Making Of 'Zenoth, Alien From Jupiter'
I think that every man, once in his life, takes sometime to wonder about extraterrestrial beings; it's quite normal, I guess. The most frequent questions are most likely, 'What would they look like?' and 'How would they relate to us?' - Two very basic questions and yet an infinite number of answers. Science-fiction has already outlined a very detailed archetype of alien beings, their forms and their behaviour, so we already have a familiarity with this kind of subject from what has been said and shown to us. It is very difficult to go against something we are used to, and I was very aware of this before starting the project; I didn't want to go crazy with originality, I simply wanted to create my own personal view of an alien without shifting too much from the popular essence of them.
I imagined them as creatures, neither good nor bad,just living beings; they have a different social structure, a different way of communication and different ways to feel things and emotions. Take a predator like a lion:it's not a bad animal because it kills other creatures to survive; it's just inits DNA. This is the same for Zenoth: he comes to Earth to eliminate humans because they need our planet for survival - just for this reason, and no other.There is no chance to communicate with him; he simply doesn't care about us in the same manner as we don't care about ants. He's not curious, he doesn't feelanything, and his mission is purely to eliminate us. He's not bad because hekills humans, and there's no reason to eliminate us because of something wrong we did as human beings. We're just in the wrong place at the wrong time!
I was very confident about the humanoid form (4 limbsand a head) just because if we are the most "advanced" creatures on this planet then there must be a reason for us to be made like this, and I think that our features would be the best mode of choice for more advanced beings. The skeletal and muscular system is a "deformation" of the human's, they have alarger chest being supported by stronger muscles anchored to the spinal bones that have a more complex and stronger structure then our own. The pelvic bone has been rotated a bit, and a "spoon"-like form has been given to it to better support the heavy chest. Likewise, the legs and their muscles have been adapted to the new structure, although the base muscular system is very similar to the human one in "mechanical" terms. The head is perhaps the most original part of the whole alien, as you can see from my preliminary sketches (Fig.01). I imagined him to have a mouth; later I decided to cut the mouth off his face because of a careful consideration about their behaviour. I didn't want that humans to think they could talk with them or to believe that there could besome sort of communication. No way! Zenoth is not here to have a talk, be friendly or to try to understand how humans are, this is not how he is supposed to behave. I very much liked his big ears right from the beginning, perhaps just because it makes him looking a little more animal-like.
The modelling process started as usual with a simplebase mesh (Fig.02) that was basically an adaptation of a human one; I just quickly remodelled the parts that I needed to be different (head, feet). I took this low-res mesh into ZBrush and started sculpted, focusing on balance,rhythm, gesture and volumes. During this phase I used the Move, Standard,Inflat and Clay tubes brushes, sculpting in every subdivision level until I could not stress the mesh anymore. This way I avoided focusing on details too earlyon in the model. This is very important because you want to lay down volumes in "layers" of complexity, you just cannot push the Subdivide button and startgoing crazy with wrinkles. If you do this, you'll lose the major volumes andyour details may appear like a bump, instead of being generated from a particular, underlying structure.
When the main features were in place, I exported a mid-resmesh that preserved some of the major details and imported it into TopoGun wereI started the retopologising process. TopoGun is in beta testing right now andI am one of the modellers that have been accepted in the beta; I have to saythat I found myself very comfortable using it right from the very beginning. It is very fast, reliable, and it has lots of useful tools that help you in beingmore efficient in the retopologising process. These are tools that I've really missed whilst doing the same thing in ZBrush: bridge, connect, loop-split,relax, and merge, among others (Fig.03 - 04).
Once the model was retopologised, with animation and deformation in mind, I exported the new mesh back into ZBrush, and after I subdivided it a few times I re-projected the previously-modelled details onto it. From here on, I focused my attention to finding a balance between details and major volumes (Fig.05 - 06). This is a very important step,since sometimes you can have models with a good amount of details but bad definition of major volumes and vice versa: you have to stay balanced withdetails, never overdo it if you don't feel that you (or, I should say, themodel) really need those details. Good understanding and study of animal and human references is a great way to improve your skills. Carlos Huante, JorduSchell, Steve Wang, and Takayuki Takeya amongst others are great masters to learn from; their designs are awesome from this point of view.
