Making Of 'Sweet Mary Jane'
Howdy! I'm Adam Ross and I'm the head of the digital department at McFarlane Toys and occasional freelance modeller (non-competition, of course). In this Making Of article I'm going to go through the entire process of taking my model from digital to reality, utilising a cadre of software packages and one nice rapid prototyping machine!
This project began as a pie-in-the-sky idea I had shortly after I saw the original artwork by Marvel artist Mark Brooks. I've always been a fan of polystone statues and, even though I was a fan, I had never seen MJ portrayed the way that Mark had drawn her. She was sexy, she was innocent, she had a bigÂ frakin' gun!Â After deciding that I wanted to bring this piece into 3D, I got in contact with Mark directly to ask his permission.Â Even though this wasn't a piece to make any money, I always ask the artist's permission as a professional courtesy along with providing them with a copy or two for themselves.Â Needless to say, Mark was all for it.Â
I know that many folks start with the lowest res model possible to begin their sculpts and then retopologise before finalising the piece.Â As I've created a large collection of base models over the years, I tend to go back to those to get started. I regularly update them as my needs andÂ specs change, and will even Frankenstein them together when necessary.Â MJ was one of these cases where I had a workable base model and ended up replacing the head with one I had completed more recently. You can see the base model (Fig.01) along with its high-res progression.Â I don't bother with correct musculature at this point, but rather mass it out into a good starting point from which to work after it's posed. I also extracted the clothing (if you can call it that) from the base mesh.
I typically use the Standard, Clay Tubes and Move brushes to rough things out and usually never go beyond a subdivision level of 4 up to this point.Â From here I go back into Maya and model all of the hard surfaces and accessories that will be going with the piece; these included the stool, the handgunÂ and the base.Â After appending these as Subtools, I begin the process of posing and finalising the model.
I had just been made aware of Transpose Master, and it truly made life easier! I was easily able to pose her and go back in to correct/refine the musculature (Fig.02).Â I say "correct", but as each artist has his/her own way of stylistically representing anatomy, my goal was to copy this as closely as possible. I only make true corrections when the artist has cheated the anatomy for the sake of the 2D piece.
I quickly realised that the base was a little bland, so I contacted Mark Brooks once again to pitch an idea.Â Since the piece was reminiscent of the cheesecake pinups, I proposed doing an innocent looking doll of Venom. What mark sent me is pictured in Fig.03, a perfect complement to the piece!
And the finished model along with the original low-res (Fig.04).
Now I append the Venom doll to the rest of the project and voila!Â It now maintains its visual interestÂ from top to bottom (Fig.05 - 06).Â I'm still using the same tools at this point, some may think it's limiting but I've found that the three brushes that I use in the beginning usually carry me through an entire piece. The only thing that I'll change isÂ the alpha that I'm using, which in turn allows me to emulate other brushes, such as Layer, Ram and so on.Â
Now, since the goal of this was to print it out on a 3D printer,Â I had to keep several things in mind:
- Each piece has be watertight, with no holes
- Watch for extreme undercuts, as all pieces have to be moulded and cast
- Pieces need to be constructed/designed to be cut at logical places, or places where the seams can be hidden
All of these were things that I worked on throughout the process, beginning to end. Modelling watertight is a habit that you get into over time. The others are things you learn through experience.Â As it relates to undercuts (i.e. hair, folded arms, Venom's teeth) I will make cuts to the model in another program that eliminates the problem, or I resolve myself to backfilling the little things (teeth) manually after print.Â
After finishing the piece, I export all of my Subtools individually as OBJ files which will now go back into Maya so that I can create cut lines, keys, and pin boolean objects for use in Magics. I begin by looking the model over and discerning where will be the best places to cut it based onÂ where the easiest places are to hide the cuts in pre-existing surface features. I also balance this with where it should be cut for easiest creation of moulds.Â In case someone else is casting this up other than me (i.e. China) I want them to not have to redo what I've done.Â This eats up production time in China and drives up costs, neither of which are good things!
In Fig.07 you can see where I have created boolean objects to be used in Magics. I have created them by selecting existing edge loops and then extruding them inwards to create a surface, extracting them, then extruding them a couple of more times to create a "pie-tin" look. This allows things to fit together tightly along with aiding in the overlapping look that certain things should have, like the stockings over the legs. I'll finish the objects off by adding in wedge shapes that key the piece so it only fits correctly one way. Add in some pin booleans (standard sizes, quarter-inch, eighth-inch, etc.) and we're ready to re-export!
The resulting OBJ files need to be converted to STL files for use in Magics, so I run them through MeshLab for this process.Â MeshLab is freeware and an excellent tool, so for any of your mesh inspection/conversion needs, I highly recommend it!
Now that we're working in Magics, I proceed to utilise its boolean functions (unmatched among all of the software packages that I've dealt with) to cut each piece to create the final parts that will be printed. You can see some of the resulting pieces in Fig.08.
This is the final stage before print.Â I recheck all of my meshes in Magics to confirm that there are no potential print issues that could stop the printing process.Â I will also finalise the overall scale of the piece at this point. Most companies will specify the overall height of the piece, or how big the character would be standing up.Â I will tweak/rescale the piece to match the specs and then export all of the pieces as binary STL files.
Printing is where all of this leads to, and where you can be made or broken.Â You really need to be conscious of what printer you will be sending the pieces to, what that printer's resolution limit is, and what resolution your piece needs to be modelled in order to obtain maximum surface quality.Â I will actually go one subdivision level higher that what is visually necessary in ZBrush. This may create an insanely high polycount that is entirely out of bounds for any normal map extractions or renderings, but we're modelling for print so we want to maintain that smooth surface quality!
In this case, the printer that I had at my disposal (thanks to the guys at PCS in Timonium, MD) was the 3D Systems Invision XT - a printer that has 600x600x600 dpi resolution. It utilises two materials during print, a UV cured resin and a wax that serves as a support during the printing process that is easily melted off once the job is done.
Update: 3D Systems has recently released a printer with resolution nearly double that of the XT, and it's called "ProJet".Â I deal and have dealt with many brands and types of printers, and this one blows them all away.Â I've included a picture of each below (Fig.09 - 10).
After printing is done, I test fit the pieces, make any modifications to the printed models to ensure a tight fit, and go to mould. You can see the printed models in Fig.11.
Moulding, Casting & Painting
From this point, I will mould and cast the pieces in silicone and resin respectively.Â This first round of castings is then sanded/cleaned for recasting a tooling model.Â As the pieces always have some sort of build lines present, this is a necessary process for now, but as the quality of printers continue to improve, this will probably not be the case. You can see in Fig.12 an example of the torso casting along with the mould.
After the moulding/casting process, all of the parts have the sprues and flashing cleaned off and are tested for a tight fit. They are then sent out to a painter - the magnanimous Kat Sapene of WAK! Toys in this case - where the final paint job is applied. Here the models are presented in their final painted glory, both alone and at San Diego Comic Con 2008, in Fig. 13 and 14.
I hope you've enjoyed the process, if you have any more in-depth questions regarding my process or anything in particular, please feel free to contact me. I also hope it's been fun and informative!