Negresco, the cat
Brazilian 3D artist Caetano Silva takes us through his creative workflow for Negresco, the cat
I wanted to create an image which captured all the excitement and energy my cat Negresco displays when playing with his favorite toys. I will take you through the processes I used to create this fun tribute, including sculpting, retopology, and fur grooming, as well setting up the scene.
Step 01: Sketch in ZBrush
I like to start my character related projects in ZBrush with DynaMesh. DynaMesh is a tool in ZBrush that allows the user to focus solely on creation and not worry about topology or poly count; this makes it ideal to rough up the first look of the character you want to make. I start sculpting with a simple sphere and from there I push, pull and stretch it until I am pleased with the result, always having good reference images at hand is a vital part of my process. At this stage I mostly use the basic brushes such as: Standard, Move, Inflate, Clay, and DamStandard.
Step 02: Retopology in MODO and ZBrush
Next I take my ZBrush sketch and reduce it using Decimation Master so it will work faster inside MODO. It will serve as a mold for building polygons on top of it using MODO's native retopology tools. I use ZRemesher a lot as well, but since this is a personal project and I had a little more time, I decided to do it manually. I try to pay attention to all the crucial edge loops necessary to have a functional but also light topology that will allow good deformations (posing) and a nice clean UV map to be extracted later.
Step 03: UV mapping in MODO and ZBrush
With the final topology ready, it's time to make the UVs. For this we must first make the cuts using the model's edges and following its topology to make clean UV Isles. This is something that requires a bit of practice but there's a lot of good study material out there. With the cuts made I use the Unwrap Tool in MODO to create the first UV map. With that I export the model once again to ZBrush where I use UV Master to relax the UV more efficiently, using the Use Existing UV Seams option.
Step 04: Posing the model in ZBrush
With the complete model with can head to the fun part. Here I take it to ZBrush again where I use Transpose Master to pose the character. Using reference photos I try to focus on a pose that express the message I want to communicate (energy, fun, excitement) the best. The facial expression of the character is maybe the most important part of this step. I use simple tools such as Transpose tools and the Move brush to achieve the desired result.
Step 05: Fur Grooming in ZBrush
Using Fibermesh I use a fur map I created earlier using PolyPaint to dictate where I want the fibers to grow. With that I start combing its fur using GroomBrush1 and adjusting the setting under Brush > Fibermesh > Front Collision Tolerance from 50 to something around 8-12. This will result in a fur that's closer to the skin of the character and makes its way easier to groom. With the grooming done, I use the Export Curves option under Fibermesh to take them as Fur Guides to MODO.
Step 06: Scene Setup in MODO
With the main character almost done I proceed to put in the final touches, adding the whiskers and eyes. I also adjust the fur in MODO making sure the shaders are as desired. Before I model the rest of the scene, I layout the final composition of the image using boxes, just to have a rough estimate of how it will look and to make the adjustments needed to the image's weight, equilibrium, flow, etc. After that I model the furniture, floors and all other objects using simple polygonal modeling techniques in MODO.
Step 07: Final Touches
The scene is almost ready for render at this point. All we need to do is make sure the lighting is flattering to the image and helps to tell the story. I wanted to illustrate a very bright daylight home (it's actually my living room) so I had to pump in some serious light into the scene. This was achieved using a mix of HDRi coming from the window, some area lights focused on the main characters (The Cat and Pikachu doll) and two point lights scattered around the room to fill some more. The final render was made at 4725 × 3147 pixels and required five frame passes in MODO to "soften" the fur.