Project Overview: Mistress of Dragons

This project was born following a request I received to make the cover art for the new fantasy novel written by Karl Guthorm (I had previously worked on the first book he wrote Il Signore dei Corvi, which can be translated as "The Lord of the Ravens", where the ravens are dragons).

The subject was simple: just a woman with a dragon. But I wanted to make something interesting, which also had a "royal" air, so I focused on creating an elegant feminine figure and a small dragon. From this the idea of the "Mistress of the Dragon" was born: she is the dark queen, a witch of obscure powers, in her domain, the land of Ghranee.



The decision to make a realistic figure, using 3D as the main tool, guided me in the search of numerous photographic subjects to use as references to give me ideas. I started by making a general sketch in Photoshop, just establishing the rough shape and color to get an impression of the overall feeling of the piece.

In this draft the character had a piece of headgear, maybe a curled crown or horned helmet - it didn't really matter; what were important were the general shape and the contrast between the body and the background. Also the creature on her shoulder was just sketched, almost transparent, but this was enough to give an idea of its shape. The pose wasn't easy to make, as while I was using a classical composition for the illustration, I also wanted a lateral view that could transmit serenity (Fig. 01).

Fig. 01

Fig. 01

Moving into 3D, the first thing I did was add an image plane of the sketch in Maya, directly to the camera. Using a base 3D model (base mesh, feminine type) as a reference, and with a fast rigging setup, I posed the character while trying to recreate the same dynamic that had been in the Photoshop sketch. For certain zones, such as the shoulders and hips, I also used the Lattice tool to increase the curve effect of the body.

The entire project was made using a fast Maya sketch, followed by digital painting in Photoshop, so that I could see how to move on and how the lights could be managed, as well as the ensemble. Then I returned to Maya, adding the new sketch as an image plane, and remodeling and redefining it again. Then it was back to Photoshop again, and so on until I got what I wanted.

For the sternocleidomastoid muscle of the woman figure, I wanted to have a cylindrical form, applied directly to the model, to obtain a more interesting shape (Fig.02). When I had both the shape and pose I was looking for, I better defined the model, starting from Maya, creating the UVs and then exporting everything in ZBrush to add more details.

Fig.02

Fig.02

To draw the headgear, I created a series of shapes using Maya (mostly deformed spheres and general forms) which I combined with the draft. Then I exported the group of items in ZBrush and, using DynaMesh, I sculpted a second, more defined, volume, using brushes such as Clay and Swirl.

I made the metallic jewel section with Maya and then positioned the leaves using a MEL script, assembling the whole headgear (Fig.03).

Fig.03

Fig.03

The pose of the dragon was hours in the making. To create a fast draft of the study pose, I used a Daz model for the dragon body. The head was modeled separately using ZBrush then added to the rig. The snout was squat, while working, and didn't satisfy me (Fig.04).

Fig.04

Fig.04

During a final trip into Photoshop to define the image details, I made a sketch of a longer head. I then modeled this in ZBrush, together with a new animal body to replace the one I used in the test (DynaMesh and QRemesher)(Fig.05).

Fig.05

Fig.05

The wing was modified several times, until I reached the final form together with a new pose for both the body and the head, giving the dragon almost a raptor bird look, cautious and ready to strike at the first hint of danger.

Texturing, lighting and modeling progressed together during the creation process, so that I could reach a good, final result in the shortest time possible (Fig.06).

Fig. 06

Fig. 06

For the woman's body and the dragon I used an SSS material, set differently in two different scenes, and obtaining a double effect through the lighting, one more realistic for the skin and the other one more "painted" (Fig.07).

Fig. 07

Fig. 07

All the metallic items were mapped with mia_material x passes, and the leaves with a Lambert in addition to Incandescence. Everything was rendered using mental ray with Final Gather active and the use of IBL. Here is an example of the exit passes (Fig.08).

Fig.08

Fig.08

Finally, I finalized the background, building the central statue with ZBrush and the other, more technical, elements in Maya. The light comes from the left and the material is a SSS (Fig.09).

Fig. 09

Fig. 09

I chose to use a slightly desaturated blue as the dominant color for the composition, to create the illusion that the Mistress of Dragons is inside a sort of temple, lost in her own thoughts of conquest and enchanted by her dark visions of submissive countries controlled by her dragons (Fig.10).

Fig. 10

Fig. 10

To see more by Daniele Scerra, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 9