Making of 'Fern'
Hi everyone and welcome to the making of "Fern", a 3D artwork created by the CHEVisodes team. CHEVisodes is an episode based CG animated movie featuring Fern as a main character. It's a "for the love of this" type project; we're basically a bunch of friends that really love CG-ing. We're currently working on the animation of CHEVisodes and you can still take a look at our website, www.chevisodes.com, to see some work in progress. We hope that you will enjoy watching the CHEVisodes as much as we enjoyed making them!
Here's a rundown of all the members of the CHEVisodes crew:Â
Patrick Beaulieu - Character Animator, Modelling - www.squeezestudio.comÂ
Jonathan Simard - Character Animator, Modelling - http://pikmin.cgsociety.org
Ã‰ric D. LÃ©garÃ© - Animation TD - www.ericdlegare.comÂ
Daniel Huertas - Character Animator - www.danimating.com
Daniel Boulanger - Concept Artist
Simon Dubuc - Texture Artist
Yves Breton - Sound Designer
Christian Pacaud - Music Composer - www.christianpacaud.comÂ
Ruben Mueller - Cheerleader/Webmaster - www.rubenmueller.deÂ Â
The idea behind "Fern" was really simple. This character is really appealing: Fern has his own personality, expression and attitude. Our goal was to show his personality in just one image. The pose was really important as we wanted to create a nice silhouette, give attitude to the character and show the character's soul (Fig.01). We used complementary colours for the character and background to direct the audience to look at the character.
Before I started modelling any of Fern's head, I wanted to be comfortable with the concept (Fig.02), so the first thing I did was study the character and imagine it in 3D. I had to take a moment like that to be sure that I was aware of all the important shapes in the character's face and to see how the muscles would work together. I often paint on the concept just to see where important lines are (Fig.03).Â It's so important not to rush your work in the modelling phase because, in the end, 3D software is just a tool. If you're not familiar with what you're going to model then there is a good chance you will lose a lot of time, or worse! In this "Making Of", you will be able to follow the progress and development of this image through the pictures. Here I can show you the modelling of Fern's head (Fig.04).
With the initial phase done, I was ready to start modelling. Whenever I start work on a model, I prefer to have a mass that will correspond to the proportion. It's really hard to begin by just extruding edges. So, basically, I started with a simple box with a meshsmooth modifier (iteration 1) that I converted in editable poly and start adding edges, following the model sheet. At this stage, I didn't really care if the model was clean, I just wanted to get the right proportion because while the proportion wasn't going to be final, it gave me an excellent reference to work from. A good tip when you are modelling a head is to add ears at the beginning. It doesn't matter if it's the final ear or an ear from another character, just add a pair of ears as a place holder! This will help you a lot in making your character come alive in front of you right from the beginning, and it will be a lot easier to work on the facial proportions.
So when that was done and I was happy with the shape, I started to focus more on having a clean mesh that follows muscle. It was now time to delete and reconstruct. In this step, I didn't focus on detail, I just added important lines because even if the proportions are correct at first, it's easy to destroy them! So, during the reconstruction stage, I always take care to adjust the proportions every time I'm adding edges so that I won't finish this phase with weird proportions. This character was quite different from those I've done in the past, because a lot of the details were concentrated and squeezed near the nose and eye area. I had to take care to keep the right proportions and deal with lots of poly in this area. But I knew where the important lines were, so I just followed them, as you can see from the progress picture, and I ended up with something I was happy with.
As you can see, the final model of the face in the progress picture is not like Fern's final face (Fig.05). There are lots of differences in the eyebrow and nose sections. On the concept, the eyebrow looks pretty good, but it's not as great on the 3D model, so, I passed the model to Patrick Beaulieu. He had a fresh vision of the head, because he hadn't worked on the face yet. He did a great job reshaping problematic sections and keeping the model as close to the original model as possible. After that we made some minor tweaks and the head was done.
To conclude this modelling section, you should always make sure that the proportions are correct right from the beginning. Cleaning the model is far easier this way, so I kept that for later. Follow the important lines with polygons and this will give your model better proportions, fewer polygons, and it will make for better deformation for animation.
