Making Of 'Metamorphosis'
My approach to concepting and executing personal work is very loose and open to change, as opposed to my approach when doing work that is designed by someone else and requires mostly technical knowledge just for execution. Therefore the idea sometimes changes completely and sometimes evolves during the progress (Fig.01).
For this character I started with the idea of mind control; the crippling effect of not thinking for oneself and becoming dependent on others to think for you. I started off with a character bound by a straight jacket and a typewriter keyboard shoved in his mouth. This was back in 2011, and I took this idea almost through to the finish by creating an environment for the character and even doing textures and making renders (you can see it on my website: www.ocularite.com). But, there was a lack of impact in the image and later I felt maybe the environment was actually taking away from the in-your-face look I was trying to capture. So, I decided to get rid of the environment and integrate the typewriter into the anatomy of the character, as if he has grown up with it and adapted to it. In the meantime I was looking at a lot of sculpture busts from great artists such as Jordu Schell and Aris Kolokontes, and works by fine artists such as Olivier de Sagazan and Gottfried Helnwein (Fig.02).
I really liked the simplicity of their presentation, which directs the attention onto the character and all the interesting things that are going on in the character itself. Since I wanted the final image to instantly grab the viewer's attention and make them think about the concept for a moment, I decided to get rid of the environment and turn the attention strictly to the character.
In sculpting I try to pay close attention to the flow of forms, shadows and highlight, wrinkles and creases in the sculpt because that is what makes the sculpt visually interesting and coherent. Some excellent examples of this can be seen in the works of Chet Zar. Looking at his designs is a very good way to study how forms can complement each other to make a visually appealing whole. You can see in Fig.03 how the forms I have used are influenced by his paintings.
My process is usually to start off with an idea in my head, sitting in front of ZBrush and starting with Zspheres or, in later versions of ZBrush, DynaMesh. I rough out a sculpt to see if the idea could look good outside my head. If I find that it is worth going to the effort of finishing the sculpt, I do one of the following:
1. I continue in ZBrush and later, when the sculpt is halfway through the details, (I don't go into fine details at this stage), I decimate it using Decimation Master and export it as an OBJ to Topogun where I use it as reference mesh and start to retopologize. After I am done, the mesh gets subdivided in Topogun to level 3 or 4 (depending on the amount of detail I have) and is exported as an OBJ and imported again in ZBrush. Then I hit the Reconstruct Subdiv button three or four times, which takes me back to level 1 of the retopologized mesh.
2. I make two orthographic images of the front and side and use them as image planes in Maya to create a reasonable base mesh in terms of topology. Then I take that base mesh back to ZBrush and continue sculpting.
For this character I used the first method. I started with a sphere and converted that to a dynamesh. Using mostly the ClayBuildup, Inflate, Standard and Ryan Kittleson's Crease brushes, the character was shaped with around 1.5 million polygons. If you export that finished model with 1.5 million polygons as an OBJ to use as a reference in Topogun, your system will get really slow (mine does at least) and nothing is more counter-productive than a slow running machine. That is where Decimation Master comes in handy. I reduced the polycount from 1.5 million to around 300k using Decimation Master and exported that to Topogun where I did the retopology (Fig.04).
The typewriter parts were all created in Maya using primitive shapes and simple tools such as Extrude and Insert Edgeloops, and by moving and resizing, and scaling faces, edges and vertices. For some parts I had to create a CV Curve and used it as a path to extrude faces.
The next step was to create the UV maps. For the typewriter parts, UV mapping was done in Maya and for the character I used ZBrush's UV Master to give me something fast to start with. I also did some tweaks in Maya to make a more efficient UV map, especially in areas such as holes in the face (eyes and nostrils) or ears. Selecting UV points and using the Unfold and Relax tools repeatedly in varying degrees helped a lot (Fig.05 - 06).
For the typewriter texture, I only used Photoshop, and some images I found of grunge textures on the internet, along with some images I'd taken of an old typewriter I found in a flea market using my cell phone camera (Fig.07).