Once the modelling was done, I baked the high frequency details to the mesh at its lower subdivision, with ZMapper inside ZBrushgenerating a 4k normal map (Fig.07). The mesh was previously unwrapped with RoadKill, a stand-alone programme by Francis O'Brien.
Posing the model was very simple: I used the Transposetool in ZBrush to get the "power-pose" I was looking for. Once the model had been posed, I re-sculpted some parts of the mesh to reflect the gesture in the body structure.
The texturing process was a very crucial part in the design; since the subject was so popular I wanted to find something that would make people understand, at first sight, that that alien design was mine. At the beginning, I didn't have a clear idea for the textures, and at first I tried a"pop" colour scheme. I soon realised, though, that it wouldn't work for me. SoI started looking for inspiration by studying all the reference of exotic animals I was able to find, until I found some kind of poisonous frog thatreally caught my attention - bluish with black spotted limbs. Another aspect ofthis exotic skin really pushed me in that direction: the poisonous animals havea very distinct pattern on their skin which makes other animals aware that theyare in danger; this would fit perfectly my vision of Zenoth and his behaviour.
In Photoshop I laid down a first solid colour for the whole body; on another layer I applied the second colour for the one on the limbs. Changing the hue/saturation on each layer (turning the Colorizeoption on) I could play with different colour palettes. This way I had the ability to try many different colour schemes and preview them in Max before choosing the best one (Fig.08).
Once I'd chosen the two main colours, I used random brushs trokes in order to add variation to the textures. To keep consistency colour-wise, I simply picked colours with derivative hues from the main one. Topush the randomisation further, I also used some handmade brushes. I made a few layers this way but I missed a bit of sharpness in the details. The second step was to utilise some textures from the 3DTotal Textures DVDs (www.shop.3dtotal.com) to get somesharp details and organic patterns going on in the skin and also to get morevariation. This is really the key when it comes to texturing organic stuff. I searched for both organic textures and concrete ones and used them together,sometimes using one as a layer and one as a layer mask. You can have a large numberof combinations - each one is going to give you a different result!
I experimented a bit at this stage, also looking herefor a rhythm in those patterns. Finally, after playing with the blending modes of each layer (Fig.09), I chose the layer that worked best for my purpose. In particular, parts like the chest and the cheeks were where I needed different kind of skin, and so I handpainted a fleshy-/bloody-looking texture,mainly using colours picked from references of meat, and darkening or brightening with the Burn/Dodge tool to mimic the flesh look I wanted.
I also used a cavity map and the displacement map baked from ZBrush to enhance the already modelled details (Fig.10). Creating the specular map and the bump map was very simple since I used lots of layers.Basically, I just had to understand each layer's intensity in a greyscale value,playing with Levels and Curves to get to the desired result (Fig.11).
Shading & Lighting
In Max I imported the lowest subdivision level from ZBrush(the retopologized mesh) already posed. I then applied to the mesh the "Skin+"Mental Ray material by HÃ¥kan Andersson that combines the "fast SSSskin" shader with the nice, glossy reflective capabilities of themia_material. Once I found the rightSSS values I started the lighting phase. The result I was looking for was realistic, but with some hint of an illustration. To achieve this result I used Area lights with some typical sci-fi colouring (Fig.12).
I firstly created a star background with a soft transition to a deep blue, almost black colour to the sides. This was done by searching Google for "starfield" images. I then added a central line coloured in orange that was going to represent a sort of portal through which Zenoth is appearing.Over the solid colour of the line I added several images of nebulae found on the internet, with different blending modes, to get the final glowing effect I wanted.
I placed the rendered image on top, adjusting Levels, Curvesand Colour Balance. Between the rendered image and the background I placed a blurred copy of it. I also painted some tendrils with special brushes, and then screened everything to have a "halo" effect behind the character (Fig.13).
The glowing "power ball" was a bit tricky to get. I started with some handpainted smoky strokes and then added several images fromstars and nebulae with different blending modes, creating the right layer mask for the fingers for each one. In the end, I used some really cool brushes created by "r0man-de" on DeviantArt.com, to get the tendrils the way I wanted, mixing them with some other handpainted tendrils just where I needed (Fig.14).
I hope you've enjoyed this project overview, thanks for taking the time to read it!
To see more by Federico Scarbini, check out ZBrush Character Sculpting