Making Of 'Talos'
In this article, I will be writing about the high poly character creation of my demon centaur, from the conceptual phase to the final render. He was made for a 3D character competition about warriors.
I chose to make a demon centaur and challenge myself with trying to make a half-horse, half-demon work well together. Although I actually sculpted the character using Mudbox, I will talk you through it in ZBbrush as I have more experience with this program and it will probably make for a more informational tutorial!
Since I entered the competition a month late, I had some serious catching up to do so I chose not to sketch a concept and rely more on my references and freestyle modeling. Either way I can't stress how essential it is to have some sort of concept to guide you through as it will save you time in the long run (Fig.01).
Obviously I had to study horse anatomy to get the muscles and bone structure right. Even if you're not going for a realistic animal, you still need to have the foundation so that your creature seems believable. At first I wanted to make the lower body resemble a bull, but I thought he would look too short and stalky once the armor was on. Always be mindful of the next step; this is why a basic concept makes it easier as it reduces the guess work. I tried a couple of variations of horns and armor, which I would quickly paint over in Photoshop (after modeling the base of the body) and settled on a design. I wanted to make him kind of wrinkly, but not old-looking, and feel pretty heavy.
When I start sculpting, I generally start with just a box and an extrusion for the neck. I don't bother with the edge loops at first because I will just retopologize it in 3ds Max when I'm done roughing the form. You can achieve a much more natural look this way and it is also a much more intuitive and artistic way to work.When sculpting in a package like Mudbox, ZBrush or 3D-Coat it is important to sculpt the form in each of the subdivision levels until that specific level can't take any more detail. If we don't do that we will start getting lumps and they will be harder to get rid of. Also the shapes will be harder to manage. Rule of thumb: make big edits in lower levels and put details on higher levels (Fig.02).
ForÂ this image I started by using the Move tools to search for form and from time to time I put a black flat material on the model to see how the silhouette read as it is very important to get a dynamic feel to translate into your model. After roughing my proportions out, I started to add muscles using something like a Clay brush. The hard edges make it easy to define the muscles. Also you can pinch and smooth to get the desired effects.To make the wrinkles I used the Dam Standard brush and Inflate brush around it. A wrinkle is not only a cut; it is also the fleshy-fatty bit around it that causes a shadow (Fig.03).
Last, but not least, I used alphas or stencils (Mudbox) to add details. You can make your own by desaturating an image, playing with the contrast and making a black radial falloff around it (Fig.04 - 05).
After modeling my character from my basic mesh with bad topology, I was left with the problem of not having good edges loops for proper deformation. This is where retopology comes in handy. I exported a lower level subdivision from my chosen 3D modeling package with enough resolution and used the plugin to redraw proper edge flow over the original mesh (Fig.06).
Hard Surface Modeling
Once I had the proportions of the body modeled, I could start building stuff on top of the body. I used 3ds Max to make the hard surface pieces. I mostly tried to keep the mesh all quads, but when you get flat surfaces or places where it's supposed to pinch, tris and n-gons are ok. Hard surfaces are all about the tight definition you get on the edges, so I tried to make it look as clean as possible especially on the blades. I used the edge extrusion technique to model in 3ds Max, because I feel it is easier for me and I always get nicer edge flow and overall cleaner results (Fig.07).
I used 3ds Max's basic Unwrap tools to get the job done, using planar mapping for things like the face and armor, and cylindrical for arms and legs while trying to make as little distortion as possible so that my textures didn't stretch. The trick is to just to UV with symmetry on and then collapse your stack, mirror the opposite side of the UV, stitch them together and relax. I sometimes use pelt mapping for weird objects that are a pain to UV. I tried to hide most seams between legs, under arms or in places where natural seams would occur (Fig.08 - 09).
I always start off by baking an Ambient Occlusion pass. This helps me to see the mesh when I am painting instead of just guessing where stuff is with my UVs. I then start giving all pieces a basic flat color and set the ambient occlusion on the top layer in Multiply mode at lower opacity (Fig.10).
I used subsurface scattering for his skin (VRayfast SSS2). SSS material is dependent on the scale of the scene, so I made sure to set an according number in the scale factor. Real life skin has two types of specular to it (Fig.11). One has a bigger falloff with a weaker specular hotspot; the other has a much tighter spec and more noticeable hotspot. To get both of them in the same material I used a V-Ray blend material, set the second material to VRaymat, turnedÂ on Additive(shellac) mode and from then had access to my second specular (Fig.12). For my Displacement map I made a 32-bit Displacement map from Mudbox and put it in the V-Ray Displacement mod. 32-bit takes away a lot of the guesswork that you normally get as the information is baked in the texture already. For the armor pieces and the weapon, the materials relied a lot on the textures. I only played with the gloss and a couple of minor settings to get the desired effects; after all it was a modeling and texture competition.
Lighting and Rendering
I used linear (gamma 2.2) workflow with V-Ray for 3ds Max. In the GI Environment slot I used a HDR image at low settings just to help with the light bouncing. I also used two V-Ray lights, one which was the main fill light which was a bright yellow color, and the other more orangey on the opposite side to soften up the render. I then added a back light to create a strong contour and a couple of small lights to punch up different spots I wanted to pop out more. A V-Ray plane was also used to help with the bounce lighting of the GI (Fig.13 - 14).
I used ZBrush's Transpose Master to experiment with posing and find a suitable pose, which was definitely faster than rigging him from scratch. Always a good choice when you have a tight deadline and only need to make an illustration.
I used 3ds Max render elements to break up the render into different passes that I could then assemble inside of Photoshop. Diffuse, Specular , Reflection, ZDepth, Lighting, Shadow and Ambient Occlusion passes were all used in combination so that I could have total control over the look and feel of the final product from color correction to sharpening to depth of field. I also masked with different colors so that I could isolate specific areas on the character and have clean and quick selections. For the little bloom effect that's on his armor and weapon all I needed to do was grab the Reflection pass, go to Filter > Gaussian Blur set it to 8, go to Image > Adjustement > Brightness and Contrast and bump up both settings to 90 and 50 and then finally set the layer to Screen so it brightens up and lower the opacity to the amount that you want it to bloom at (Fig.15).
You can do the same thing for self-illumination and you'll have some cool looking bloom on your lights. For the background it was nothing too fancy. I just layered a bunch of textures and lit it with some radial gradients (Fig.16).
I always encourage people, especially beginners, to learn several techniques that do the same result so that later on you can choose the ones that make you the most comfortable and can become a 3D creation machine and have fun with it. This was a cool competition and I learned a lot, especially from forums such as 3DTotal and the many cool artists that gave me critiques.Special thanks to my mom and my girlfriend for supporting me in my long quest to achieve my dream (Fig.17)!