Making Of 'Sandoje'
My name is David Arberas and I've been studying special effects for two years in my native town, Donostia. The idea of making this 3D model came when I was searching for a good quality 2D cartoon character artwork and I found Zurdom's (www.zurdom.com) awesome artworks. I fell in love immediately with the Sandoje character, because of its cartoony style and wonderful details (Fig.01), so I sent an email to Zurdom asking for permission to make it in 3D and he kindly gave me permission to do that.
Understanding The Artwork
Well, I'll not fool anyone; this was my first attempt at making a 3D character based on a piece of artwork. Because of that I spent a lot of time analyzing the artwork in order to discover things like how the monster-like hand is biting the sword, how the barrel is connected to fuel through the tube and what the hell is written in barrel's little cartel... At this point I also started thinking about the technical details I knew I was going to have to face: did I need to use textures for all objects? And in that case, how should I group the objects to pack in UV islands? Which programs did I need to use for sculpting, texturing etc?
I'll stop there because I don't want to bore you! I just wanted to explain how my mind works when I face a project like this.
Modeling - sculpting
In this step, the main question was if I should model the character directly in the artwork pose or T-pose. I didn't spent much time thinking about it: I wanted to make a 3D illustration, not an animated scene, so I decided to make Sandoje directly in the artwork pose (Fig.02).
The first thing to do was to configure the camera so it fitted the perspective of the artwork while I modeled. The first object I modeled was the barrel (Fig.03), which helped me to configure the camera perspective, more or less. Anyway, while I continued modeling I changed or made some minor adjustments to the camera so it fitted perfectly into the drawing (Fig.04).
Another thing to take into account is that during this process I spent a lot of time switching between ZBrush and Softimage in order to fit in all the details (such as cloth folds and so on) I had made in ZBrush (Fig.05). To make this step easier I made custom script buttons so that I could important middle resolution meshes from ZBrush into Softimage much more quickly, with only one click.
I had to sculpt 28 objects, so the organization of the ZTools was very important. I decided to group all the objects in seven different ZTools, all of them with some subtools. For example the right boot ZTool (Fig.06) has four subtools. The low res subtool is the pieces I didn't want to sculpt - all the other subtools are objects to sculpt.
When I finish sculpting, I started to decimate all the high res objects with Decimation Master until I found a good balance between polygon count and quality of details. Then I imported back all the decimated meshes to Softimage.
I want to explain a little bit about my workflow with ZBrush and UVs. I love the idea of creating all the forms in ZBrush first and then dealing with UVs second, so what I normally do is sculpt, then unwrap the UVs and import the objects back to ZBrush to transfer them to subtools.
Due to the fact that I had more than 100 objects, organization was basic. I made three groups for UVs: one for the skin and clothing, another for the rest of the body objects and the last one for the barrel (Fig.07). Once I had unwrapped the objects's UVs with Softimage's Unfold option, I started importing everything back to ZBrush, like I mentioned above.
Then I switched to Mudbox for the texturing because I'd never used it for texturing before and I love the fact that texturing works by projecting and not polypainting, like in ZBrush. When texturing, I thought it wouldn't be a good idea to paint microdetails but to maintain the cartoony style of the artwork instead. Because of that I felt comfortable painting and I focused only on giving color variations to the textures. Fortunately I was able to finish painting more the 120 objects more or less in one day.
When I finish painting, I thought it would be a good idea to bake cavity and occlusion maps to use later in the shading process. I used xNormal for the cavity maps and Softimage's RenderMap for the occlusion maps (Fig.08).
Shading & Lighting
When I thought about shading and lighting I knew that I had to make a critical decision... and I made a mistake, which fortunately I was able to fix in compositing. If you look at the original artwork, you'll see that there aren't any shadows. But that doesn't mean it hasn't got volume; in fact it has and it seems like the artist has applied some type of painted occlusion.
Anyway, I wanted to try and achieve that look, so I decide to light the model without using lights. It sounds a little bit crazy, but if you think it through a little, it really isn't. The key is to use a constant material for the base color with some layers (occlusion, cavity, specular) to give volume (Fig.09).
To get specular highlights similar to those in the original artwork, I put a lot of different exclusive lights (without diffuse) around Sandoje (Fig.10).
The mistake I mentioned before is that I didn't realize what the main idea is when you make a 3D image based on a 2D one: you can base your work on the original artwork, but you shouldn't copy it. And that's why later, when I started compositing image, I decided to add an overall occlusion effect to give Sandoje more volume, because without shadows the image looked a bit poor.
When it comes to splitting scene objects into render passes I tend to split them enough in order to have a lot of control when I composite. Anyway in this case I tried not to split so much because I wanted to work with the objects's label channels. This way I could change object colors in Fusion only with one rendered image, but when I prepared and tried this channel in Fusion I found it was really frustrating. I could not find any image format which worked well between Softimage and Fusion.
Because I didn't want to waste more time with it I continued to make it "the easy way. I split the scene into lost of render passes (Fig.11).
Thanks to the baked ambient occlusion maps, I was able to "fix" the lighting problem I told you before, giving the final image more volume. I made custom passes using these maps to work with them later (Fig.12).
Apart from making those render passes, I made two matte passes for the cloth to control the color of two areas; a special one to control the glow of the sword; one to make the sword darker at the bottom of the blade; a depth pass and another one to add occlusion to the floor (Fig.13).
Even though the compositing tree may seem very complex (Fig.14) that is only because I had 26 passes. In reality it was quite simple.
The biggest problem I had here was trying to achieve the glow effect on the sword, so I'll try to explain it. The first problem I found was that the sword's render pass seemed plain, but then I realized that it didn't have specular highlights and so I added one exclusive light to fix this.
When I do glows with Fusion, although it has two powerful nodes for this specific task, I find that for the best results it's usually a good idea to combine two or more nodes like color correctors and so on: this way you have more control over the effect.
First I directly merged the sword render pass, added a color corrector and merged with darken blend mode to adjust the color. Then the sword gradient pass helped me darken the bottom of the sword and I blended it in multiply mode. Finally I added another color corrector to accentuate the cavities and the desired glow node in normal mode and half blending (Fig.15).
Normally when I make a 3D image I don't start thinking about the background of the image until I finish the most of the composition in Fusion. I decided to make a semi sphere-like object and textured it within Mudbox. Then I made some color gradients in Photoshop and added an alpha to the image so I could make a perfect crop in Fusion.
Within Fusion I added twice the ambient occlusion pass of the floor to get stronger effect (Fig.16).
Finally I adjust the color in Photoshop and add a border to polish the image (Fig.17).
I hope you find this making of useful!