Making Of 'Neo Renaissance Girl'
Before I started working on this image I studied thousands of fashion photos to get the right pose and lighting for my character. I also looked at some Renaissance paintings to better understand the fashion of that era - this information was particularly important for the character's hat.
My original idea was to create a kind of vintage, classic, painterly portrait. I tried to apply a classic painterly effect to the whole image, to enhance the fine art feel, through the post-production work done in Photoshop; lighting adjustments, color correction, and the addition of some objects, such as the choker with a cross and the earrings.
I created the original character a while ago (Fig.01). I decided to use her again for this new concept, improving on the original by changing her clothing, hairstyle, and giving her a hat. The first version was too empty, too simple, but I saw something of God's light in it that I loved and wanted to take forwards into another project. I think it's her face and her sparkling eyes that made me want to keep the character and use it again.
As you can see from the final image I haven't used too many colors or different materials for her clothes - there were just four materials used to clothe her (not counting the jewelry).
I'll start things off by giving you a detailed description about the head of the character. I created the whole head in a traditional way: using two reference photos for the front and side view of a female head, modeling only half the head (and body) and mirroring it across to the other side, attaching the two halves using the Join tool in Blender. I then divided the whole model - including the body - into different parts to unwrap for the UV map (Fig.02).
I divided the whole model into face, limbs, torso, ears, top eyelashes, eye (bottom), nails, and lips. I used different materials for different body parts; the torso, limbs, and face were given the same materials with different textures - multiple materials on each object - and the lips were just another material, just like the eyelashes, the bottom of the eye, and the nails.
Setting the skin material was actually very exciting! Basically, I used SSS (Sub-Surface Scattering) with three to four textures: color, bump and specular textures. I mixed these textures with a gradient ramp, from dark red to light red, which enhanced the flesh effect of the material. I set the gradient ramp Input setting to Result, and Method to Overlay (Fig.03). Most Blender artists use too much of the SSS effect, which can cause the skin material to look more like wax than skin. Another good way to achieve good results is by using nodes, but I personally don't like using them.
I created the eyelashes from a simple plane object containing an alpha texture. When I set the material of the eyelashes I turned off its casting and receiving shadows option, as in this case these settings weren't necessary (Fig.04). This technique is used with Poser characters; I believe it is worthwhile studying Poser characters as you can learn a lot from them to create your own.
Creating eyes for a character model is one of the simplest things. Eyes are simply two modified spheres which contain one material with two properties. For this character I used a simple Z transparent material with a little reflection, and high and hard specularity for the cornea. The iris and the white of the eye were just a color texture and a bump map texture.
Creating clothes for a character is always a huge challenge. Well created, detailed clothing is half of the success of a character portrait!
Most artists use ZBrush to create wrinkles - sometimes I do, too, but in this instance I chose the model them. I'm not saying that my technique is excellent, but it works for me. In some cases I also add a tangent normal map texture to enhance the wrinkled effect on the materials, but not in this project.
My modeling technique for this character piece was as follows (Fig.05):
I modeled a simple jacket along the body's surface. I don't like to cut off body parts which will be covered with clothes and transform and use them as a coat, because it's much easier to create a new object. When you cut them off, the edges of the mesh are not always good enough to create proper wrinkles from. Most artists don't like triangular polygons in their models, but I find that there are certain cases when these polygons can enhance a wrinkled effect - they add a more realistic appearance.
I divided the coat and hat into different parts with different materials, using multiple materials on each object (Fig.06). I unwrapped the different parts to create the UV maps. I didn't use just one large baked/drawn texture map for the coat and hat; rather, I used small 512 by 512 pixel sized tileable color and bump textures. I set the repeats between 25 and 30 and the map's Input to UV/Flat. This way it was much easier to set the right size of the weave of the fabric. In a close-up view the weave is much more visible and clearer, so the weave needs to follow the wrinkles to make the clothing much more realistic-looking.
The last step was to give a slight shine to some of the fabrics, for example on the edges. I did this with integrated textures - the Blend option - by selecting the sphere blend and setting its map Input to Reflection. This method uses reflection vectors as the coordinates of the texture.
As the first step for the hair creation process I searched the internet for a simple, not too complex hairstyle/shape which would fit in with the Renaissance age. I decided upon a mid-length straight hairstyle.
My personal opinion about creating hair in Blender is that it's not yet a well resolved problem when compared with Cinema 4D or Maya, so for this reason I chose to use Nurbs to create the hair for my character (Fig.07). I hope this option will be improved in the next version of Blender. But for now, I can make hair in Blender by creating Nurbs strands around the head of the model, converting them into Mesh, and then unwrapping them for the UV map. With this character I added a color and mask textures to the strands (Fig.08). In other cases I would probably use Cinema 4D to create hair and convert it into Blender, but in this instance I chose the hard way.
Rigging & Posing
This is one of the best properties of Blender! There are some easy and logical ways to rig a model in Blender, but for this character I mixed the weight paint and weighting vertex group options. With the original character (see Fig.01) I tried to find a pose which expressed faith/hope in a better future (which is why I titled the image, "Believer"). I wanted to use the same pose again, to convey the same sense of hope and belief in the character (Fig.09 - 10). I've also seen something similar in an old Superman comic, where he's stood on a skyscraper and looking out into the horizon.
Lights serve to make the details visible and to give atmosphere to the image. For this portrait I used four point target spotlights, plus Ambient Occlusion. Only one light - the main light - casts shadows; I set its color to light yellow. The other lights were given medium and light blue colors. For the shadow I set shadow maps to dark blue and blurred them. I find that Ambient Occlusion plus three to four lights can produce a nice, realistic effect when working in Blender (Fig.11).
Of course, post-production work was done in Photoshop for this piece, the same as most other artists do. I rendered the character with an alpha mask so I could easily match the background behind the character in Photoshop.
The background was a premade hand painted image (by me) which was set behind the character. The last step in the post-production phase was to give homogenized lighting to the whole image. For this I used the gradient ramp option, giving the main atmosphere to the image, choosing to work with warm colors, as can be seen in the final image (Fig.12).
And that's about all I can write about this image. I hope you've enjoyed this insight into how Blender was used to create my Neo-Renaissance Girl. Thanks for reading!