Making Of 'Suprise'
The original idea was to create a realistic mummy, but one that's not too scary. I wanted to show my mummy in a typical daily situations. Once I had created it, the first situation which came to my mind was the mummy tripping over its bandages. I wanted to use him outside of the serious and sometimes terrifying situation in which mummies tend to always be thought of. Nevertheless, my aim was to create an interesting and funny character, but at the same time to emphasise that the situations aren't the normal ones that you would expect for such a character.
(Fig01 - 02) Before starting with the creation of the mummy, it was a good idea to look for images which could give me interesting ideas which could be reinterpreted, and from which I could take inspiration from, not only for the shape but also for framing, lighting and everything else that an image can communicate. And for that I went to Google for an image search!
(Fig03 - 04) For the modelling I started with very simple forms and added the details later on. Usually I'll start with a cube or from a single face in order to create the base geometry with as few polygons as possible. In this way you can keep the mesh of the model in order.
Little by little, I was working towards a low poly humanoid figure. I then had to define the points at which it was going to be deformed, once it had been rigged. For this, the edge loops are very important; for example, in order to arrange an elbow to react correctly at every point once it has been bent. Another very important thing is that you have to maintain your model as "all quads", meaning that all of the polygons of the model have to have 4 sides. This is useful for the better handling of the rig and for a better compatibility between the very many sculpting programs.
Once I had finished my model I exported it as an .obj file so that I could handle it in ZBrush, and so I could paint all the veins and muscles, and all those things that would be very difficult to create in polygons.
After getting to the level I desired, I could then export a displacement map and apply it to the mesh which I modelled earlier. In this way you can obtain a light model in the rigging and animation phase, but at the same time you can get a very high detailed render. Another advantage is that you can modify it very easily with the photo editing programme of your choice.
(Fig05) As far as the rig was concerned, I used biped by Max, which is really good for humanoid forms.
The big difficulty was creating the bends in such a way that they could follow the model without going crazy. Therefore, in the rig, I had to spend a lot of time weighing all the single unmanageable vertexes, using very many skin morphsto handle difficult situations.
(Fig06) Thanks to Unwrap (which is made to manage the sculpting programme), I changed to a photo editing programme to paint the textures that I needed, at the same time always being in Multiplyto correctly follow the shape of the model which had been developed.
Useful textures are: "diffuse", "specular", "bump" and the one obtained from the sculpting of the "displacement". The diffuse is the level that is going to draw the skin of the character; the specular is useful to define the points in which the shader of the model will reflect more or less, based on a grey scale - even if one uses sometimes a lightly blue-tinted gradation to give a major reflection effect. The "bump" is the map which forms, always with a W/B scale, a little roughness on the shader, which was very useful in order to me to give the impression of an aged skin.
The shader of the skin was realised by trying to maintain certain features, like the dryness of the mummy's skin, but also the funny and cartoon-like appearance that I wanted him to possess. I therefore tried to maintain a high level of SSS (subsurface scattering) to take away the seriousness of the character and to give him at the same time a certain solidness.
I had to make a lot of trials before being satisfied with the result. The real challenge was being able to give it solidness without creating horror-like details. The secret was rendering it translucent, just like the cartoons, and adding very many specular and light strokes to let certain areas emerge.
(Fig07) With the model finished and textured, I made a series of morphs, cloning the main mesh and giving each clone a different detail, such as closed eyes or a smiling mouth. All of these features give "life" to the mummy!
(Fig08 - 09) In the first image I created a classical situation in a pyramid, but with a less dark and friendlier light coming in from the right; a direct yellow light played with the classical feature and the less lit area was blue. Of course, I also tried to give the entire scene an orange tone in order to communicate some cheerfulness through the situation.
Sitting & Framing
(Fig10) In the second image I wanted to create another "impossible" situation! I wanted to show an embarrassed mummy in the bathroom as if being spied on by a person at the door, which is why I used a wide-angle framed shot.
Fortunately, the rig managed very well, even in this scene in which the model tends to have problems, above all with the pelvis and legs. I think it is very important to try to avoid symmetry. The eyes have to be able to roam around the scene, always finding new things (like the crooked feet or his bent back).
(Fig11) I put some planks in front of the light coming into the bathroom as I wanted to break the light up to create a shadowed effect, in order to create a more interesting composition. I also added a blue light, with decay activated, to light up just a point and not the entire area (which was very difficult!). I then added more brightness close to the observer, just to create a snapshot-type effect.
I prefer an environment to be rich in details, instead of classical, clean 3D interiors. I looked for references for bathrooms and tiles. As I found the right ones, I chose to model them rather than use a simple bump or displacement map, in order to have better control of the reflections.
Also, in this case, I wanted to take a tile away or dirty another one with various textures, so as not to have symmetry (as explained before). I later added some water, just to have more reflections and strokes of light.
(Fig12 - 17) I did the render in many steps. We could structure them in this way: beauty pass of the environment, beauty pass of the mummy, ambient occlusion, specular, Z-depth (to simulate the depth of field), and then many steps to stress or to decrease reflections and strokes of light. The ambient occlusion was very useful in the environment and is vital to the characters because it stresses the model and creates all the little shadowed areas which would get lost in the main context. I used a 2000 x 1600 resolution but, thanks to the various phases, every step was shorter than 5 minutes to render.
(Fig18) After all the rendering came the time to start compositing it with photo editing programmes, such as Photoshop, unifying all the levels and weighing them out as you like. The ambient occlusion had to be rendered in Multiply, and I kept it to a percentage of 60 % so as not to weigh the shadows down too much. I then duplicated the beauty pass and inserted it blurred in Screen mode, distressing it a little to light up some areas up in order to give a "burned film" effect.
The compositing can change an image very deeply, and it's up to every single person to use it in the best possible way!
And now: let's finish the image off in Photoshop, trying to fix the problems and stressing those parts that we are most interested in.