The idea behind doing textures in Photoshop is to add layer over layer of different textures and use Photoshop layer blending modes to mix and match these different layers. The layer blending modes I end up using most are: Multiply, Screen, Soft Light and Color Burn. Changing the contrast and brightness of the images that you use as your texture layers is also very important to get decent results, so don't forget that Curves and levels adjustments in Photoshop are your friends (Fig.08).
For the character, I hand-painted the texture in ZBrush using a method I learned from Scott Spencer in his book ZBrush Character Creation. The idea is to add layer upon layer of different color tones to get a skin-like polypaint. For areas where the bone is close to skin, use more yellow and white colors; for areas that do not have bones, such as ears and nostrils, use more red tints, and for areas where there are veins under the skin do a pass of blue and then red on top (Fig.09).
The best brush to use for this method is the Standard brush with one of ZBrush's default alphas (alpha 07) and Spray Stroke with Zintensity set to 0 and RGB intensity set to low values (5 - 20 more or less)(Fig.10).
After polypainting was done, a new texture was created from the polypaint and exported to Photoshop. I also exported the Normal map in a file, turned it to black and white in Photoshop, put it on top of the texture, blended it using Multiply blending mode, and knocked the opacity down. This makes the details such as wrinkles more emphasized. You could also mask by cavity in ZBrush and create another pass (Cavity map) to put on top of your texture. This gives you control over how strong your cavities will look in the final render. For the Specular map, all I did was turn the Normal map black and white and then, using a brush, painted different values of gray on a layer on top of it in Photoshop. The brighter the gray shade in the Specular map, the more shine you see in the corresponding areas in the render (Fig.11).
As for the shaders, I used the misss_fast_skin_maya shader for my character and a Blinn with two Bump maps for the typewriter. Some people create separate maps for epidermal, subdermal and back scatter colors and I will try that next time, but for this character I used the same texture map for diffuse color, epidermal and subdermal scatter colors and used a plain red color for the backscatter (Fig.12).
For the bump I used the Normal map exported from ZBrush and added another procedural noise bump for skin pores. The shader on the typewriter is a blinn shader with a color texture map and two bump maps; one bump is to make the rusty areas look a bit deeper and one is a fractal noise to give the surface an uneven look.
For lighting I used the key, fill, back light method. My key light is a spotlight with a yellow tint, Quadratic Decay and Raytrace shadows. Using the Quadratic Decay option for spotlights gives very lifelike results, but you have to crank the intensity way up - mine had a value of 2500. For Raytrace shadow settings, after playing around with the sliders, I usually reach something that usually gives interesting results in almost everything I render and the values are:
• Light Radius: 10
• Shadow Rays: 30
• Ray Depth Limit: 3
For the fill lights I used two directional lights with blue tint in two different directions, but no shadows. One of them only has Emit Diffuse turned on and the other emits both Diffuse and Specular. These two lights provide a subtle fill light and have real low intensity values (0.1 and 0.2). There is also one bounce light in the scene that imitates the light that is bounced from the floor. Again the intensity is low (0.1) and it only affects diffuse and not specular and has a blue tint. There were no shadows here.
The back (rim) light is again a directional light with no shadows and intensity of 0.1 that emits both diffuse and specular. This light was also blue since the backdrop I was planning to put this character in had a light blue tint (Fig.13).
Rendering and Post
For the final render I did not do any render passes such as Reflection, Specular, Ambient Occlusion - I only used a Master Beauty pass. For the environment I took some pictures in a photography studio of a setup I had done for this image; a very simple setup consisting of a white cloth and a chair. Then I used the best parts of the photos I had taken to put together a really simple backdrop. In Fig.14 you can see a different render.
And here's the final image (Fig.15).
I hope you found this tutorial helpful. I want to thank 3DTotal for giving me the opportunity to share this image and the Making Of tutorial with you, and also for featuring this image in the August issue of 3DCreative magazine.