Making Of 'Falling Skies'
Hello everybody! My name is Luca Nemolato, and I'm a 21 year old Italian artist, currently working in Los Angeles as a concept artist at the Aaron Sims Company. In this Making Of Falling Skies: Alien Head Designs I will show you the process I used in order to create these concepts I did at the Aaron Sims Company for the second season of the TV show Falling Skies. It was a really fun show to work for, so I really enjoyed designing aliens for it. In this tutorial I will focus on the modeling and texturing process, as this covers most of what I did on this concept.
When creating a concept, the first step for me is to collect some reference pictures from around the web. I don't usually have time to sketch my concept on paper or in Photoshop, so I usually start my concepts directly in ZBrush. In order to be able to do so, I need to collect ideas in my mind while I'm searching my references, and when I have at least the 60% of the design in mind, I start to sculpt.
I always try to take reference from reality, since this will make my works more realistic and believable. My main references for this image were photos of a bat face, that I really used in order to create the creature's weird nose, and, of course, I used human referencse for the overall shapes and anatomy (Fig.01).
I started to sculpt this concept in ZBrush using a base mesh that I'd created for other concepts I'd done for this show. For the sculpting process I usually use just a few brushes such as the Standard, Clay, Claytubes, Move and Dam_Standard brushes. I think that using the least amount of tools you can makes the sculpting process easier, faster and more realistic too, since I like to make my digital sculpting experience close to what I would do with real clay (Fig.02).
I usually build my forms and structure with the Claytubes brush, and I cut into the clay with the Dam_Standard brush, defining the shapes. I pull big forms out with the Move brush and use the Standard brush to detail the small forms, sculpting small details. When I'm satisfied with my shapes and structure, I use the Clay brush to clean the surface of the model and blend some areas in order to obtain a smoother look to the skin (Fig.03).
I always start my texturing process before I create the final surface details, so in this way I'm able to create my surface details while I'm painting the texture map.
First of all I create my UV for this mesh; using UV Master in ZBrush, it is really easy to unfold them. Then I'm ready to paint on the model, using the Standard brush with RGB on and ZAdd off. I use a basic color to fill the model, then I use a dark tone for the areas where the skin is more exposed to the sun, and a light tone on the areas with less exposure to the sun. I use a warm tone on the areas where the skin is thinner and in the more sensible areas, such as nose, inside of the neck, around the eyes and mouth. In the areas like the back and top part of the head, I usually use a desaturated color (Fig.04).
Now using alphas on a Standard brush, with a drag rectangle selection on it and RGB on, I'm able to paint and create the surface details at the same time. This is a really fun process to do (Fig.05).
Now is time to jump into Photoshop where, with the use of photos, I make the texture feel more realistic. I used a photo of an animal skin blended on the texture map with a soft light layer. I used a photo of an animal skin pattern in order to give a pattern to the alien skin and then I used a photo of a tree's roots, blended on the texture map with a soft light layer. In order to understand the forms in Photoshop, I usually export an ambient occlusion map and a cavity map from ZBrush, which I overlay on top of the texture map in order to push the details of the sculpture more, and be able to read the map (Fig.06).
Then I composed my render passes in Photoshop, where the process was pretty fast, since I just had to blend my passes well with different layer blending properties. I usually use a Screen layer for the specular pass and rim light pass, a Soft Light or Multiply for my shadow pass and ambient occlusion pass, and a Soft Light for my texture pass, which I use in order to reinforce the look of my textures and make the details pop out more. Then I use some color correction in order to make the image a little bit more blue (Fig.07).
Since the final goal for this image was for it to be a concept, I couldn't spend time creating the texture for the eyes, so I just used a simple blinn shader for the eyeballs. In Photoshop I was able to blend a photo of a cat's eye on my renders with the use of Soft Light blending mode and some painting, in order to create the eyes for this creature (Fig.08).
Then I created a blank layer on top of everything, blended with Soft Light, where I cleaned light and shadow areas using black and white paint and a standard soft brush. In this way I blended the photo I used for the eyes better and cleaned some parts of the render (Fig.09).
As the final steps, I blurred a photo for the background, created a vignetting and cleaned the edges of the render in order to better blend the creature with the environment. A good trick to use to get this effect is to flatten the image in one layer and create a copy of it, blur it with Gaussian blur and erase the subject of the image. This helps your creature blend well with the environment and also gives more focus to him (Fig.10).
The first image was complete and from it I was able to create a new version of this alien, using just Photoshop in order to copy and paste around parts of the image. I use this technique quite a lot when I have a final image that works and the client asks for concept variations, so I don't have to sculpt again (Fig.11).
I really enjoyed working on all of the concepts that were a little part of the work I've done for this TV show at The Aaron Sims Company. I'm really happy with the result of this images and models. Aliens are always so fun to create. I hope you learned something with this tutorial, and thank you for reading it!
To see more by Luca Nemolato, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 8