Making Of 'Play'

The main inspiration behind "Play" was our living room wallpaper. I have a very similar bear sitting on top of a CD rack in front of the wallpaper, so I thought it would be just a fun little project to model it and play with hair and fur. I also wanted to see how far I could push an image on my own, without a retouching team. I've lost count of the product renderings I've made with a simple white background, so "Play" was a great opportunity to create something quite the opposite. Compositing and post processing are a big part of creating this image, but we'll get to that later.

I had a very clear idea in my head about the atmosphere and mood I wanted to convey to the viewer. I, along with many others, have noticed that if you don't have a clear picture of what you're going to make you can easily waste hours and get nowhere. As this wasn't the case for this piece, the initial modeling, hair setup and textures were done pretty fast. I have to say that at this point I had no idea what I was going to put on the foreground so it was all about the bear at first.

Modeling and texturing was extremely quick. As the scene is simple, only planar mapping was used. The exception to this was the ladybug toy, which I unwrapped and used a VRay blend material with a scratch mask to get a worn effect, along with VrayHDRI on the material's environment slot (Fig.01). I won't go into texturing the objects too much because it really was very basic.

Fig. 01

The wallpaper was a photo taken in our living room and just planar mapped onto a plane. I used a sweep modifier to create the skirting board and the floor was a simple plane with a slight VrayDisplacement to make it look more convincing. 

The bear model itself was low-res and consisted of parts because I knew you wouldn't be able to see the mesh underneath the fur so there was no point in wasting polygons there. I should probably mention that all the wood textures were from Mayang (Fig.02).

Fig. 02

The lighting was also very simple. I used one target spot with VRay shadows and GI turned on and an environment value of 0,3. To bring some variation to the scene and the lighting I added a blurred stripe mask to the Projector Map slot to simulate light coming through blinds. I later rendered it as a separate pass to gain control over the strength of the effect and was quite pleased to see it really added a nice touch to the overall mood (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

At this early stage I usually bring a rough render to Photoshop to check out if the composition is working and to see where to place other elements so there is balance. I had decided to include another element with the bear to have some sort of interaction, but hadn't yet decided what it would be (Fig.04). A second opinion can sometimes come in handy so while pondering on this I asked a friend for critique on the composition etc. and we got thinking about the image as a whole. My friend suggested something red as a contrast to the blueish-cyan color and I thought of a wooden ladybug that the bear had played with and which had broken, giving the bear a reason to be sitting there still, maybe even being a bit disappointed.

Fig. 04

I tend to get a bit carried away with the pre-compositing at this stage, testing what can be made of the early render adjusting curves, color balance etc. It's a good way to see if you're going in the right direction with the image, but can easily double the work if you get too carried away with a low res image. Although adjustment layers are easily copied, save the masking etc. for the high-res images to save time.
Now a few people have asked me about the fur. Because the fur of bears is pretty matte, I turned down the specular and glossiness values really low and also tweaked the Frizz and Kink parameters to get a tousled effect. The Occluded Ambient value had to be cranked up as it gave a softer feel to the hair (Fig.05a & Fig.05b).

Fig. 05a                               Fig. 05b

All the bear parts had their individual Hair & Fur modifiers. The look of the fur doesn't come from one render only, but a good base is a must so you can start building upon it. Now the initial render looks a bit bland doesn't it? It was good enough for the hair base, but the overall image definitely needed a bit of tweaking. This is where render passes and compositing came in (Fig.06).


To make the hair more believable, an ambient pass is a must. Mind you, an ambient occlusion pass works wonders on almost any image. For hair you have two ways to create the pass: either with VRay or mental ray. In VRay you turn all the specular and glossiness values, as well as hue and value variations, off. You keep the occluded Ambient value to around 80-100 and set the root and tip color to white.

Alternatively you can set the root color to from middle grey to black depending on the effect you want. I also made a pass with mental ray by putting an Ambient Occlusion material in the mr Parameters slot. The results differ a lot. VRay gives a softer feeling whereas mental ray really separates the strands of hair and both are very useful when compositing (Fig.07).


Like I said before the separate shadow pass was something that really added to the image mood. I multiplied it underneath the bear and over the floor and the wall. Here are the passes that I feel were the most useful in creating the mood in the image (Fig.08).


The volume light pass, which I created in Photoshop, was a last minute addition as a result of critique. Here's a list of passes that were separately rendered:

  • Masks for everything
  • Base for the fur and environment

  • Cloth patches on the feet to mask overlapping hair
  • Eyes, so I could dig them out from underneath the fur
  • Ambients for the fur and the ladybug
  • A B&W; worn mask of the skirting board composited with a low value of multiply
  • Some reflection on the floor (barely visible)
  • A shadow pass for the lighting
  • The ladybug toy (composited with the ambient to blend in the image)

For the image as a whole I began by applying adjustment layers of Levels, Color Balance and Brightness/Contrast. I had a mask for the fur so it was easy to tweak it separately. I composited the ambients in Photoshop with low values of around 15%, with multiply and even Hard Light duplicating the passes and I experimented until I was happy with the outcome.

I also added a slight gaussian blur and some noise to the fur. I usually render a separate rim or kick light pass, but as fur can take ages to render (especially in high resolution) I chose to screen a copy of the fur pass, make it brighter with curves and mask the parts that didn't need enhancing.

I also tweaked some shadowed areas of the fur by creating a new layer and painted with a very soft brush and multiplied the layer on top of the bear. The compositing process for me was really a matter of experimenting and it was a fun process at that too. I did a lot of tweaking and even some minor painting and as a final touch I added the volume effect in Photoshop. I'm not going to go into too much detail now because otherwise this would turn into a novel, but you can take a peek into the comp here (Fig.09).


Once the image was almost done I tried out some variations on the color scheme (Fig.10). Though the variations may be slight it sealed my decision to follow through with the cyanish image on the bottom left. Now all there was left to do was to pump up the red of the ladybug to create more contrast and to add the volume light pass to add interest to the image (Fig.11).



To sum it all up, I had a great time making this image and it seems like I reached what I was aiming for, judging by the feedback. The hard work (rendering and compositing) took around three days and I then came back to the image on a few evenings to receive some critic and add the ladybug and the finishing touches.

Thanks for reading and I hope this was of some use to you! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me.

Final Image

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