Making of 'Reproductor'
*Warning: Contains Male Frontal Nudity*
The purpose of this personal project was meant to bring life to a highly disturbing creature, something frightening but that could also catch the viewer's wonder at the same time with all its detail. My goal was to divide the viewer's attention between two different key points:
- The uniqueness of the design
- The grotesque and singular natural features that he carries, eventually shocking the viewer's eyes
This project has been a great challenge for me, and I tried my very best throughout in order to achieve my original intentions.
I knew that I wanted to create an anthropomorphic creature, and I wanted the peculiarity of the breed to be that he was destined to be nothing more than just for reproduction. I frequently asked myself why I would want to bring life to a creature with these features ... I don't really know the reason for it, but I do know that influences and sources of inspiration are infinite! After all, ideas can come from anywhere! With this in mind, I started a hybrid process made of both sketches and pieces of a story that eventually defined a vision.
In the first place, I asked myself what could the habitat of a creature like this, and with just this first thought I started to break down a lot of potential features. After choosing a swampy and wooded environment and a mild and moist weather, I could already imagine the type of creature I was going to create. Then I thought about a lighting condition that would suit his skin pigment and his quality of sight, and I also thought about this for some other of his sensorial organs. His nourishment would also give me a great understanding of his features. After making decisions on all this, I started to achieve a precise idea of my character. All of my choices took me to a true vision - nothing clear, just silhouettes and hues.
The next step was the most challenging throughout the whole process, since I wanted to place him inside a convincing story. It was a really important step since in this way I had the opportunity of diving into a completely revisited world, creating villages, legends and superstitions that would eventually concretise my idea.
After a while, and thanks to a good amount of creativity, the main features came to life by themselves and the choices were more and more fascinating. How would the world be organised? Which breeds could live there? How would their social dynamics be? Which Gods would they have? Etc. You could go on forever inventing and imagining, but don't get too crazy with ideas otherwise you may deviate from your main goal. I was not creating a brand new world, I was simply scouting for features that could bring life to my creature and give him credibility.
With all this in mind, I started a sketch session. I never detail too much at this stage since I prefer a step-by-step approach, from proportion to gesture (Fig.01), then hinting at some more concrete forms (Fig.02) until I have a good starting point for then establishing the modelling.
Modelling: 3ds Max
I used 3ds Max for the modelling. What I needed at this stage was a low-res mesh which kept all of the features of the sketch. So I modelled the base mesh that I then used as the starting point for the ZBrush stage of the modelling work.
At this stage I often use a mesh without a lot of secondary features that have already been modelled, as well as not having too many binding edge loops in order to keep a certain amount of flexibility over the design (Fig.03).
My true modelling process began here! I find myself very comfortable with the sculpting approach that ZBrush offers, thinking in "layers", starting from the bone structure, defining the proportions, and then moving onto the muscles, skin and fatty tissues.
I find this process very natural to me, and at the same time it lets me have enough room to think about what the design will look like. In fact, during the sculpting stage where you finally can "touch" your model and look at it from many directions, you can start to ask yourself if everything fits together, if the forms that had sense in 2D are now building up as they were supposed to, and if you can find the same harmony in the silhouette. At this stage, you will also need to explore new design solutions.
Note: It is very important that right from the very beginning you to not leave doubts behind in the design, since this is what all of the modelling that you're going to do will be based on!
I first of all focused just on the proportions, looking at it from different point of views, in different lighting situations and also with a flat coloured shader to check the silhouette of the model. At this stage I mostly used the Move tool at the lowest subdivision level. It's important not to focus on details early on and to work just on the main shapes - in my opinion, every subdivision level has it's right "viewpoint"; while blocking out the proportion you should try to zoom out often, just like if you were looking at someone that is about 20-30 feet from you. What you can see are just volumes defined by shadows and this is the only important point at this stage of creation!
When I stepped up on the subdivision levels, my tools of choice were the Standard brush, Inflate brush and, amongst all, the Clay Tubes brush. This last one is my ideal tool to sculpt in "layers", it gives me the ability to first define the muscle structure and the muscle tone, and also on higher subdivision levels that, in this case, you can see on the stomach area (Fig.04).
