Making Of 'May Gift'
This image was created as a cover for a friend's magazine. The only guidelines I received from them was the phrase "Mother's Day" and the fact that it was the magazine's first anniversary; aside from that, they gave me complete creative freedom for the final image. Since it was a variety magazine and has a diverse range of readers, I wanted to create something that was appealing to men and women of different ages. I used birth as the main theme, which suited the given guidelines. I wanted a tender and peaceful image, so I went for a stylized pregnant female character in a fetal position, resembling a baby inside the womb, all in a cozy but ambiguous environment. I complemented that with flowing hair and clothes, so that it could be interpreted as if she is floating in water, the sky or outer space. After a quick and dirty sketch I was ready to move on to the 3D phase (Fig.01 - 02).
Modeling and Sculpting
I modeled a basic cartoony head in Maya and due to some time constraints I had to reuse a body base mesh from an old unfinished project (Fig.03). I did a very basic unwrap of the base mesh using the UV tools in Maya. Mudbox has awesome and very intuitive posing tools, but for this particular project, I felt more comfortable posing the character inside Maya, so I created a basic skeleton and did some quick skinning. I didn't care that much about joint weighting at this point because most of that was going to be fixed when sculpting so I exported the posed OBJ along with some clothes extracted from the body to Mudbox (Fig.04).
The first thing to do inside Mudbox was to define the topological axis to be able to sculpt with symmetry. From the beginning I knew I wanted a soft clay-sculpture look in the final image so almost all the sculpting was done using the Wax tool, while smoothing it constantly to clean rough areas. I started sculpting the mesh with two subdivisions, which was enough to define proportions and the basic face details. For areas like ears, nostrils and nails I had to subdivide the mesh up to level five to get nice smooth details, since I needed the final output render resolution pretty high and wanted to prevent any visible faceting on the final render (Fig.05 - 06).
The clothes and folds were sculpted using the standard Sculpt brush, using two different settings in the falloff with the steady stroke turned on (Fig.07 - 08). The additional pieces of the dress on the character's legs were created in Maya, mixing a couple of solutions. First I used nCloth simulation. I created a wide plane with enough divisions to get some nice folds and I used a copy of the posed character to work as a collider (Fig.09). Of course the result after a few simulations wasn't going to be exactly what I wanted in the final composition, so I picked a couple of "frames" of the deformed plane and did the final tweaking and extra folds inside Mudbox, using the Grab brush and the same brush I used for the rest of the clothing (Fig.10).
At this point I had blocked the final camera angle inside Maya, so it was easier for me to work with the shape of the cloth and to get a nice flow and composition with the rest of the objects in Mudbox. It was the same process for the hair, which I created in Maya by drawing some guide curves. This is very basic but again, I was trying to integrate them with good aesthetics into the scene. I extruded some cubes along the curves to get a solid base mesh to sculpt in Mudbox. The tool I used to sculpt the hair was a thin Wax brush with Steady Stroke turned on (Fig.11 - 13).
Texturing the model was pretty simple and it was done in Mudbox. I started baking an occlusion map for each object. For the body I used the map to get some color variation in the skin then I painted the eyebrows, lips and eyelids (Fig.14). As for the cloth I used a tiled texture with a subtle floral pattern, previously flattening the object to UV space which is a real time-saver when painting with tiled textures (Fig.15). I did some tests using a painted hair texture, but the result was a bit noisy for my taste. It didn't look bad, but it was taking too much attention away from the main character and her belly, which was the main focus point. So in the end I went for a flat color. As for colors I chose a pink and blue palette; not only does it resemble the girl and boy colors we are all used to, but also the purple tones I obtained with both colors were great for the quiet atmosphere I was looking for (Fig.16).
Lighting and Shading
I had to decimate the amount of polygons to render inside Maya. It wasn't that much and since the final sculpture didn't have fine details all the main shapes and details were retained. The main focus of the whole image was the girl's belly, so the first light I used was a Spot light pointing from the upper left corner. I gave it a big radius and penumbra to get soft raytraced shadows and a nice falloff respectively (Fig.17). I complemented the light setup with a few more lights, one front Area light with a low value to get all the main volumes of the character and another one as back light to enhance the silhouette (Fig.18). The last light was a Point light right over the belly to get more light bounce to the face, which wasn't enough with my indirect light settings. It also simulates the light emanating from the belly (Fig.19). All lights used a quadratic decay and raytraced shadows (Fig.20). For the skin I used the misss_fast_skin material. I had to create some extra control maps for the scattering layers as well as for the specularity and reflection. The clothes use an anisotropic material and the rest of the materials were all created using a Blinn shader (Fig.21). I rendered the final image at 4000 x 6400 px using mental ray with Final Gather.
The environment was created in Photoshop. I started with some colorized clouds and used the same pattern on the clothes as the pattern in the background. I added the main lighting from above by painting it in with white and using a bit if blur over the strokes (Fig.22 - 23). I rendered a depth pass to create a very subtle lens blur, nothing too extreme but it made a big difference when appreciated at full resolution. As final touches I added some sparks, dust, bubbles and some fog textures to complete the ambiguous environment I was looking for. All the 2D elements used the depth pass as a mask for better integration with the 3D render (Fig.24 - 25). Finally I did some little adjustments to the saturation and color (Fig.26).
Even with the tight deadline, this was a fun and relaxing project. I worked on it for two nights, and although I cut some corners here and there, I never sacrifice important things like the nature of the character, light and composition.
Thanks again to 3DTotal for the support and for giving me a small space to share my process with you, thanks for reading!