Making of 'The Joker'
On this project I used Maya for the base model, ZBrush for details, Photoshop for texturing and matte painting, Shave and Haircut for the hair, and Mental Ray for rendering.
When I first saw The Dark Knight movie posters I really liked them - especially one of them. I decided to try and create something similar, just for fun, but I didn't want my character to look like Heath Ledger; I wanted to do something that was similar, but still original.
I usually start with a concept design, but since I already knew what The Joker looked like (having seen the posters), I didn't need to on this occasion.
I started the base by modelling the head area (Fig.01). I didn't use any model sheets or reference images and I tried a different method for this project. I usually do use model sheets and start with a poly cube and extrude faces, adding resolution step by step, but for this one I started with a poly face and extruded edges. Once I'd finished the head I decided that the method was quite convenient for my needs, so I decided to model the rest of the character in the same way.
I took a generic male model, which I found on a Gnomon training DVD, and used it as a reference for extruding edges. In the end I had to make some modifications because the reference model was too muscular for my project and I didn't want The Joker to look like some kind of body builder (Fig.02).
One thing I'd like to point out is that I wish that I had used a model sheet, at least for the face. The reason for this is that, it may not be obvious in my poster, but the eyes are too close together, and using a model sheet would have eradicated that problem.
Once I'd finished the base modelling and UV mapping, I did a quick smooth bind, posed my character and exported everything into ZBrush.
I imported the head model into ZBrush and appended the rest of the model as SubTools. When I start sculpting in ZBrush I always try to focus on the overall picture and gestures first; I don't worry about all the minor adjustments and surface details until I'm satisfied with the general appearance. Most of the time, I tend to rely on bump maps, as opposed to creating high frequency details in ZBrush. The only area that I did use high frequency details on was the face (Fig.03).Â
I spent less time on sculpting the trousers than the rest of the model because, based on the lighting that I had in mind, I knew that it was going to be almost black in that area in the final image. Once I was finished with the sculpting I exported every piece with a normal map. The mesh that I took into Maya was 148,712 polygons (Fig.04).
Texture painting seems to be the most time consuming part for me. I often rely on Photoshop and I use ZBrush for refining seams, using the Projection Master. Sometimes I use ZBrush to create what I call a "guide map", for those areas that are hard to recognise in Photoshop. For instance, when I'm texturing a face in Photoshop, it's quite difficult to say where exactly the textures for the lips or the eyes, or a certain wrinkle on the skin should be, and that's where the guide map may be useful. I know that there are several techniques for such problems, but this is the method that I'm comfortable with and I believe that, whatever workflow you like, as long as it gives you neat results and doesn't take too much time, then it's OK.
The face was one of the areas that I spent more time on and it was the only area for which I used photos for the texture painting. For the rest of the character I painted textures using different Photoshop techniques and, of course, lots of dirt masks and different brushes (Fig.05).Â
Lighting & Rendering
After I was finished with texture painting I exported all my textures as .tif files and I was then ready for the shading and rendering. One thing about importing .obj objects from ZBrush 3.1 to Maya is that, for some reason, it imports them with Visible in Reflections and Refractions turned off, so I had to turn them on for all the pieces before I started shading.
I used regular Maya blinn shaders for all my objects, except for the head. For the head I used a Mental Ray fast skin shader because it's so user friendly; it's great for skin shading and it's cheap in comparison to complex shading networks. I set the reflections to 0 for all the clothes, except for the gloves. For the gloves I took "sample info" and a "ramp texture", connected the "ramp" into the shader's reflection channel and turned the reflection blur on. Then I started bringing in textures (colour, bump, normal map, and specular colour) for each piece, one at the time.
Once I was satisfied with the shading for all my objects, I started to work on his hair. I used Joe Alter's Shave and Haircut for the hair, and I think it's the most user friendly hair plug-in for Maya - it works amazingly with Mental Ray (Fig.06)!
Once the hair was finished I disabled it and took my source images directory and copied it somewhere else. I took all my textures and resized them to 512 by 512 so that I could set my lighting faster and at less expense. I turned final gathering on and started to set up my lights.
The major light that I used was a big poly plane on the right side. For this, I turned primary visibility off and assigned a lambert shader to it; I then mapped its incandescence with a ramp. I had a white area light on the right side and a greenish blue poly plane on the left side, both illuminating the head and the shoulder area. I used a spot light with some drop off for the back light. Once I was happy with the lighting I enabled the hair and replaced my resized source images directory with the original one that I copied earlier, thereby rendering the whole character (Fig.07 - 08).
Once I'd finished rendering the character I started modelling the background buildings. The buildings were just simple poly models with texture maps in a different scene, and I rendered each one of them on a different layer (Fig.09).
Once the rendering was finished I brought all of the rendered images into Photoshop and put them in one .psd document. I started the post-production work by doing some matte painting on the background buildings, adding some atmosphere and making some modifications to the debris - which was modelled using the paint geometry tool in Maya after the matte painting work on the buildings was done. The rain was made up of three different layers, each made using Maya paint effects with some colour adjustments and a screen blending mode in Photoshop; two of these layers were placed behind the character and one of them in front of him. I did some painting over on the character himself, especially on his hair. Some textures were added at the bottom of the artwork and on top of all the other layers, using basic Photoshop techniques. Finally, I added the Batman logo and it was finished (Fig.10 - 11).
About The Author
My name is Mohhamadtaghi Aibaghi Esfahani and my nickname is Sohrab (Fig.12). I'm 24 years old and currently live in Iran. I started painting different things when I was a fifth-grader and I continued devoting my time to it as I progressed into high school. I have now graduated with an associate degree from Azad University of Tehran in the graphic design field.
I became fond of CG art after I watched The Lord of the Rings movie several times, after which time I started learning Maya and some other software. I don't like to complain, but it's not that easy for someone who lives in Iran to make progression in CG because the only training source that is available is video tutorials, and there are no appropriate universities for this field in Iran. When it comes to occupation, animation companies are not that good and there is no such thing as "gaming". Nonetheless, I'm doing the best that I can to make progression in CG art anyway, because I believe that I should follow my dreams. I believe that everything is going to work out some day.