Making Of 'The Conductor'
My work usually starts out as an idea - lots of things come into play when it develops, movies that I've seen, music I'm listening to, people that I've met and so on. And it usually takes some time to brew and flesh itself out. I don't start doing anything until I have a clear picture in my head. This time around I wanted to create something funny and cheerful with a twist of insanity. I was listening to a soundtrack of Donnie Darko and this idea sort of came along - a conductor that has been completely overwhelmed by his creation an emerged into the world of music that he can control by a movement of his hands. It started out as a messy sketch on a side of a paper and later on evolved in my head with the proportions and expression of the character.
I then jumped right into modeling this guy. Since it was meant only for one still image I didn't bother much about the topology or "the right way" how to do my modeling. You won't find any decent edge loops in him! I even used spheres to create his cheeks and a simply tapered sphere for his body. Nose was made out of a sphere that was subdivided and deformed into the shape that I was aiming for and then brutally extruded some faces to create nostrils. You can clearly see that in the picture that shows wire. Working this way it saves tons of time and lets you concentrate on the forms and rhythm of your creation. After all I knew that I was going to correct all of those modeling glitches in Photoshop. Since I was aiming for a cartoony/dreamy style I didn't bother going into too much of a detail
Colouring and basic setup
After that was done I blocked in some colors in 3ds max and some basic material attributes, like the glossiness of the skin. No textures and no advanced rendering techniques or material setups were used here. Same with lightning - just a basic three point light setup- one to give him basic light and shadows, one to soften out the shadows and the third to give him a sort of rim lightning on the sides
After that, he was rendered out in a default scanline renderer. I also rendered an ambient occlusion pass with mental ray to give him some soft shadows, that I multiplied over in Photoshop
Working In Photoshop
Now I was ready to do the fun part, as you can see in the picture "render" it came out of the oven looking far from finished. I started to do color correcting, painting over lazy parts and mistakes in Photoshop - added some wrinkles around his eyes and small details like moles, corrected the cheeks, added light bounces and subtle color changes to make his skin a bit more interesting. I used basic brush setups, mostly using a simple round brush. People say that 2 minutes in Photoshop can save you 2 hours of work in 3d. And I strongly agree with that, especially when it comes to making still images. Some people consider it to be cheating, but I think that the thing that matters is the result not the tools. The painting over was done in fairly high resolution so brush strokes weren't too obvious when I scaled the image down
After I was done with the character I added atmospheric effects around him like little bubbles of light and smoke particles around his stick. I was also thinking about making an audience behind him, but then I realized that this piece was about a man and his connection with music, so the backdrop idea died off naturally
As you can see there were A LOT of color correcting layers in my psd file
There were lots of tries and experiments on how different colors may play along with one another and balancing on the edge of not burning colors out. When I was happy with all that I merged down the layers and of course applied a sin of "sharpen" at the end! :)
Overall I must say that such workflow is extremely efficient and fast. It took me 4 hours of pure work in both 3ds max and Photoshop to complete this guy. As long as you have a clear idea of what you want to do, the decisions in modeling and speed come naturally. Also I must point out that using long render times and fancy 3 rd party renderers aren't necessary to create a cool looking image.