Making Of 'Brothers In Blood II'
The idea behind this image was originally conceived back in 2005 and I named it Brothers In Blood (Fig.01).
Brothers In Blood II was created for Sol90 Publishing. They needed Carnotaurus Sastrei Diorama dinosaurs, which was a perfect opportunity for me to revisit one of my old creations and improve upon it. It was an interesting creative experience for me as I was able to see just how much I've evolved, and how the software I use has as well, during little less than a seven year time span.
In this Making Of you will be given an insight into the methods I used to create one of my latest paleo-themed illustrations (Fig.02).
Unlike the original image, where I used 3ds Max and a box modeling method, these new Carnotaurus were sculpted using ZBrush 4R2. I don't even want to start comparing these two modeling methods. Box modeling was fun, but it has become outdated, especially if you're building organic objects. Over time, ZBrush and Mudbox have become the alpha tools for modeling anything from organic, over hard surface to architectural models. These tools enable artists to flesh-out their visions quickly and accurately, without having to get too techy in the process of creation. It is almost as intuitive and easy to get as a real life clay modeling.
In this illustration you have two dinosaur species. The Diplodocus dinosaur in the background was created before for Eon Software as a 3D asset. I just re-used that model and reposed/aligned them into big herd moving away into the distance. So in this section I'm going to focus on how I modeled the Carnotaurus. After all, he is the star of this illustration!
The Carnotaurus model was made completely in ZBrush. In some of my previous modeling projects I would go to 3ds Max and make a rough low poly mesh. Nowadays I'm doing all the modeling work inside ZBrush, although on rare occasions I still switch to 3ds Max to get some modeling done there.
The first step was a ZSphere basic model (Fig.03). As soon as the dinosaur's rough shape was complete, the ZSphere shape was turned into a polymesh object.
I sculpted the general shape and proportions with the help of dozens of Carnotaurus skeleton reference images downloaded from the internet (Fig.04).
The good thing about this project was that I had constant feedback from a real paleontologist. So it was a real pleasure to reconstruct the dinosaur the way I felt and thought it should look, then receive valuable feedback from the professional. This was a great opportunity to learn and improve in that field.
Once I had nailed the Carnotaurus morphology and it was approved, it was the point in the process where I had to retopologize the mesh (Fig.05). I did this in ZBrush. Though this feature could still be massively improved, I've learned to appreciate it and have become quite fast at retopologizing meshes in ZBrush.
There are loads of great tutorials out there on the ZBrush Topology feature, but I will cover the basic premise behind it. To be able to retopologize anything you need to have a polymesh object, or any kind of object you can import into ZBrush. Edit Topology is best for sorting out and cleaning mesh objects that are created using ZSpheres, ZSketch, DynaMesh or basically any objects that have messy topology.
In the Subtools palette you need to click the Append button and select the default ZSphere object from the window. Now you need to select that ZSphere in the subtool layer and scroll down to the bottom of the Tool section to find the Topology palette. Then click Edit Topology (Fig.06).
You need to be in the Edit and Draw mode to be able to start retopologizing (Fig.07).
Just click on the object, in this case the dinosaur's head, and start connecting the dots. You should see orange lines that make the object's wire frame, just like in the image (Fig.08).
In the process of retopologizing your mesh you should go into Preview mode every now and then to check the mesh for consistency and make sure everything is OK. You do that by pressing the Preview button under the Adaptive Skin palette that is located a couple of options above Topology, or you can simply press A on the keyboard. In Preview mode your mesh should look something like this (Fig.09).
As soon as you complete the entire object and you are happy with the result, the mesh should be turned into a polymesh by clicking the Make Polymesh3D button positioned at the top of the Tool menu (Fig.10). Now you are ready to either project details from the messy old mesh, or, if you don't have any details, start detailing the clean mesh.
For detailing this dinosaur I used a couple of custom-made alpha brushes that I created specifically for this occasion, which can be downloaded here. The method I used to create the custom alphas is nothing special really. I selected a Plane3D object from the Tool palette, under the main Tool menu (Fig.11). I turned it into a Polymesh3D and subdivided about six or seven times to extract the alpha brush as smoothly as possible.
Then I started sculpting the scales and details I wanted on my dinosaur. Once the details had been sculpted out, I went into the Alpha panel and clicked GrabDoc. ZBrush automatically created an alpha brush with perfect Z-Depth data that I used to paint those scales faster and on broader surfaces (Fig.12 - 13).
This way of sculpting scales was good for some areas of my model, but I didn't use this method everywhere. I manually sculpted the more detailed and important areas, like the head, arms, fingers and legs. It took more time, but it gave me a better effect, without a doubt. It's important to remember that if you overuse a custom alpha on a single model, or even a certain area/body part of that model, it is likely it won't look as good.
I mentioned manual detailing before and I'll now explain the technique I used in this particular case.
Most of the scales on the head, portions of hands and legs, especially fingers, were created by painting masks in the shape of the scales on the desired area. After I was happy with the painted masks, I inverted the masked area and got a "mask free" area that I textured using the Move brush (Fig.14 - 16).
I additionally polished each scale with a standard brush and standard ZBrush alpha 39 over the edges, with Gravity under Brush > Depth > Gravity set to 45-60. For the head scales, I used the Displace brush with the ZBrush alpha 39 to get the pointy scales look that is most noticeable on the top of the head (Fig.17).
