Making Of 'Pirate Hype'
When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was released there was no doubt that the CG character, Davy Jones, was simply stunning. I liked all the sea-life characters in the films, and they inspired me to create my own interpretation - just for fun!
My timeframe was roughly about four to five days (down time at work), so I knew it would be too much for me to create a full character during this time. I decided then to simply render the head out in a "headshot" photograph style.
Like with anything I do, I started out with sketching the concept. This helps me tremendously in the modeling process. Obviously, the work flows a lot faster when you know what you want. I looked up references for fish and sea creatures, sketched out a few designs, and came up with this character (Fig.01).
I started out with a polygon cube and worked my way up to form a head. I imagined a skull underneath his flesh to keep the form nice and solid. Even though my plan was to render him for a still shot, I still wanted to have good topology - it's just good practice and also handy if I need him for some kind of animation in the future (Fig.02).
I built my way up to extra details, like skin folds and creases (Fig.03).
Once I was more comfortable with the head, I built in the fins (Fig.04).
Imperfection is important to make things look more realistic. I added damage to the fins, and to add more character to the model I made his face asymmetrical using the deformer and soft selection. I kept the untouched version as a blend shape, just in case I needed to go back to the symmetrical stage. You would typically do this last, but I was just having fun (Fig.05).
For the three-cornered pirate hat, I simply folded a flat, coin shape geometry three ways and pulled the center part up (Fig.06).
For the eyeball, I had two separate pieces of geometry: one for the iris and choroid (which will be textured); the other for the cornea on top (glossy coat). To keep the eye intact, I added a little membrane piece to the socket as well (Fig.07).
At this stage I'd completed the modeling work, so I moved onto un-wrapping the UVs (Fig.08).
I then exported my .obj out to ZBrush (Mudbox would have also worked) to sculpt aging skin and extra details. I used the references I gathered earlier to guide me in this process. Some of my references were even good enough for me to create high-res brushes. Eventually, I baked out the displacement map and the ambient occlusion/cavity map (Fig.09 - 10).
For reference, to show you how I stack layers in Photoshop, I've created a visual aid for you (Fig.11). Keep in mind that this is a simple diagram and projects can get really complex, depending on what type of texturing you are attempting, but for most scenarios I think this is a good starting point. Be flexible on the layers. Guidelines are not rules!
I like to paint in both 3D and 2D. Photoshop is a powerful painting tool, while 3D painting programs (BodyPaint, ZBrush, Mudbox, etc.) have the advantage of painting across the seams and letting you know exactly where you are painting. I like to go multi-package: I think Mudbox is excellent at painting across seams in real time; BodyPaint can import your .psd files with layers; ZBrush has useful brushes, lets you project 3D textures, and allows you to paint in Photoshop. All software has its own strengths and weaknesses, and you should try to learn all of them.
Once I was done painting, I collected my seamless passes from my 3D software and performed my compositing/color tweaking, and added extra details in 2D. I like to have the untouched colors as the base and then build from there. For the pirate, I added details like veins, spots, and a skin pattern on top, and kept them separate so I could adjust them later. It's a great advantage to keep things organized, especially when creating other passes. For example, I can easily use my "Veins" layer to quickly block-out the Sub Surface Alpha mask (so that the lights will not interact with them). I played a lot with different types of layer channels as well. Sometimes Soft Light worked better for me than Overlay, and so on.
I used Layer Comps (Window > Layer Comps) in Photoshop to help me organize my .psd file. It remembers what Opacity or what kind of layer channel you used. For example, my Diffuse map used the "Skin Pattern" layer at 45% Opacity set to Overlay, whereas my Spec map used the "Skin Pattern" layer at 20% Opacity set to "Multiply". Layer Comps can save this information and you can quickly go back to it - very helpful!
I ended up with Diffuse, Spec, Bump, Displacement, and Sub-Surface control passes, and as I wanted the fins on his face to be transparent, I prepared the Alpha pass for that as well (Fig.12).
It's always good to check your texture maps in a 3D painting program just so you can quickly see what you can expect to see in the final render (Fig.13).
Lighting & Rendering
I went with a basic 3-point lighting setup, trying to make it seem like a flash was coming from the front (a typical head shot for your passport - nothing too fancy). I used the sub-surface scattering shader and plugged all maps in. I also had a sky reflection map plugged in to create that wet, glossy look. The rest was all about tweaking the values.
I posed the character at what I considered to be a cool angle, and hit render (Fig.14).
Compositing and Final Touches
If you're upfront about "cheating", then it's not really cheating, is it? I wanted an illustration completed in a limited amount of time, not a turntable or an animation, so I used a few tricks to maximize the impact of the image:
I painted the texture directly on the hat and bandanna, very much like projection painting or matte painting. I cut out some of the fins, placed them in front, placed them behind, and ran a blur on them to create the depth of field. This way the character looks like he has a body, just not a floating head; it's much more believable like this (Fig.15).
I ran a Noise filter on the image to make it look like an old photograph, and to finish off, I color corrected the image to get the tone and mood I wanted, and there I had myself the Pirates Hype illustration - my fun, little project (Fig.16)!