Making Of 'Ebenezer Scrooge Finds a Cap'
At the beginning there was a clear and simple idea: a vulture, dark and dusty. Step-by-step I imagined the shape in my mind and began to recognize a character that I knew from childhood: Ebenezer Scrooge. I could see him like a vulture and then... I could draw him!
" ...But Scrooge was a tight-fisted, squeezing, wrenching. clutching, grasping old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, he was, and as secretive and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue. and when he spoke it was with a harsh, grating voice..." - A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
The tale of A Christmas Carol has always fascinated me, as I have always been captivated by its character main: the dark, stingy and hunchbacked Scrooge. Who could represent him better than a vulture? And so that was my choice!
I wanted to create a funny scene that could affect the viewer. Not wanting to be a dramatic or scary scene, I thought about a situation unrelated to the plot and the historical period of the story. What would the expression of Ebenezer be if he found a bottle cap among his beloved shillings? Well, I hope I have found that expression (Fig.01)! The work lasted about a month, during the Christmas season (perhaps this is what prompted me to create it). I concentrated on design and references for the first ten days, modeling and texturing for the next ten, and then lighting and compositing for the remaining time.
Design & References
Fortunately, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has been well-represented in film, TV and illustration, with well-defined physical characteristics, so finding references was very easy (Fig.02). In classical references Ebenezer Scrooge is a thin, hunchbacked figure, with thin lips and a hooked nose, the inevitable top hat, an old black coat, and then glasses or eyeglass.
I think good references are essential for a good job. Our mind can take us so far, but having good references helps a lot in choosing the design and the thoroughness of detail.
After collecting my reference material, I started to draw some sketches of my character. I always start with simple shapes and, gradually, I create the details. I drew the character starting from the face, trying different expressions, until I found one I liked. Each face has its own body and the characteristics that describe its history. Customizing a good character is to be already half done.
Modeling & Texturing
I started Scrooge in the same way I started the sketch: from the head. I started with a simple shape in Maya that looked like the head of a bird, not worrying about a clean mesh. I imported the model into ZBrush and I started to carve an early version of Ebenezer Scrooge, constantly changing the design until I was really pleased (Fig.03).
Then I tested several facial expressions to find the right one. Having decided on the design, I started modeling the mesh by creating edge loops to follow the anatomy of the bird (Fig.04). Even when I do a still mesh, I always prefer to model the mesh as if it were to be animated; it is always a good exercise.
Retopology finished, I started sculpting wrinkles and other details and I created a displacement map for details of the head (Fig.05).
Then I imported everything into Maya. I did the texturing with the aid of polypaint in ZBrush and Photoshop (Fig.06).
I chose these textures to help set the historical period in which the story takes place.
An important decision was the choice for the background of the window: I tried a dozen before deciding what the most suitable one was (Fig.07).
Lighting & Rendering
An important phase in the development of the character was the feathers. I tried various methods to create these, analyzing the pros and cons. In the end I used a system of instances through Shave and Haircut. I created different systems of hairs with their respective instances, depending on the length of the feather. First of all I brushed a version of hairs and then I converted them as an instance of a simple mesh. I wrote my own shader to simulate the feathers. The long feathers, designed as hands, are a shaped mesh.
Working mostly as a Look Developer, I tend to avoid the three-point lighting setup. I prefer, instead, to create different lighting points, helped a lot by the openGL viewport. I decided to render without Global Illumination or Final Gathering, using direct lighting only. A clever arrangement of lights highlighted the various important points of the scene, giving importance to certain objects that tell the story of the character and the character itself.
I used a Spotlight converted into a mental ray Area light for the main light of the window and many spotlights for the rest of the scene. The exclusive use of direct lighting made it possible to have a faster render time, only a few minutes per pass. I like rendering in many render layers so I have more control when compositing. I divided my render layers into six different steps: background, clothes, vulture, feathers, desk and items. Each render layer was divided into 8 - 10 render passes, broken down lights, for a total of about 70-80 render layers (Fig.08).
The compositing and the color correction was done in Nuke and After Effects (Fig.09 - 10).
Working on this character was really interesting, I love finding solutions and overcoming challenges in a project. I always try to create an atmosphere and convey emotions in my designs. I love the cartoon style with a bit of realism in the lights. I am pretty happy with the final image, but, like all artists, whenever I see the picture I think I could change this or that! I hope that my work has been interesting for you and that it can help in the creation of your work. I thank 3DTotal for giving me the opportunity to write this little article: it was a real pleasure and I hope to work with you again.