Making of 'Victory!'
James Suret reveals how he created a futuristic female cyborg soldier, using clothing, accessories and scenery to create a narrative...
In this tutorial I will explain how I created a futuristic cyborg character with weapons and accessories, finished off with a plinth for the character to help tell a story. I used DynaMesh throughout the sculpting process, gradually increasing the polycount to add more details. The end result was an image created from several render passes exported from ZBrush and put together in Photoshop.
Starting with a base mesh in ZBrush
I wanted this character to be based on human anatomy, so I loaded a female base mesh. Using a base mesh saves time when compared to starting from ZSpheres (which I usually do when creating non-humanoid characters).
After modifying the model's proportions slightly, I duplicated it and turned on Transparency, which allowed me to sculpt on the top SubTool while seeing the base mesh underneath.
Using the Move and Clay brushes, I created the basic shapes of the armor around the model's anatomy. I then used DynaMesh to increase the polygon count and create an even mesh ready to add further details.
TIP: It's sometimes necessary to cut out straight lines in the mesh, for example, on seams or metal panels. To do this you can hold down the left-mouse-button and then hold down the Shift-key and drag the mouse – the mouse cursor will then snap to a straight line.
Creating the head and limbs
I decided to separate the arms and lower legs in order to sculpt them individually; this also made posing the character easier later on.
To create the robotic feet I cut off the toes, closed the mesh and formed the new toe using a mask with the Move brush. Using the same method I created the heel. After using DynaMesh on the SubTool, I was able to split the foot up into sections and add some details. After making large changes to the shape of the arm, I used DynaMesh and then added rough details to create the impression of armor.
I decided to make the head look more robotic than human so I sectioned it up into panels using the DamStandard brush and did some initial polishing to give the impression of hard surfaces.
Creating the cape
To create the cape, I inserted a plane as a new SubTool, turned on Symmetry and activated Double in the Display properties to make both sides of the plane visible.
Using the Move brush I molded the shape of the plane around the character's head and shoulders. I then used DynaMesh to increase the polycount and create an evenly distributed mesh. This allowed me to easily sculpt large details using the Clay and Move brushes. After I had made more changes to the shape, I ran DynaMesh again to create a higher polycount.
The next step was to sculpt the finer folds and creases of the cape. As well as the Clay and Move brush, I used the Pinch brush along the crease to sharpen them.
Creating hard surfaces with Panel Loops
Up until this point I had been using just the Flatten and Smooth brushes to create the hard surfaces, so I decided to try using one of the new features of ZBrush – Panel Loops.
I masked out the section of the mesh I wanted to make into a panel and created a Polygroup from the mask. In order to only use Panel Loops on that area, I hid everything else by holding Shift+Ctrl and clicking on the Polygroup. Under the Geometry sub-palette, I turned off the Double property of the Panel Loops tool so the panel it created would stay connected to the mesh. I also set Polish to 25 to create a smoother surface. I then repeated this process for the whole character model.
After creating all of the hard surface panels, I added more details and separation lines using the DamStandard brush. Then I added countersunk holes at the edges of the panels using the Standard brush with a circular alpha set to DragRect – these would be used to place screw mesh inserts later. To define more details on the upper legs, I used the Pinch and Smooth brushes to create the look of material wrapped around mechanical parts.
Adding details with mesh inserts
To add some realism to the mechanical parts of the character, I added vents and screws using the mesh insert library that comes with ZBrush. After inserting the first screw I held Ctrl down while inserting the next screw, making it snap to the same size, which saved time checking the screws were consistent.
Creating the accessories and posing
When the character was complete, I moved on to creating the weapons and clothing. Initially, I created a sword that would sit on the hip of the character. The sword started as a cube that I sculpted into shape using masks with the Transpose tool and DynaMesh to increase details in areas.
I created the lance using the same method and added a strap using an insert mesh with Curve mode. Additionally I created an alternative version of the cape attached to the back and a sleeve attached to the shoulder.
The character was then posed using the Transpose tools. I settled on quite a simple pose that made the character look confident and determined. I then decided a full-length cape looked more dramatic and also added wrist and arm bands. The lance was swapped for a battle standard – the idea was that it would display a holographic flag or logo.
Creating the base
After finishing the pose and accessories I needed to create an environment to help tell a story. The aim was to create a small section of a war-torn urban battlefield for the character to stand on, triumphantly displaying her standard.
If your aim is to create a character concept or illustration, your final image will have much more impact if it tells a story in some way. You want the viewer to feel like they have caught the scene mid-action or that it is part of a larger story.
The base was created from a cylinder, using Transpose tools to pull out a basic shape and dividing the mesh to smooth it out. The rubble was created from a variety of mesh inserts from ZBrush's library. I laid down a base layer of rocks and bent sheets of metal, and then I inserted several pieces of mechanical debris and moved them in to place to create a visually appealing flow to complement the pose of the character.
Lighting and rendering in ZBrush
Initially I kept the default light on and changed the resolution of the BPR shadow to 8000 to sharpen the shadows. The focus for the first render was details and edges. To do this I set the Material for the whole model to dj_zsketchsunup, which is available from the Pixologic download center. The default settings for this material looked too strong, so I turned down the Cavity Detection to 0.25 which created a smoother look.
After saving the render I changed the material to BasicMaterial, turned off the default light and loaded a LightCap file consisting of lights with different intensities and angles. This render simulated global illumination, giving a soft overall shade to the model.
TIP: When using LightCap lighting in your scene, be sure to switch your material to one of the standard materials such as BasicMaterial. MatCap materials won't render properly with a LightCap because MatCap materials have their own lighting baked in to them. Also, turn off the default light under the Light menu before rendering.
For this render I also turned on AO (ambient occlusion), set the Resolution to 8000 and the Blur to 2. I then saved the render, AO and mask layers.
I repeated the step from several different camera angles and distances in order to have options for the final image.
Compositing the renders in Photoshop
Next I brought the renders into Photoshop, starting with the LightCap render. Then I added the AO layer and set the blend mode to Pin Light at 50% which smoothed out the sharp shadows. The detail/edges layer was then added and I set its mode to Screen – this added highlights and a bit of rim lighting. I duplicated the AO layer on top and set its mode to multiply 50% which darkened the shadows. Finally, I created a simple gradient background for each shot, applied a noise filter and assembled them onto a larger canvas.
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