Project Overview: The Emperor
Idea and Concept
I made this piece for fun and I used it as a chance to become familiar with modo. The idea was to create a picture with cartoon aliens. To enhance my creativity I put on a crazy music album called "Ziltoid The Omniscient" and began sketching thumbnails with pencil and paper. First I started to play with different shapes for the head. Then I went on to the body.
After some minutes of experimentation I end up with an organic, rectangular, asymmetric head with big eyes and a small body. I decided to stay a bit more in 2D this time so I opened Corel PainterX and painted a more detailed version of the thumbnails.
It was important for me to make some design choices before going into 3D. Shapes, lines, colors and words are excellent tools for that. I decided that green would be the main color for the characters, along with a combination of yellow and oranges. The green color gives me the idea to make some scales in the Emperor's head. Maybe this came into my mind because green = lizards = scales.
For the eyes I painted around a thick black border to emphasize them. I went back and forth between the design and story. Design gives "food" for a story and story for design. So who is the Emperor? A mad alien from a distant galaxy, whose goal in life is to eliminate the evils of the universe. But most of the time he brings disaster, so even some powerful beings fear him. He is called Emperor by his two loyal soldiers (Fig.01).
After I'd finished with the 2D sketches, I knew the picture I wanted to create. The Emperor in front of an open gate, with his two loyal soldiers by his side.
I did the head first in ZBrush. The only thing that I needed to do was form the shape. I started with a PolySphere and DynaMesh'ed it. The brushes I used were Move, Standard, TrimDynamic and ClayTubes. Any time you hold Ctrl and click and drag on the canvas, DynaMesh rebuilds geometry without stretching the polygons (Fig.02).
Because I knew that later I would sculpt some parts of the characters with multi-resolution in modo, I retopologized the mesh. I selected a ZSphere, then went to Rigging and Select Mesh. I chose the mesh I wanted to retopologize, then went to Topology and clicked Edit Topology. I lowered the draw size to 1 and was ready to go. (Fig.03)
Now that I'd finished retopoligizing the head, I pressed Make Adaptive Skin with density 1. I could find the new mesh in the Tool menu and with the Move brush I refined it a little (Fig.04).
I followed the same steps to make the body. DynaMesh'ed a PolySphere and retopologized separated parts for the main body, boots and gloves (Fig.05).
I open the head and body parts in modo. Then, I scaled up the head to fit the design; it needed to be huge in comparison to the body. To make some parts, such as the eyes, teeth, belt and cloak, I started with primitive shapes. Modeling was simple and the tools that I used were Bevel, Extrude, Loop Slice and Transform. Where I wanted edges, I made some extra loops because I would use modo's subdivision surfaces (sub-d). You can go to sub-d mode by pressing the Tab key (Fig.06).
Building the Scene
Now having the Emperor model ready, it was time to build some elements for the scene. The final resolution of the render was going to be 5025 x 6000 pixels, but for preview tests I went with a lower resolution. To change the resolution, go to the Shader tree, then Render Properties, and in the Frame tab type the number of pixels that you want.
I also enabled Indirect Illumination. I created one cube for the floor, three for the gate and started modeling (Fig.07).
At the same time I was searching where to place camera. I thought that to get a majestic feeling, the camera should be low to the floor, with the Emperor at the center of the picture (Fig.08).
The next step was to break the flat surfaces of the gate (Fig.09).
The corridor behind the gate was empty. I built four columns and one higher gate to fill the empty area (Fig.10).
Because it would be a still image, I placed items in a way that look good from the camera (Fig.11).
For the soldiers I used the same body as the Emperor. Because I wanted the soldiers to be smaller I scaled down their bodies a bit. Then I modeled the helmet and the neck (Fig.12).
The soldiers would hold weapons. I created a cylinder, pressed the Tab key, extruded polygons and made some edge loops: three torus for the energy circles and a sphere in front of the gun barrel. Nothing complicated. Only simple moves (Fig.13).
To pose the characters, I used the bones system in modo. It was easy to set up a rig for those kinds of characters (Fig.14).
After posing the characters I sculpted some folds for the clothes, boots and gloves. Also I refined the Emperor's head and added some scales. I use Pixar's sub-d and sculpted with multi-resolution. To do this you must convert your model to Pixar sub-d by pressing Shift + Tab. You can enable multi-resolution in the sculpt tools (Fig.15).
When I finished sculpting an item I set the current level on multi-resolution to 1 to have better performance. This meant I could sculpt many items without slowing down (Fig.16).
Lights > Rendering
To light the scene I used five area lights and an environment material with four color gradients at low intensity (Fig.17).
For reflections I made some big planes from right, left and above (Fig.18).
I rendered three passes (Final Color, AO, SurfaceID) at 5025 x 6000 pixels (Fig.19).
I mainly used AO passes to enchant the picture. First I made a copy of the Final Color pass and set the layer to Screen mode at 30% opacity (Fig.20).
I gave the AO layer a green tint with Color Balance. I set this layer to Soft Light at 60% opacity. Also I made a layer mask and started painting the areas where I wanted to erase and make them brighter. I like working from dark to light (Fig.21).
Another AO layer, this time with a blue tint. I set this to Hard Light. I made a layer mask and started to erase as with the previous AO layer (Fig.22).
The third AO layer had a purple tint, Hard Light and 40% opacity (Fig.23).
Also I painted some stars and dirt in the gate, and over-painted the eyes and scales (Fig.24).
I added more glow on the weapons, eyes and stars, and brightened the image with Curves (Fig.25).
Finally I painted the sign on the clothes, which is the head of the Emperor (Fig.26).
The final image can be seen in Fig.27.