The Carnotaurus was colored and unwrapped in ZBrush. I just love how easy it has become to unwrap a model. Using polygroups and ZBrush's UVMaster you can get decent unwrap in a matter of minutes. If you spend a bit more time you can get really nice results. Creating UV islands with polygroups, which in addition can be easily created by masking or polypainting, is a breeze. It's funny that I should say this because I hated UVW mapping - I despised it. At a couple of points when I was a beginner I thought I would probably never learn UVW because it seemed so difficult to me back when I was just starting out. The original Carnotaurus from the original Brothers In Blood image were not unwrapped. I used a projection mapping method.
Since the process of unwrapping in ZBrush has been covered inside out by numerous tutorials, I'll just fly over the basic steps. Once you have your model, split it into polygroups at the lowest subdivision setting (Fig.18).
Then step into the ZPlugin/UVMaster and click the Work on Clone button in the UVMaster palette (Fig.19). Now you are ready to start protecting areas of the mesh that you want to keep clean of seams by clicking Enable Control Painting and the Protect button.
Once you do that, you can additionally make sure the seams appear at specific points by painting lines where you want your seams to appear. You can do that by clicking the Attract button under the Enable Control Painting section of UVMaster. With my dinosaurs' heads I also used density settings to make the UVW islands a bit bigger so the details there ended up cleaner and at a larger resolution.
After everything is prepped, ZBrush magic kicks in. Click the Polygroups button to On if you haven't done that before and then click Unwrap. Once ZBrush computes UVW for you, flatten to see the result (Fig.20).
Note: You might need to do some repositioning of UVW islands to get better results while creating Normal maps, and to minimize the Normal map seams. This is something that plagues otherwise great models. These seams appear on parts of the model where your UVW map islands meet each other. A good application to use to reduce or completely remove Normal map seams is XNormal.
An even better thing is to practice and try to create as few UVW islands as possible. Try and find places for seams that are less visible, and in places where they might be hidden by the specific anatomy of the character you are creating. This is an area I'm still improving upon myself. In Fig.21 you can see how my Carnotaurus model had its seams distributed.
When you decide you have finalized the UVW map and you are happy with it, copy the UVWs and paste them onto the original model, the one with the subdivision steps. Now you need to create all the maps. I usually create three maps: Color, Displacement and Normal (Fig.22).
This is the phase where you need to export maps and the model at the desired subdivision steps. The fastest way to do so this is to hit the GOZ button that automatically exports all the objects and maps into the third party application that you use for rendering.
I hope soon that this step will be less important for some of us, especially considering how quickly the BPR settings in ZBrush are being developed. Soon we will end up with a superb modeling tool and a great render engine in one package.
Back to the image! The rendering was done in 3ds Max and I used the mental ray renderer. Since I am still learning and improving my rendering skills, material usage and lighting scenes, my settings are definitely nothing ground breaking, but if you are at some level below me then you might find my input helpful. You can see my SSS skin shader settings in the Material Editor (Fig.23). This is the way I distribute maps over SSS material. It's very basic stuff. I constantly play with the settings, applying different maps to different slots and material properties to get something better. For this image I used Displacement and Normal maps for displacement and bump, as well as Color and Cavity maps for color, specularity and reflectivity.
Lighting is something I definitely need to improve, so I'm not going to spend much time on this part (Fig.24). From the viewport snap it shows how the lights were laid out. The dinosaurs were placed inside a sphere object that had a panoramic spherical map that acted as an environment for the reflections on the dinosaurs' skin (Fig.25). The renderer settings were the default ones.
Photoshop was the workhorse for the compositing task. This is the part of the project where you can make it or break it. I prefer compositing different kinds of elements over rendering everything. Rendering is where you need to be more technical. Compositing is a much more artistically dependant method, I think. You need to find the way to seamlessly blend everything together, and not just that - everything needs to look nice and be pleasing to the eye. To be able to blend certain layers and areas you must know how to overpaint it.
This is my compositing workflow explained in a couple of steps. First I imported all the rendered dinosaur layers in the PSD file (Fig.26). I then positioned them on the canvas and set the desired canvas proportions. That being done, the fun part began.
Next was the background. A good background can bring up the models; a bad one can tear them down. I used photos from my own libraries, which are getting bigger by each day. I'm an avid photographer and I tend to take my camera with me whenever I can (Fig.27).
I tried a couple of cloud backgrounds for the skies/cloud background. When I was happy I started fixing the cloud photo and painting out whatever I thought didn't fit the image.
The hardest part was the ground. I wanted to achieve the look of a drying lake, or a large river bed. You can clearly see wet patches and streams of water flowing towards bigger puddles. I used a couple of photos for the ground and combined them into one bigger image. Then I used the Clone Stamp tool, Brush Pencil and Color Picker tool to blend in points where two different photos were colliding. The water streams were painted on top of that on two separate layers to increase the blend effect across the ground plane. In the Fig.28 you can see a rough break-down of the entire image.
The dinosaurs' footprints were a fun part. I used my own dino footprints that I created in mud over the course of summer 2011. I put some mud inside a shallow container and let it dry up a bit. Later on I printed different sets of footprints in it using my fingers. Then I photographed them at different times of day and from different angles. These are now invaluable when it comes to dinosaur footprint creation in compositing projects such as this one (Fig.29).
In my compositing process I tend to end up with dozens of layers that, over the course of creation, I merge down to keep the layer count manageable by me and my machine. This is why I save my progress on separate files prior to merging specific layers in case if I want to return to that specific part at a later time. It is pretty easy to get lost in a bigger scale image like this one is. One can easily overlook some parts and notice them days, or in some cases months, after the completion of the piece.
Creating this image was a fun ride (Fig.30). I enjoy moments where I can spend time creating paleo-themed illustrations and models. I hope this Making Of article gave a better understanding of what it takes to make am illustration like Brothers In Blood II. Until next time, take care and be productive!