In this section, I will explain the process used for mapping, high resolution sculpting and shader creation that I used for Fern. First of all, I took the model from our modelling team and examined it thoroughly for anything that might hinder the texturing job (uneven polygon density, stretched polys, triangles, etc.). Next, I unwrapped the model using 3ds Max's unwrap modifier for the greater part (Fig.06), and also the handy relax function of UVLayout. After some tests, I decided to use three UV regions: one for the head and arms, one for the eyes and one for the rest of the body. This was because I wanted to keep the parts that would have very different shaders applied to them separate.
With every part properly unwrapped, I exported an OBJ file containing all the body parts as separate elements. I did this to be able to use subtools, a great feature added in the most recent ZBrush release. I then imported the OBJ into ZBrush and used Tool > Polygroups > Auto Groups to give every element a specific group, and then Tool > SubTool > GrpSplit to split them into different subtools. Subtools allow for a much more precise and manageable high-res modelling job because you can subdivide the part you are working on up to ZBrush's allowed maximum for your machine, and then return to subdivision level one to work on another part. With everything ready, I started sculpting the mesh. I suggest starting with the main shapes and using the layer system to add levels of detail. For sculpting, I mainly used ZBrush's default brushes and the stencil tool with photographic alphas. Once I was satisfied with the sculpt, I rendered the displacement map, the normal and cavity map with Zmapper (included with ZBrush), and I exported them back into 3ds Max for the shader job (Fig.07).
For Fern's skin, I used Mental Ray's fast skin shader. It renders fast and gives good results for the sub-surface scattering. I made a diffuse map using photos, and a specular map from that diffuse. The displacement map was used to give detail to the character's silhouette. The eye has a stylised cornea and iris to make it catch light in a realistic way. The iris has a high specular value, and the cornea renders only reflection. A normal map is used on the surface of the eye to make it look wet and imperfect, and to help with the bulge of the cornea. The rest of the body uses standard maps (diffuse, normal, specular, reflection), with a bit of sub-surface scattering for the thinner cloth part (Fig.08 and Fig.09).
About Fern's Rig
The main idea behind this rig was to make it very intuitive for the animators, which is why the visual interface was created (Fig.10 and Fig.11).
Basically, it controls everything on the rig; instead of using sliders, that some animators just can't stand, buttons in the interface handle the IK/FK switching as well as the dynamic linking, and even the selection and the trajectories. Also, what's interesting with this is that it's quite accessible! Making such a visual interface does not require a high level of scripting skills; for example, when I was at school I made my very first visual interface in 3ds Max using only the macro recorder and visual MaxScript. Making those interfaces is fun, so try it for yourself!
Actually, the less complicated but longer step was the skinning. Because of the Deformation Layer (Fig.12) on top of the Control Rig (Fig.13), there were a lot of bones in the skin (Fig.14). I'm showing you the envelopes to show you just how many bones there are inside Fern (although I don't use envelopes to skin characters). For the skinning, I used a technique that I will call "substractive skinning"; for example, I skin every point of the leg to the thigh bone, and then I go on the calf bone to "steal" some weight for the thigh in the knee area, then all of the foot area will be weighted to the calf, and then the same thing goes: the foot will "lend" some weight to the calf. I find this technique to be very good in creating rough skinning (before the painting), or to skin low resolution characters.
This kind of project is a good opportunity to learn how some techniques work and others should be avoided. This will be shown in Dpuppet - a new rig in progress that will be available for free so animators of the world can enjoy some Fern-like animation (the visual interface will be included, too), so stay tuned on www.D-Puppet.com for updates!
The compositing was the simplest part in the creation of this image (Fig.15). We created this character for a webisode. Fern was built to give us the ability to render an animation sequence really quickly, without render passes and without a complicated process - one click, one render. We added some tweaks to the final image, added a background, tried to remove the 3D effects, adjusted the brightness and contrast and added some details. We used the lighting effect tool in Photoshop on the final images to adjust the lighting. This did a good job in boosting the colours, the intensity, and mixing the background with the character.
So, finally, I hope you have appreciated this "Making Of". As you can see, there is lot of work behind this character and our team has worked really hard to create him. It was a great thing for us to make Fern and to see how we can work together, and we're happy to be sharing the final result with you. We hope that you will enjoy this character, too! Please don't hesitate to contact us at Chevisodes.com with questions - it will be a pleasure for us to answer them! I'm entirely at your disposal - if I have the time...
Â www.CHEVisodes.com (Fig.16)