Making of The Warrior Kangrinboq
Marcelo Pinheiro shares his ZBrush workflow for creating fantasy characters...
For this project I knew I wanted to do a fantasy character inspired by the Blur game cinematic style. When I found Yin Yuming's concept art online I saw a great potential for a cool 3D character. And off we go to the land of little sleep, caffeine and podcasts. The hardest part on this project was quitting playing my guitar for the duration of it. Just joking, the hardest part comes later, wait for it! First tip of the day: don't use coffee, green tea is much more effective and healthy! For this making of I'll try to go fast through the clichés and focus on the stuff I found really hard to learn by searching online.
Step 1: Annihilating the blank paper
If Deadpool wrote a tutorial on how to kill a guy do you think he would start by researching for references? Well, he is not a 3D artist, so we won't listen to him. I like to start looking at pictures to visualize how the different parts on the concept look like in real life. Looking at the amazing work of masters like Alessandro Baldasseroni, Mathieu Aerni and Rafael Grassetti for inspiration during the process doesn't hurt me either. For this, I organize the pictures on reference boards at a high resolution so I can look at them all at once and zoom in on some specific area at any time. Take a look at my cool skull board. Did you guys know that quadrupeds don't have a closed bone loop around the eye socket? I didn't; you live and learn!
Step 2: The naked guy
I began by trying to figure out how on earth Hossein Diba is producing so many great sculptures in such a short amount of time; I failed miserably and had to find my own way. What helps when sculpting anything is understanding the subject inside out, and that includes anatomy. Scott Eaton told me that knowing the names helps you to become familiar with body structures, and understanding the mechanical functions eliminates a lot of the guess work.
My ZBrush is customized to fit my personal brush preferences; all my main keys are mapped to hotkeys. Rafael Grassetti has a nice free tutorial on how to do that on his Gumroad. I started with a very basic stick figure base mesh, subdivided to level 7 (maximum on my machine) and created a layer. With that little setup taken care of I started blocking in the primary shapes and proportions using the Move brush, then sculpted some of the main bony landmarks and added the muscles using the Clay brush set to a low intensity (10) and a Square alpha. I like to leave the brush marks at the end of this stage because they provide something cool to look at before adding real details to the model.
Step 3: Digital blacksmith from the future
Sculpting armor in ZBrush is always fun. The most fun way to do it for me is to paint a mask over the model and use Extract to create a new SubTool from it. The extracted mesh always comes with strange jagged edges so I used ZRemesh to smooth it a little before starting to shape it.
For the armor pieces I sculpt in a completed different manner. I try to keep the model in a low subdivision state so that it is easier to smooth and shape it as much as possible before going to higher on divisions. This stops me from becoming too attached to the form in case I need to perform radical changes that require remeshing. Sometimes I convert the model to DynaMesh after the first remesh to help me define the overall shape, but I always do a ZRemesh before adding detail.
Step 4: Retopology madness
3ds Max is my mother ship so I went back to it for retopology and modeling the additional things like the sword and belt detail. The all quads topology puzzles are one of my favorite pastimes, it's almost an obsession of mine searching for better topology solutions. As I planned to give the body a 32 bits displacement map I didn't try to reproduce all of the anatomical detail in the animation mesh, but instead I went for a mesh that would deform nicely once rigged.
For the face I like to use HippyDrome topology - this guy developed Pixar's topology and facial rigging pipeline. His theory on the subject is the best formulated I've seen and his facial topology deforms nicely.
Step 5: Navigating uncharted waters
In every project we hit a point when we don't know how to do something; this is all part of the fun and it stops our work from becoming routine and stale. In this project, I had no clue how to model braided hair and braided leather. For the hair I used a cool trick with a spline and two ripple modifiers with gizmos rotated 90 degrees from each other; then I copied it three times and bang, I had a braid. In the end I decided to save on some polys by giving them some thickness, putting a hair texture and a bump instead of using the splines to grow real hair. By placing a spline deformer modifier on the finished braid I was able to position and to replicate it.
For the suspenders I did a quick version of the shape using a plane, unwrapped it and used a nice script called "UV to mesh" to flatten the model based on its UVs. The next step was to model tile-like interlaced leather and fill my flattened model with it. To finish up I used a skin-wrap modifier to glue the pattern in the flat model, and then morphed it back into position.
Step 6: The key to extreme detail
Time to have some fun with UVs! Who am I kidding, UVs are boring, but if you did your homework and have good topology it is over with quickly. I unwrapped every single object and used the auto packing; unfortunately I still needed to improve the computers work by doing a better layout and avoiding wasted spaces.
As I knew I wanted an obscene amount of detail on this guy, and ZBrush only exports a maximum file size of 8K, I divided the model in to several UVs in order to export multiple maps later. The armor was easy; I divided it into upper metal, lower metal, upper leather, lower leather, cloth and brass. The body was another story. As a single 8k map isn't nearly enough to hold the pore detail for the whole body the solution was multi tiling UVs. To do this I laid out a part of the model using the entire UV space, selected it all, and moved it numerically up one unit and repeat. The result is a model that can have multiple 8k maps.
Step 7: Back to Z Land
Back in ZBrush I smoothed out the brush strokes on my original sketch, imported the new topology model, projected the details, refined the anatomy, and got the model ready to receive the skin detail. At this stage all the primary and secondary forms are in place, the only thing missing is the detail sculpted with alphas.
My seven division model still wasn't big enough to hold all the details I wanted; time to take advantage of the multi tiles. If you hit UV groups inside polygroups, ZBrush will group the model based on the tiles we created in 3ds Max. Splitting the model by groups allowed me to divide the model one more time. You need to remember to keep a copy of the SubTool before splitting. Now I had the polygon resolution needed to detail the model.
Step 8: Having fun
Detailing the model is one of the most enjoyable steps. First I like to drag some directional alphas to give a general Specular break. It's important to respect the direction when dragging alphas as the pores usually get stretched perpendicular to the skin compression direction. I use a combination of scanned alphas from SurfaceMimic and the classic skin brushes from ZBrushCentral. Different parts of the body have different kinds of pores and wrinkles so it is nonsense to drag the same generic skin alpha all over the place and call it done.
Step 9: The hard part
After sculpting details all over the body I was left with seams on the SubTools borders. To fix that I had to go back to the un-split SubTool and make a polygroup containing a section of the neck and a section of the body with the seam line in the middle. I projected the details of both the head and the body into the corrective fragment. After that I had the seam line in a single SubTool and was able to clean it by smoothing and re-dragging some alphas. Last thing to do was re-project the seamless fragment in both the head and the body models. I can't wait till the computers evolve so ZBrush will be able to handle one more division level.
Step 10: Battle with my inner blacksmith
After I dealt with the body, it was time to give some attention to the armor. No matter how much I know the model will look cooler after a Damage pass, it is always hard to destroy those beautiful hard edges, but destroy them I did and it felt great! Before I began with the damage I added an additional layer of ornaments to the metal and the leather. Done, now every piece will receive a 32 bits displacement map. Luckily I've just bought some additional RAM!
Step 11: Hair and fur
Yep I'm running out of cool headlines. Man, I hate going to the barber, but doing hair and fur is actually kind of cool! For this one I used Ornatrix and it runs so smoothly with V-Ray - it's like they were made to each other. I was generous on the hair-counts and still the hair the fastest.
I used two different workflows for hair. The beard started in ZBrush with FiberMesh - I love FiberMesh, it is fast and intuitive - the trick is how to get them out of ZBrush. I like to go in to the FiberMesh options under Preview and set the fast preview number to a drastically lower value but keeping it high enough to define the shape. This way when you go in the Export Curves option it will only export those visible ones and they can be used as guides in 3ds max.
A painted black and white map with faded borders helps to define where the hair should grow in the mesh and also to control length and thickness. This way the hair eases in to existence and eliminates that doll-hair look. For the fur I grew the guides directly in Ornatrix. No hair is born to be alone so clumping it to form meshes is the path to making it feel right. Ornatrix does an awesome job at it by letting you clump the final hair, as well as the guides.
Step 12: Life in Technicolor
For the textures I like to do a sub-dermal diffuse that looks terrible by itself, but is a great base for the skin tone. I do it first, using the Normal brush with the default ZBrush veins alpha and some color variations respecting the skin natural color temperature. I started to paint the color tone over it, in this case blue, at a low intensity taking care not to cover the previous layer completely. I love to do this in layers so I save each step to do a final comp in Photoshop. On top of those layers I painted a darker version of the skin color in places where the tissue is under more tension. I also like to give some color variation between the light and dark areas using a noisy type of alpha, painting some pits, stains and other sorts of skin defects. The last thing I do is bake a cavity map and overlay it in Photoshop, this way the alpha sculpted detail becomes part of the diffuse and helps to give another layer of complexity to the skin.
For the armor a cool trick is to use different textures like rocks or concrete to achieve some color variation on the metals. The leather I did in a very simple manner by painting a lighter tone in the worn parts and overlaying the cavity in the end.
Step 13: The waiting business
My drug of choice is V-Ray and how I love it! There's not much I can say about it that Grant Warwick hasn't already (seriously look him up, the guy is awesome), but I'll give you some encouragement words:
- Don't be afraid of the linear workflow. The whole thing is a little confusing and the color picker goes bananas, but it's worth. Materials and lights make much more sense in linear gamma.
- Always use Fresnel in conjunction with the correct ior, ggx shading mode and if you want to be fancy use a falloff curve to control the glossiness.
- Almost anything worth rendering deserves a good map to give some variations in the glossiness.
- Metals don't have diffuse (or have little diffuse). Leave it black. What you paint as diffuse goes into the reflection channel.
- SSS2 doesn't work well with environment. If you are planning on using HDRi to light the scene, put it in a V-Ray light dome.
- A color correction node is a good way to control maps that go in the reflection and glossiness nodes.
- 32 bits displacements goes into V-Ray HDRi map that feeds a V-Ray displace-ment mod modifier.
- Play guitar while you wait for renders, it's good for you.
Step 14: The waiting is over
After the render it is just boring Photoshop post stuff. I used Curves too to make color correction, Lens Blur to do depth of field using a ZDepth map and Lens Correction to fake the chromatic aberration. I hope you have enjoyed this making of. Sorry for the bad jokes, but I tried to make up to you by packing it with as much useful information as I could and where I couldn't, at least point you in the right direction where I've found my own answers.