Making Of 'The Final Warning'
The character was made for the Stylized Challenges #016: Creatures of Legend - Dragons at Threedy.com. After several failed sketches I came up with a roguish looking dragon (Fig.01). I wasn't able to finish within the timeframe of the competition, but I was happy enough with my current progress back then that I decided to give the dragon a second try.
Using the concept as a main reference in Maya, I started modelling the head using a 4x4x4 cube as a starting point. I blocked the head and body using mainly Extrude and CutPoly tools (Fig.02).
The tricky part was then to match the concept details, like the smile and eyes, with the 3D model. I always try to retain certain features like expressions, mood and character if I'm happy with my concept in the first place (Fig.03). I modelled the hands and legs with the same technique and then attached them to the body. The wings were kind of difficult to model because of the thickness; it was tricky to keep all the geometry in quads. The horns, claws, and back spikes were modelled as separate objects (Fig.04 & Fig.05).
The finished model was exported to UVLayout. Most of the time I unwrap the models in one single shell if possible, but in this case I had to put the wings in an extra one with the rest of the character parts and the last thing was to layout the shells manually in Maya (Fig.06 & Fig.07). I imported the model into ZBrush for detailing, using custom alphas and the standard tool to add wrinkles, scales and folds, always trying to keep them exaggerated in some parts (like chest, back, belly, etc) and subtle in others (face, wings skin) to keep everything "stylized" (Fig.08). The finished Tool was subdivided up to level 6 (Fig.09).
I exported a displacement map from ZBrush to use it as a base for texturing. Using CrazyBump I converted the displacement map to a normal map (Fig.10). I painted the main colour volumes in Photoshop using a UV snapshot from Maya as a guide. Then, getting help from the displacement map and the normal map's blue channel, I started to add detail to the texture, colorizing those layers and then trying several blending modes. The stripes were hand painted as well as warm tones in some parts of the body (Fig.11).
Skinning and Posing
I created a basic skeleton in Maya to pose the dragon. The default smooth skinning worked well enough; I just had to fix minor issues in the neck and the wings using the PaintWeights tool (Fig.12). I tried to match the position to my sketch with a rock mesh, but after several attempts and lighting setups I wasn't very convinced by the overall look of the scene. The expression and pose in the sketch gave me the mood I was looking for, but in 3D the same dragon looked kind of weak (Fig.13). So I tried other views, and finally decided to put him in a gallant flying position, without losing the original character I'd created. The idea was to portrait the same roguish dragon, this time leaving his recently made mess, with a satisfied, happy and triumphant attitude (Fig.14).
I decided to render the final image in ZBrush, which can be very useful and fast when working with still images. I imported the posed dragon's OBJ in ZBrush and then used it as a layer in the lowest subdivision mode (Fig.15). The next thing was to import the 4096x4096 texture over the model and then render various images with different matcaps, a depth pass and different light directions to get full control later in composition (Fig.16).
Composition and Post
Using Photoshop I created a background using gradients to define the overall palette, taking into account the dragon's scheme. Using the passes from ZBrush, I started to give the desired volume to the dragon, using some renders for specular, reflection and others for the key light, rim light and fill (Fig.17). I changed the canvas to portrait format and then flipped the image horizontally, for reading and composition purposes. I wanted the scene to have a warm atmosphere, but also a quiet and almost painting-like mood to the viewer, so I went for a smoky afternoon scene. The dense smoke consists of stock Photoshop brushes (Fig.18). Once composited, I corrected the colour using Curves and PhotoFilter. Finally, I added smoke in the mouth, a subtle depth of field and some motion blur to the wings and tail. The final image was 4300x5700 (Fig.19 & Fig.20).
"The Final Warning" was the first thing that came into my head during the final touches; I let the viewers build their own story. Despite the chaos in the scene, my priority all the time was to leave some kindness and personality in the dragon's eyes and attitude, as I often do with many of the characters I make.
Thanks to Lynette and the 3DTotal team for giving me the chance to share a little of my imagination... thanks for reading and hope you like it!