Making of 'The Sky Fisherman'
Hi, my name is Akin Bilgic; I'm a freelance modeller and VFX artist currently living in San Francisco, CA. I'd like to thank 3DTotal.com for inviting me to share this making of with you. Hopefully this article will help others, as many of the tutorials here have helped get me to where I am today. If you have any further questions after reading this making of, I invite you to contact me through my website, and I'll do my best to help answer any questions. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
3ds Max for low-poly base meshes and hard-surface props; ZBrush for organic detailing, proportions and posing; Photoshop for painting alphas and assembling the final renders.
The concept for 'The Sky Fisherman' came from the work of an amazing concept artist, named Stoph. I stumbled upon his work one day while browsing ConceptArt.org - looking for good concepts to work from, since I'm not much of a 2D artist myself. I immediately fell in love with his concept and knew I wanted to create it in 3D. I contacted Stoph shortly after, asked for his permission to use the concept, and he was more than happy to have me take a crack at it. Here's Stoph's original concept art (Fig.01).
The back story of the concept is about two boys, Eli and Ardent, who ride the skies on the back of their turtle, Artoise, hunting a menacing species of flying squid that terrorizes their shores ...
Modelling the Turtle
I began the modelling process in 3ds Max, as I find it's native poly-modelling tools, combined with the Poly Boost plugin, are a very powerful and quick way to create a clean base mesh for use in ZBrush. I like to keep my base meshes fairly low-poly and loose - just enough to give me a good idea of the overall form and proportions.
I constantly referred to the concept art as a guide, and made sure the base mesh would have just enough to work with once I took it into ZBrush for higher level detailing. The turtle base mesh was constructed from basic geometry using a spherified cube for the shell, and an extruded box for the fins and neck (Fig.02).
After the turtle's base mesh was ready, I chose to stay in Max and model the high-res props that would be attached to the turtle's body. I felt having the props on the turtle's body would give me some additional landmarks to help judge proportions from, and since the concept art was so great, I wanted to make sure I stayed as true to it as I could
Once I had the props and base mesh ready, it was finally time to take them into ZBrush to really start bringing the turtle to life. I began with the turtle's shell - heavily relying on reference images of sea-turtles I found on the internet. Even though the concept is strictly fantasy based, I find that having realistic detailing helps ground a concept to reality, and helps sell the character's believability. Most of the sculpting was done by hand at this point, using the Standard brush with Lazy Mouse to define the large scute edges, and Clay Tubes to create the lined ridge texture on the top of the scutes (Fig.04).
For the flippers and neck, I approached the sculpting a little differently. I took a screenshot of the low-poly flipper base mesh in ZBrush, took that into Photoshop, and used it as a guide to hand-paint a black and white alpha map. The reason for this was so I could use photo references to quickly find a way to create the intricate pattern I wanted. Once I was reasonably happy with the painted pattern, I took the image into ZBrush, and used it as an alpha with the drag-rectangle stroke to lay the pattern down onto the higher-res mesh (Fig.05).
Once the alpha pattern was down on the flippers, I went back and added smaller details and irregularities so it didn't look too flat or uniform. I also used the lines as a guide to build up bigger folds and creases as the appendages merged into the shell. The same technique was used for the head and neck. Once the rest of the props were added, the turtle was mostly finished and it was time to move on to modelling the kids - Eli and Ardent (Fig.06).
Modelling the Kids
I began modelling the children in 3ds Max. I didn't start from scratch, since I already had a generic human base mesh that I had modelled from a previous project. It helps save time and energy to keep a library of generic objects that you've made over time - no need to redo work that you've already done in the past! Also, in the interest of saving time, I decided that since Eli and Ardent had very similar anatomy and proportions, that I could use the same base model for both of them.
Using Max's basic tools like soft-selection, I took my generic human base mesh and altered the proportions to better fit the look of the boys in the concept art. I then modelled the clothing and prop base meshes, taking note that the only differences between the two kids were their shirts, shoes, and headgear. In Fig.07 you can see the same base mesh with a new set of clothing and props, making them look like the two different characters.
Once the single base mesh with the two unique sets of clothing and props were ready, I took them into ZBrush and began sculpting the higher-res body. The idea was to get the high-res body sculpt as close to finished as possible, and then duplicate the mesh into two unique copies with their respective clothing and props. This way I would only have to sculpt the high-res anatomy once - thereby saving me countless hours from not having to do the same thing twice.
I relied heavily on anatomy reference when sculpting the body. I collected images from various sources across the internet, and took pictures of myself to use as a guide. I knew the kids needed to look and feel like real children in order for the audience to suspend disbelief and connect with them. I sculpted as much detail as I could with the character in its symmetrical t-pose, taking advantage of ZBrush's symmetry stroke to again save time and effort. Â Â
I apologise if it seems like I'm not going too in-depth about the sculpting process here, but to be honest, there really is no secret trick or tip to this phase of the modelling - 90% of the workload is being done with the Standard and Move brushes. It just takes a lot of time, hard work, and tonnes of references to get a satisfactory final result (Fig.08).
Once the high-res body sculpt was ready, I used ZBrush's Transpose Master toolset to put the boys in their respective poses. The pose is a very important aspect of a sculpt - it says a lot about the character - so I wanted to make sure they were just right before moving onto other parts. Things to look for when posing your character are silhouette, readability from a distance, and how you can convey that person's personality through their posture. A good way to clearly analyse your character's silhouette in ZBrush is to switch the shader to Flat Colour. The facial expressions were also handled during this phase - mostly by using the Move brush to change their mouth shapes (Fig.09).
After the poses were complete, it was time to sculpt the high-res clothing and accessories (It's important that you sculpt clothing after the posing phase, because the pose will greatly affect how clothes fold and wrinkle). Hard-surface objects like the shoes were modelled in 3ds Max, while softer objects like the shirts, pants and gloves were sculpted in ZBrush. This project was the second time I'd attempted to sculpt realistic clothing, so it took a bit of trial and error to get a result that I felt was believable. It helps to give lots of thought to the specific material of the clothing, as that tends to dictate how the folds and wrinkles occur.Â For example, for Eli's pants, I decided that they were probably jeans, which are fairly heavy and have larger, less frequent wrinkles. For Ardent's shirt, the opposite: a thin T-shirt material with lots of folds and wrinkles being affected by everything from the belt around his waist to the wind in the air. Again, lots of time, hard work, and references led to the final result (Fig.10).
With the kids finished and in their places, I gave the entire model one final pass to make sure everything fit together well. During this stage, I tweaked proportions, slightly altered poses, cleaned up any areas that I might have overlooked, and really tried to view the model as one integrated work, instead of a sum of smaller parts. Once it had passed this phase, the model was finished (Fig.11).
After the 3D model was complete, I had the great pleasure of having the fantastic people at Offload Studios create an 18-inch tall physical 3D print of the model. Their work is truly amazing (magic as far as I'm concerned!), and it's been awesome to see them do what they do best (Fig.12).
And there you have it! Once again, I'd like to thank you for reading, and a big thanks to 3DTotal for hosting this article and being such a valuable resource to 3D artists worldwide. If you have any further questions about this tutorial or any of my work, please feel free to contact me through my website, CGGallery.com, and I'll try my best to help out. Happy creating!