Making of “Lava Monster”
José Augusto Rodríguez Sepúlveda takes us through the making of his Guillermo Ramirez-inspired 3D print and artwork piece "Lava Monster" using ZBrush and Photoshop...
My friend Guillermo Ramirez made this cool character design, and one day he told me that he would like to have this funny character on his desktop, and certainly me too, of course! When I made the 3D version it seemed so funny that I decided to make an image with it. In the original design the character does not have many difficult details, so I have used simple processes to make everything as simple as possible. I love this kind of project; I usually do more elaborate projects but doing something simple and pretty is just as fun and exciting.
Step 1: Choosing the design
Beginning with a good design is the most important thing. You can have awesome sculpting skills but if the design is bad the final result could be bad as well. I always choose concepts with common things, a clear silhouette and a good style (to me) and with a history behind it. For my image "Lava Monster" this step was very easy, my friend Guillermo Ramirez is a great character designer and when I saw this design in his portfolio it was like "Here you are, just what I'm looking for!"
You can see his works here
Step 2: Creating the base
It's important to work from the beginning with the correct proportions and general volumes. To create the base I use the concept as a background in ZBrush and then I use simple objects like spheres or similar to find the principal shape. At this point it is important to achieve the same point of view, therefore, the 3D model and the concept should be in the same position and orientation. When I have my base in the same position in ZBrush, I always save the view using Texture/Image plane to keep the same view during all the process.
Step 3: Adding details
Before adding details you need to study a bit how you want the final version, (more realistic, more cartoon, maybe a mix), you can use photo references, videos, concepts, and so on. For this character I had several drawings in different poses and expressions; this is great to understand better how the model is.
In ZBrush it is easy to add details, but you need to be organized using several SubTools to work each element by separating and merging only for the end process, using extract from masks to create things like the craters and little rocks on his back, and use the layers.
Step 4: Texturing
I created the textures directly in ZBrush with Polypaint. This process is very similar to painting a miniature. In this step the most important thing is to find a good color base, using the concept this is easy. Step by step, I started with flat colors using the standard brush, then with the same brush but changing the mask from dots to spray you can add a color variation, (this effect is more organic) and then you can simulate the lights and shadows. The last step in this image was adding effects like dust and lava glow effect.
Step 5: Shading
I worked with a few materials for this scene: Skinshade for the skin (with a bit of wax effect, 40 %), basic material for the floor, toy plastic and reflection map for the eyes and teeth. At the end I used a Matcap with the Wax strength to 100 for the lava. At the same time I used several materials more applied to the full model to use in the composition process. The eyes have two geometries, one with the eye color (with Skinshade) and the other with reflections (with the Opacity at 30%).
Step 6: Lighting
In this case the lava is the most important lighting point, so for this part of the process I used a soft principal light to create the first volumes. I created an orange/red ambience, and other more intense lights like the lava (perfect to draw a little contour at the front). Then I created other lights to improve the ambience effect, and one more for the back to see the shape better. This is one of the most typical compositions, with orange light on one side and blue on the opposite (this always works).
Step 7: Render passes
I exported several maps like BPR Color, Flatten Color, Depth, Ambient Occlusion, and so on. I made the character to create a 3D print, but finally I decided to do this as an image too. I normally apply one material to each object but to do that fast I applied all those materials to all objects in the scene. It's a bit strange because you have renders with everything with the same material, but in Photoshop you can create a mask to apply an effect where you need it, and at the same time choose different opacities for each part.
Step 8: Photoshop composition
Until now all the render passes were separate and not good enough. I started with the base color renders and then I used the shadow pass in Multiply to add the shadows. After that, I added several lighting passes to add volume to the model (sometimes it is good to try and change the lighting color, maybe you can find a better effect). Using others lighting passes, you can add a rim light to show the silhouette better. In this case I used a red light on the front (lava lighting) and blue for his back (moonlight).
Step 9: Final image
Sometimes several passes is needed to achieve a great result, but I used some effects to improve the final result. I used the Depth map to create some depth in the scene, then I added a bit of chromatic aberration in some points of the image. To wrap it up, the last touch was to add a bit of High Pass filter to refine some areas.
Step 10: 3D printing
It's great when you finish an image, but it's better when you can see your character sitting on your desk. To create the print file it is important to know the material you want, the size, if you want your model in one piece or in several, and so on. In this case I used SLS print material in one piece, so I had to create a single Dynamesh with the full body (be careful with the thickness) and then when I saw the geometry was okay, it was time to use the Decimation Master to optimize the file and send to print.