Making Of 'Zombie In The Closet'
Greets everyone! My name is Yaroslav Primachenko and in this Making Of I will tell you about my last 3D work called "A zombie in the closet". The idea for this work came to me after watching some zombie movies and playing the brilliant Plants vs. Zombies game - why are zombies always composed of parts taken from the same species, it's so boring! These cute creatures surely deserve more, so I decided to make my own zombie and make it more creative by combining parts of different living (or should I say dead?) beings. So I drew a character called Franky - a younger brother of the famous Frankenstein monster. A freak and an outcast, hated and despised by his own family for being a vegetarian and preferring broccoli to brains. Nobody ever wrote any books or shot movies about him - his existence was a disgrace to all of his relatives. Well, there's a skeleton in everyone's closet, you know.
At first I wanted to make a more realistic-looking image with less saturated colors, but quickly changed my mind after drawing a sketch. I didn't want to lose all the opportunities that a more cartoony approach gave me - like Franky sitting on his tail as if in a rocking chair, or using such deformed proportions. I tried to create a zombie that everyone would want as a pet and would love to feed with all the stuff the zombies love to eat (brains?).
I started with ZSpheres in ZBrush 3.1 - which is a great tool, especially now that version 3.5 has been released. With the ZSpheres I sought the right proportions then turned them into an editable mesh and started defining the geometry (Fig.01).
Then I exported it into 3ds Max and made some fixes where needed - cleaning the geometry and refining it even more. Fig.02 shows the results both with and without turbosmooth on.
I also unwrapped the model to make it ready for texturing (Fig.03).
After that I exported it back into ZBrush, divided it a few times and started working on some fine geometry. It was at exactly that time that I started feeling a bit stupid as it turned out to be rather difficult to combine all the different parts and yet make them look organic and natural. It became a series of experimenting, trying this and that, exploring human and animal anatomy and thinking about how to apply it to my zombie and make it look believable.
Then I divided the model even more and started adding all the different wrinkles - my favorite part of the work (Fig.04). I used free alphas from ZBrushCentral - really awesome stuff - and also created some from the iguana photos for the cheeks and the back of my zombie creature (Fig.05). That's the real fun, it's only texturing that I like more!
Cool texturing and awesome materials
My texturing process goes like this. First I fill the model with the basic color and then do a rough polypaint (all in ZBrush), not caring about the resolution or the details a lot and just finding the right color scheme for the creature.
From time to time I export the texture as a low res PSD file and render it in Max, then paint more to try and get the look I want - I find this approach gives me the best and most predictable results.
When I'm more or less happy with the result I export it as a 4k texture, open it in Photoshop and apply hue/saturation to correct the color, curves and to raise up the contrast. Then I apply this fixed texture to the model in ZBrush and start painting on it using projection master - now working on fine details. I often mask the model by cavity and brighten or darken the details I need. From time to time I also open the texture in Photoshop and add extra textures using different overlay modes. These layers are often only 10% visible but I find they add the needed vibrancy and variety. The standard color evolution looks something like this (Fig.06).
When happy with the result I export the texture from ZBrush, open it in Photoshop and add some sharpen and just whatever I feel will make the texture look better. As you can see there's pretty much additional layers on top of exported from ZBrush diffuse texture (Fig.07). There's no recipe - it's unique every time. I usually add a cavity mask on top of the diffuse channel set it to multiply and make about 20-50% visible. I also like to lighten up some details with the layer set to soft light and add extra textures or just draw the details trying to avoid the seams.
That's pretty much everything about texturing. In the case of Franky I wanted to color different parts of his body in completely different contrast colors, but soon found out it was a bad idea as the character looked very unnatural. There's still a color variation between the different parts but not as vivid as I intended from the beginning. I also created maps for reflection, sss, bump and normal bump (Fig.08).
Genius lightning and great scene setup
I used a pretty simple scheme for the lightning - a basic fill VRay light and two spot lights with attenuation, one for the rim light source and second for the key light. I also put some planes with self illumination material on - a method frequently used in the car scene setup (Fig.09).
In the reflection slot of the VRay environment I put an HDRI map. I didn't use any HDRI for the additional lightning - just a sky blue color with multiplier set to 0,8. I used an irradiance map with the high preset for the primary GI bounces and the light cash for the secondary - this combination works really well for static scenes. I put a dark to light blue gradient on the background and added a plane under the character with radial gradient on the material's opacity channel, so that the floor kind of faded away to the edges of the picture. I posed the character in ZBrush using transpose, directed the eyes so that they looked in the camera, added a book and the pince-nez to correspond with the sketch and add this arrogant kind of look I wanted to achieve.
Brilliant post effects
Whoa, I love this part of work - it means you're almost free from this voluntary labor you're putting yourself through and that you get to start another one to continue the suffering. Well this is also the part when the image truly comes to life!
For this particular character I didn't do so much post effect work. First I rendered the image in layers to have better control over the final output, then I combined them using different overlay types in Photoshop - this is where experimenting plays a great role. I cropped the image to make the composition more dramatic (the original render was a horizontal frame) and to get rid of free dull space, added some space at the top and the bottom of the picture.
I put some bokeh textures on the background so that it would support the image more, duplicated the bokeh layer and also added a few on top of the character, here and there, to blend him with the background better. I merged the layers with Franky together and added the inner glow effect, just a few pixels with a blue fill color - for the same purpose. Using the information of the ZDepth channel I blurred some parts of the image to give it some extra depth. I also added concrete texture on the floor plane.
Using simple soft Photoshop brush I added a few finishing touches - some extra highlights here and there. I rendered a separate hair and fur pass to add some hair on top of the character's head - not much, as I didn't want to ruin the lizard-type character style, but still something. I also duplicated the specular layer and added a little blur effect on it. I put some layers on top of the image, set them to color and filled them with some really bright color gradients to add vibrancy to the color, then set the fill of them to 10-30%.
Finally I placed some nice textures over the image to make it look little less digital, then merged the layers and sharpened the result (always sharpen the image in the end, especially if you prepare it for the web) - ready! You can compare the image before and after applying the post effects (Fig.10).
Thanks for taking your time to read this Making Of, I hope you liked it. Here's a final image (Fig.11). And one final piece of advice - take care of your brain as zombies are coming to get it! So sleep a lot and take a rest every hour or two when working at a computer so that it tastes really good and you won't have to feel ashamed! Good luck and bon appetite!
Fig.11 - Final Render