Making of “Capitan Micio”
Starting a new piece could often be hard, but if you find good inspiration everything will come easily, and your pipeline will become more straightforward. In this specific case my inspiration arrived directly from the great and talented John Nevarez. I'm really in love with marvel world, so to represent Captain America in a feline seemed to be really interesting for me.
Step 1: Block out
This is the step when you need to focus your all on the sculpting job. I don't want to use ZSphere for this piece, but I'd like to try a new approach in order to reach a better shape and a really clean surface.
Step 2: Dynamesh
This time I have experimented with a new style of work in my sculpting pipeline. I started with only a really rough primitive form, using the insert mesh brush directly. In this case Dynamesh is one of the best choices to maintain a good degree of freedom and comfort during your sculpt.
Step 3: ZRemesh
Remeshing is a very important step in your sculpting, because having a good topology means having the best sculpt experience possible. It will also be decisive during the grooming stage. Zremesher is a powerful tool that can help a lot, but you need to stay focused in order to obtain only the wanted loops, avoiding the spirals.
Step 4: Pose
Posing is one of my favorite steps because it's when your character comes to life for the first time, and you can check out your job. Usually for this stage I use Transpose Master and a variety of masks. In that way I can create a pose really quickly, and have the opportunity to take a look at different solutions.
Step 5: UV texturing
When you have a good topology creating good UV is really easy in ZBrush. I create a lot of polygroups to define eyes, mouth, head, nose and so on. This helps a lot with UV master that can use these groups to give more accuracy and cleanliness in your UV set.
Step 6: Map extraction
If sculpting needs half of your time the other half is dedicated to the maps creation. Only with good maps your model will be rendered with ZBrush's look. Usually I use Maya as a hub for all my 3D pieces, and it can't handle a lot of polygons, so your displacement and normal maps are your best friends for details and good shapes.
Step 7: Fur Xgen
When your basic material is ready and your geometry has recovered the original shape from sculpting, it is time for fur. I really love finding and studying fur from nature before starting a job. Your concept is the start, but in order to achieve a good and consistent model, to study good references is fundamental.
Step 8: Shading and lighting
It's time to put all the textures and maps together and create the best shading possible for your piece. Substance Designer and Painter are two awesome tools that have helped to speed up the process. When in Maya I'd like to start with Arnold surface, and to link all the maps created by Substance. Also it's a good habit to put a range node as a bridge among your maps and the shader. That helps you to tune your map's values if possible, to reveal details and really fine speculars.
Starting with a dome could be a good workflow, my first step is to establish an ambient light (HDR has awesome speculars). The second step setup is key; in this specific case I chose an area light to have soft shadows. But this time my rim lights are what makes the difference in order to create an impactful image.
Step 9: AOV
Separate your image into different pieces, so you need to be really carful during this stage especially with Zdepth and idmatte AOV. These two are incredibly powerful for manipulating your final image, and will help you when you need more of a sense of realism.
Step 10: Comp and final image
My final comp is in Nuke. I start by merging all my AOVs just to understand my general image. Then it is time to put some glow and blur nodes in to help with the light's mood. Another really important step is represented in the idmaps, especially in this case when the 'shield' casts a big shadow on the character, and you need to add more light in order to let the pose legible and clean.