I started working on the SSS skinshader, I tried not to tweak the lights anymore as that would unbalance all the shaders.
As you can see from Fig.10, I used Mental Ray's misss_fast_skin_shader with some reflection. I ended up not using any G.I. or Final Gathering, since they didn't provide noticeable results.
For the hair, I duplicated the head polygons where the hair would appear and applied Maya Hair. Â You can see the settings I used in Fig.11.
Finally, I rendered the model along with an occlusion, zdepth and hair pass (Fig.12).
In Photoshop, I composited them all together and applied some final tweaks like vignetting, level, hue and saturation. I also painted in finer details that I really wanted to have full control over, like the reflection of the eyes. For the background, I just wanted something neutral that suited my lighting.
Here's the final image with wireframe (Fig.13).
And voila - here's the final image (Fig.14)!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you have any questions or if you'd like to see my other work, please visit: www.twilite.tk