When most of the features were in place I decided to retopologise the mesh to get a better mesh flow and to localise the density of the mesh. I used the ZBrush's Topology tool for this process. There are a lot of good tutorials out there that explain the process so I won't go in too deep here - it's basically all just a matter of patience, since this is a time-consuming task! The important point here is to first plan the mesh's structure that we want to achieve at the end.
I used the poly painting feature of ZBrush to paint all of the edge loops on the mesh (Fig.05), and after doing this I started to reconstruct the mesh (Fig.06), following the guides that I painted before. This was because if you don't have a clear idea of how to structure the mesh, the process will turn out to be really long and frustrating, made mostly of errors and revisions, and in my honest opinion it would be better to solve these problems during the poly painting since it's tremendously faster!
*Warning: Contains Male Frontal Nudity*
Finishing the retopologising process, I added the newly-created mesh as a Subtool of my original Ztool, and then, with the "Project all" feature that you can find in the Subtool palette, I transferred all of the previously modelled details onto the retopologised mesh. You may find some problems doing this in some areas of your model, since ZBrush sometimes fails to transfer the details in the correct way. In this situation I just smooth out the artefacts and re-sculpt the details without losing too much time (Fig.07).
Once I'd finished the organic sculpting I then posed the model with Transpose, inside ZBrush, to conform the muscles, skin folds and wrinkles to the new pose. I then exported a medium resolution mesh from ZBrush and imported it into Max, using it as reference for modelling the accessories.
The chains were modelled by firstly creating a single ring which was then duplicated and rotated 90° as many times as necessary to cover the distance between the bracelets and the penis. At this point, I created all of the connecting curves simulating gravity (Fig.08); I decided not to deal with dynamic simulation since I didn't want the "bend-factor" of the chains to be completely accurate. Once all of the rings had been collected in a single group, I deformed this group with the Path Deform modifier (from Max) to conform it along the curve. The result was not always perfect, but with some manual work I made sure everything was in place.
To create the little chains that dangle from the face and neck areas, I made very simple geometries and placed them along the curves with Max's Spacing tool, whilst I manually adjusted the variations with rotation and scale (Fig.09).
Once I was done with the accessories I imported them back into ZBrush, adjusting the skin's tension with the Move tool, and I used the Clay Tubes brush to create the wrinkles (for example where the piercings are placed)
(Fig.10 - 11).
Once the modelling was finished I generated the normal maps (Fig.12) inside ZBrush and exported a medium-to-high dense mesh to preserve most of the modelled volumes.
Shading & Rendering
For the lighting I used the Mental Ray SkyPortal, which gave me the nice and natural feel I was looking for. Eventually, I used an Omni light for lighting up a bit of the cavity on the neck with the right attenuation so it didn't interfere too much with the subsurface scattering effect (Fig.13 - 16).
*Warning: Contains Male Frontal Nudity*
For the shading I wanted to try the "SSS Fast Skin" for Mental Ray, which is a Material Phenomenon compiled by HÃ kan Anderson (many thanks to him!) that incorporates - in the default Skin Shader of Mental Ray - the nice and glossy reflections of the Arch & Design materials. I tweaked every single layer of the subsurface material first of all, zeroing out the weight of the other layers, starting with the Back Scatter, then the Subdermal and finally the Epidermal layer, and I mixed all of them together at the end, adjusting each weight as necessary (Fig.17). I find this step-by-step approach to SSS much more intuitive than adjusting the weight values all at once.
For the pedestal I used an Arch & Design material with blurred reflection - nothing fancy here!
At the end, I generated a Beauty pass, an Ambient Occlusion pass, an additional Reflection pass with a different reflection setting, a different HDRI map, and finally a Final Gather pass (Fig.18). All of the passes were then put together in Photoshop and tweaked. I spent some time at this stage trying to find the right mood, colour balance, and so on.
I also find it very useful to have an Object ID pass for masking - it can save you a lot of time isolating what you need in a complex image! I used a Mental Ray shader with an Output node mapped in the Surface slot - very easy and very effective!
To see more by Federico Scarbini, check out ZBrush Character Sculpting