Making of 'Little Dragon'
Hello everybody! My name is Vlad Konstantinov. I am a freelance artist from Russia and my main specialization is 3D characters. My portfolio you can find here: http://swordlord.cgsociety.org/gallery/
I'd like to tell you about the making of my picture "Little Dragon". In this article I'll touch upon all the stages of the working process, from modeling to post-production. I hope that the information which I'm going to share will be useful for you.
First of all I must mention that the original design of the dragon belongs to the great artist P.J. Lynch: http://www.pjlynchgallery.com/
Below you can see the initial images which I used as references during the creation of my model (Fig.01).
In the end I was able to get nice cartoon render. But if you want to know about the mysteries of shading and rendering, I will disappoint you because the final image is the result of editing and rendering in Photoshop, which will be described later in this article later.
I used the second image of the dragon walking along the path for the beginning of the modeling. It was very difficult to use such a small resolution image to model over and that's why I drew the rough contour sketch in Fig.02.
You can scare naughty children with such sketch, and I hope that my potential clients will never see it! But actually I didn't need a more detailed draft - I only marked the basic shapes and proportions for myself. Besides, as you can see in the sketch, I put the dragon in a rest pose to lighten the modeling process.
I used 3ds Max and the ordinary polygonal technique to make the model. Some artists like to create their models inside ZBrush or Mudbox and to make the retopology in future, but I almost always model my characters because the clean topology gives me good control when I'm sculpting. Moreover I try to allow for the possibilities of further animation in such a polygonal wireframe. In Fig.03 you can see the finished dragon's head and the way that I used the contour sketch.
During the work I did not follow my contour sketch too strongly. I tried out different variants and changed the proportions (Fig.04).
The finished model can be seen in Fig.05. After this point I could start to create the UV and details.
For UV I usually use the application called Unfold3D. It's a useful and very simple program. You can see the final texture coordinates here (Fig.06).
Creating the details is my favorite process among all the stages of character modeling and ZBrush is the ideal assistant for it. It's a real pleasure to see how your model comes to life. Usually I divide the sculpting into three phases. First of all I work on the base groups of muscles and on the main shapes, increasing the subdivs gradually. Next I start to sculpt some medium-sized details, such as the folds of skin for example. And finally I added the smallest minutiae (wrinkles, scales etc) using lots of different Alpha brushes to save tons of time (Fig.07). For the dragon I used brushes which were uploaded to the internet by the talented artist Damir G Martin. You can find them here: http://www.zbrushcentral.com/showthread.php?t=114935
After sculpting I had to transfer all the high resolution details from ZBrush to 3ds Max. Usually I do this with the help of a Displacement map and Normal bump. I chose V-Ray for the rendering of my dragon. ZBrush can generate perfect Relief maps and Vray is able to process them excellently (Fig.08).
There is nothing special about the settings I used (Fig.09).
In the next step I drew the texture. I painted the model directly in ZBrush with a Standard brush and without any tricks or complicated settings. The final texture was edited in Photoshop to add some shadows and small details. Periodically I saved the stages of work and rendered them in 3ds Max to give me a more obvious concept about the appearance of the dragon's skin color for the future. You can see the process of painting in Fig.10. I have to apologize for the black background, but these are the old WIP-pictures which I saved for my own workflow, and I didn't think that I would write the article about this model! You may notice some blue glow on the dragon's back in the last render. I made it with a Falloff map to imitate the sky light and different reflexes.
The finished texture is shown in Fig.11.
When all the textures were ready, I could make the necessary pose for my model. I didn't spend time on the rig because I knew I was only going to create two images with the dragon and didn't need to make an animation. For posing I again used ZBrush (Fig.12 - 13).
Now it's time to tell you about the final render. I will talk about only one image because for the second one I used the same principles.
Primarily I had to choose suitable lighting to give the picture the necessary mood. I divided this phase into three stages:
- Selecting the light sources and placing them in the scene to get the required level of lighting and shapes of shadows.
- Switching on the GI and tuning the rendering settings
- Choosing a fitting HDR map.
All these steps were made with a simple gray material on the models. Finally I got the result shown in Fig.14.
After that I was ready to work with the material of the dragon's skin in my scene. It was necessary to get the final renders as soon as possible and that's why I decided not to spend time making complicated shaders and planned to get the necessary results with the help of the post-production process. The only important thing in the material was the specular parameter. In the end I was satisfied with the following settings (Fig.15).
The material for the eyes is a simple VrayMtl with faint reflection, glitter and texture painted in Photoshop.
When I'd finished all the materials I had to fix my rendering settings and the parameters of the light sources a little. The final rendering of the dragon in 3ds Max is demonstrated here (Fig.16).
You may notice that it's a rough and unpleasant render, but the most important things for me are there - a cleanness and the absence of strong highlights and deep shadows. The lighting system and rendering setup are shown in Fig.17 - 19.
The final render was saved like a TIFF with the alpha channel. Besides this I created some additional layers such as VRayDiffuseFilter, VRaySpecular and VRayAlpha, which I planned to use for post-production.
All further work was done in Photoshop. First of all I drew a simple background and tuned the brightness and the hue of my dragon (Fig.20).
I then marked some areas on the character with the mask and made them darker. I then added the shadows on the neck. I also used the Burn tool for some parts (Fig.21).
In the same way I added the spotlit zones on the model to underscore the back lighting (Fig.22).
The next step was the most important because it let me liven up the dragon. I created the layer with Multiply mode and drew some small details like scales and wrinkles there. Also I rotated the eye a little because its initial direction didn't look so good (Fig.23).
The other important step was adding the glitter. Firstly I put my rendered VRaySpecular pass in the file with Screen mode. After that I created another layer and painted some areas of the scales with white to make the reflection stronger (Fig.24).
Next I added a little more detail to the face of my dragon and shadows from the eyelid to his eyes (Fig.25).
I was happy with the appearance of my character, but the spikes on his back looked too plastic. That's why I created a new layer and, painting with a simple brush, I smoothed the relief of the comb to make him look soft. Further I selected the spikes and duplicated them to a new layer with Hard Light mode and a big value of opacity. It helped me to simulate the SSS effect. After that I created another layer with Screen mode and painted the glare on the dragon's comb with white (Fig.26).
At this stage I decided that I liked the style of my character and I started to work with the background. Mixing a few blurred photos and using color correction I got a nice environment which was suitable for my dragon, camera angle and mood of the scene (Fig.27).
After that I had to composite the character and background. It was enough to make the sky glow for that. I duplicated all the layers, merged them into a new one with Screen mode, added a strong contrast to this resulting layer and blurred it. Next, with the simple Eraser tool and opacity parameter, I tuned the glow effect (Fig.28).
And that's all! Later I finished off the second image in the same way (Fig.29).
Finally I'd like to say that the method that I described is not ideal and has some weaknesses. But it allowed me to get a nice render that matched with the author's original idea in a short amount of time. And I often use such a method in my job.
I hope that this article was interesting and useful for you, and that you could find something new here. If you want, you can ask me about any steps of this making of and I'll answer you on the 3DTotal forum. Thanks for reading!
To see more by Vlad Konstantinov, check out Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection