Making of: Tombstone
Dhanad Islam reveals the masterful modelling techniques behind the creation of his fantasy beast: Tombstone
This tutorial will illustrate the steps I took to reach the final design. I will go over my process of building the base mesh, blocking in basic forms, silhouette studies, breaking primary forms into secondary ones, adding skin, and tertiary details, rapid mesh creation within ZBrush.
Importing the base mesh
After having created the base mesh in Maya, I import the geometry into ZBrush. Once in ZBrush, I refine the silhouette straight away by pulling and pushing the shape to match the design, and silhouette studies. In the event that I think I need to refine the edge flows, I bring it back into Maya, and add loops or redirect edges where needed.
For this creature, I design a skeleton and base it's muscle system on the forms found in bulls and gorillas. I like to keep all my reference images related to the skeleton system of any creature I want to mimic on my side at all times.
I prefer to use the Basic Material when blocking out the forms. I then start off with the Clay Tube and Clay Buildup brushes with low Z Intensity to quickly sculpt over the creature's most basic and major forms. I am also searching for the bony landmarks, typically Step 1 and Step 2 (Finding the landmarks) is something I explore first and foremost simultaneously.
TIP: When building basic forms, I work in low subdivision levels. Using ClayTubes, in conjunction with Clay Buildup, Move, and Smooth brushes at low subdivision levels help flesh out the primary forms faster.
When building forms I do not go above subdivision level 1 or 2 (Hotkey Ctrl+D to subdivide). When I subdivide at this stage, I store a Morph Target first, to preserve the shape and the silhouette, as subdividing from level 1 to 2, or 3 will smooth out the mesh too much - which I don't want. So to tackle this, assuming my mesh does not have any subdivisions yet, I click Tool > Morph Target > StoreMT. Then subdivide to whatever level I need, e.g. 3. Things get smoothed out, but no biggie as I have that original shape stored.
To get that shape back, I go back down to my base mesh which is now my subdivision level 1 (Shift +D to go down each level), click Tool > Morph Target > Switch. The shape that was stored is now morphed back, all that form that was sculpted earlier is back, and now I can go back up subdivision level 3 (Hotkey D to go up a level) with no loss of information.
Finding the landmarks
Finding the bony landmarks! The skeleton underneath is what drives the overall shape and silhouette of any vertebrates. I use Standard brush with Alpha 18 , along with varying Z Intensity to define the bony landmarks such as the ankle joints, knees, pelvic bone, the vertebrae, the jaw-line, etc. Also Dam_Standard brush, wherever I need to define the bone line a bit more clearly.
Defining secondary forms
At this stage I push further by breaking down the primary forms into secondary ones and so defining muscle groups, and folds. I subdivide the mesh, typically around 3 or 4, enough for getting nice clean (well sort of) cuts.
For defining and refining the muscle groups, I rely heavily on the Dam_Standard and ClayTubes brushes. Typically I like to set the Z Intensity on the ClayTubes brush as low as 5 when building on top of the work done in Step 2. For Dam_Standard, I set the brush size relatively small. I then use Clay and Inflate brush with low Z Intensity to build rough wrinkles, and folds definition. These are not highly detailed, but rather rough sketches of the major wrinkles that add to the overall form and shape of the creature.
For all the skin folds, overhanging skins and fat, I used Dam_Standard extensively to cut through, and build up fat or folds using the ClayTubes or Inflate brushes.
Negative shapes and direction
At this stage, I stop focusing on the forms and I go back to the overall silhouette. I tend to do this by going down to lower subdivisions and pulling and pushing the surface using the Move Topological brush to bring back shapes that I feel add more character to the subject.
Originally the neck was not as high; by raising the back of the neck high up gave the creature a more dominant stance and broadens its shoulders.
A good way to tweak silhouettes is to use the Flat Color material on the model and then playing around with the shapes and viewing from all angles to see what is working and what is not. At times I turn off perspective (Hotkey P) while evaluating the profile. I keep my eye on the negative shapes, it helps to read, and simplify the plane changes.
Adding claws, and teeth
First up, are the teeth. I append a Cube3D from the Tool menu. Then, I make it an editable mesh by clicking DynaMesh found under the Geometry menu. I use a DynaMesh resolution of 16 to get a low resolution mesh which is good enough as a starting point for sculpting the shape of the tooth. From this one tooth I will generate variations in shapes
Using the Move brush I begin by quickly pulling out an approximate shape of a tooth. I use reference images of alligator teeth for Tombstone. When I am happy with the overall look and shape, I perform a ZRemesher (found under the Geometry menu) operation on the tooth with these settings; turn Off Half, Same, Double or Adapt options, then set Target Polygon Count to 0.1, and Adaptive Size to 0.
After getting the shape of the teeth, I use Clay Tubes with low Z Intensity, and Smooth to sculpt smooth curvature nature of the tooth. I then simply Duplicate the tooth, then using the Move (Hotkey W), Scale (Hotkey E), or Rotate (Hotkey R) transpose line to move the position, scale it up or down, or rotate it on Y axis to give it a unique appearance. Use the Move brush to deform it's profile so that it looks a bit different than the others. Repeating this process on other teeth where needed to complete the teeth set for the creature.
TIP: After completing the teeth, I merge them all down into a single SubTool using the Merge Similar option found under the SubTool menu.
I use some copies of the teeth for Tombstone's claws for this project, deforming the shape or size where necessary.
Adding the tentacle tongues
For the tongues, I use the CurveMultiTube brush. Select your creature's mesh and make a duplicate. For the brush to work, you need to delete all the subdivision levels on your duplicated mesh. Go to Geometry, under the Tool menu, and go down to Subdivision level 1, and click the Del Higher button.
Now, the fun part. I drag out a couple of variations of the tentacle-like tongues. Then I just duplicate them, and then offset their position, scale, and rotation using the Transpose Line tool. Once done, I split the tongues from the temporary base mesh that was used to create them. To do this, make sure this SubTool is selected, and under the SubTool menu, click Groups Split. Now, selecting the newly created tongue group, I go ahead and open up the Polygroup menu located under the Tool menu, and click Auto Group.
TIP: Now that the tongues have their own group, it will be easier to isolate a particular tongue SubTool temporarily, just Hotkey hold Ctrl + Shift then click on the SubTool you wish to isolate. To bring back the rest of the tongue SubTools, simply hold Ctrl+Shift and click anywhere on the canvas.
Adding the massive coral plates
The process behind the creation and placement of the plates is the same as the tongues. I simply make them out of cubes, and use DynaMesh to sculpt the shape out. I then use ZRemesher to get a workable topology.
Then, I subdivide it enough so that I can apply surface noise. To do that look up Surface found under the Tool menu. Under Surface menu, click Noise, and the click Edit. Playing around with the Scale and Strength I was able to get an approximate level of noise I felt was right for these coral plates.
Defining tertiary forms
When I am happy with the overall silhouette and forms, I begin addressing the tertiary forms. In this case, skin pores, texture, a lot of wrinkles, and over-hanging fat deposits. Tertiary forms are also great way to break up the highlights and add depth to the characters look.
Tombstone, is meant to have stone formations on its back, and the formation gradually fades into the thick hide that it wears on the rest of the body. I subdivide the mesh to level 6, which yields a whopping 12 million polygons. This is enough for fine details I have in mind. Next, begin by storing a Morph Target (found under the Tool menu), so that I can always bring back the surface I had before adding tertiary details.
I have used several Alphas assigned to the Standard brush. I set the brush to DragRect mode and vary my Z intensity based on the depth of the detail I needed on areas of the creature.
For the most part I manually draw the wrinkles one by one, as it gives me more control over the flow and direction. For wrinkles, I use alligator, elephants, hippopotamus, and the sphinx cat as references. I use Dam_Standard, and Slash3 brush for defining the deep cuts of the wrinkles, making sure the brush size is small and Z Intensity is medium high.
These are the final images of the modeling aspect of the Tombstone, with very basic compositing in Photoshop. The images were rendered in ZBrush, with two-point light setup – nothing fancy.