Project Overview: Oravores
Motivations and Objectives
This character was originally created for a BioWare and CGHub contest. The main idea was to create an original character for the Mass Effect or Dragon Age universes. I finally chose Mass Effect because it was really challenging for me.
I tend to gather some references before every project, usually from the internet or art books. In the beginning I was thinking about creating something related to the Asari race, but there wasn't much of a creative process to it and so I decided to develop my own concept.
Looking for some background, I read some stuff about a race called the Oravores, and when I saw there wasn't any visual development of this race from BioWare, I decided to go straight for it. Also, the Oravores were involved with the Asari kind, so it wasn't that far from my original idea. Reading some more, I found out that the Asari and Oravores had a war, so I started to imagine how the Oravores were influenced by the Asari, and what they would look like.
For this tutorial I'm going to try to make a step-by-step guide covering what I did to create my final character. It's a very large process, so I can't go into as much detail as I would wish, but I'll respond to any doubts you guys have by email.
Here are the areas I'll be covering:
1. Concept art
2. Basic anatomy
3. Sketching in ZBrush
4. Creating the armor in Max
5. UVs in 3ds Max
6. Textures in Photoshop and ZBrush
8. Rendering in 3ds Max
9. Compositing in Photoshop
I always start my characters based on references. It's absolutely necessary for me to get the whole idea into a canvas, so everything comes together. My first concept for the Oravore was supposed to be an officer or a war veteran, but the whole thing wasn't very convincing. I wanted something different, something wilder, so I did a second concept (Fig.01). It was close enough to the feeling that I was looking for. With the overall mood, I had enough material to jump into a ZBrush sketch.
Once the character was in my head, I started doing an anatomy study. It may not seem important, since the body isn't showing that much, but it helped me to become familiar with the character (Fig.02).
For humanoids I often use a base mesh; I've got a male and a female one. If I need something else, I just use DynaMesh (Fig.03).
Sketching in ZBrush
When I had my proportions ready, it was time for develop the armor. So many times during my career, I've found out that some things that usually works fine in 2D, don't work well in 3D. Because of this, I'm open to trying out many different things and changing whatever I need to get a better result, while always keeping my mind on the original idea.
Before I start, I want to show you the brushes that I normally use in ZBrush (Fig.04):
• Dam Standard: I use it as a pencil (though in 2D), adding or subtracting lines; it's got a nice flow.
• Move: essential to use with Dam Standard
• Clay Buildup: to fill and give some shapes
• Trim Dynamic /hPolish: for closing main shapes
• Mask with Transpose: for adapting shapes to what I want quickly
• Inflat: this one is really special to me, because it helps me to give a more organic aspect to the shapes
I love armor, so is always one of my favorite steps in character creation. It's really useful to duplicate the base mesh and work with it using DynaMesh to find the mood and shapes that I'm looking for (Fig.05).
The first sketch was what I was expecting from an Oravores - a wild, extraterrestrial fighter - but it was far away from the Mass Effect style. I kept trying out some more ideas, reaching a balance between what I wanted and what a possible Mass Effect creature would look like (Fig.06).
I knew from the begging that I wanted a CG model, so I only sketched the armor parts as a guide for a later modeling in 3dMax.
Finally I did a decimation of every single piece.
Creating the Armor in 3ds Max
Before I started modeling the parts of the armor, I did a little trick on it, a quick re-mesh in ZBrush so I could get decent topology without doing a retopologization. I tried to make a smart loop job, to get a clean mesh, especially in some areas. At the end, I did retopologize some important parts like the hands, head and pelvis (Fig.07).
For the armor modeling I used two different methods: creating parts using retopologizing directly from the base mesh, and some other parts from the duplicated mesh that turned into the armor sketch.
Directly from the base mesh: I just used the Cut tool, extracting whatever I needed from the quick re-meshed one. I did that for the neck, drawing some master lines for extrusions that finally became part of the armor (Fig.08).
From the armor sketch: I used Graphite modeling tools from Max, just using retopologizing, as we all know (Fig.09).
Some process pictures can be seen in Fig.10.
After I was done with the low poly modeling, I used Turbosmooth as a subdivision modifier. I applied a double Turbosmooth to every single part of the armor, but here's the trick: the first one was used with smoothing groups, and the second as usual, just for smoothing the edges (Fig.11).
One of the things that everybody asks me is how I did the hand holes. It may seem difficult, but it's really easy. I wanted to thank Vitaly Bulgarov because I learned a lot from his hard surface DVD, and it was really helpful for creating the hands (Fig.12).
UVs in Max
I used two tools for the UVs: UV Layout and Unwrap for the organic parts (Fig.13 - 14).
Textures in Photoshop and ZBrush
Apart from the head, not many pieces had a specific texture. The only exceptions were some alphas used for blending. Fig.15 shows some of the textures I used and Fig.16 shows them applied.
For the head I used PolyPaint as a base, and I sculpted some extra details that I missed during the modeling. I jumped between ZBrush using Spotlight and Photoshop.
I already had the UVs of the head, so the details added after wouldn't change anything seriously. Anyway, when you export an OBJ, vertex color info is included and can be baked as diffuse in Xnormal.
Before I did the shaders, I knew that I wanted a cold palette for the armor to get an aquatic feeling from it. Even knowing that, I did some color tests in the Max viewport (Fig.17).
Here you can see some configurations of the materials used (Fig.18).
For scratched and weathered parts of the armor, I used some generic alphas with some other dirty textures.
Rendering in Max
Once I'd got the model ready, I created a lighting scheme. I used an HDRI as a sky light and some extra lights on the sides for getting the outline. I also used a background (Fig.19).
Here you can see the render configuration that I used (Fig.20).
Compositing in Photoshop
For the composition, I worked with the final render with some extra layers (AO, ZDepth and Alpha)(Fig.21).
I worked on the background so that it fit with the final render, adding atmosphere, adjusting levels and adding some lights. For a better understanding of the process, check out the breakdown in Fig.22.
This character was really gratifying to make. You can always learn from a new project, but this one was a step further because I did some things that were new to me.
I hope you guys liked the tutorial, I know that my workflow may be a little bit chaotic at the beginning, but I just want to say that there are no exact rules during the creative process; the better way to do things is doing it your way!
Don't hesitate to email me if you've got questions.