Sculpt & pose a friendly dino and kid with ZBrush & Blender
In this tutorial we will be covering how to assemble the scene from the picture below, starting from the texturing and lookdev, moving to set dressing and posing, then lighting and compositing. Modelling will not be fully covered, just a broad overview.
Brief sculpting overview
Since our concept image is really character-centric, we first need to sculpt our main characters. Keep in mind that before reaching the final models there were a lot of iterations and refining. If you look at the image on the left, you can see how ugly and unpolished the kids face looked at first. The key to a good modeling is a good blocking, so be sure to block out and watch your proportions before detailing.
Retopology & UVs
I wanted my main character to have proper topology, so I took him into Blender and did manual retopology, for pretty much everything in the scene, except for the dinosaur – the dinosaur is just a Zremesher mesh with some guides for better edge flow. Then I did the UVs of everything separating them into several UDIM tiles.
I started with the texturing of the dinosaur. At first, I took the dinosaur into Substance Painter to see if any of the pre-existing smart materials fitted my dinosaur well, but since I did not find anything, I decided it was a good chance to dust of my basic Substance Designer skills. So, I took reference images (Pixar’s “Good Dinosaur”), and started creating the material from scratch. The material is simple, the tile generator drives most of it, and you could probably just use Substance Painter to create the tiny scales, but the thing that you cannot accomplish procedurally in Substance Painter (at least to my knowledge), is having some scales randomly colored with other shades of green.
I ended up creating the wool pattern for the kid’s costume inside Substance Designer. After having created the materials in Designer I imported them to Painter and began the painting process. Remember the key to texturing is to add variation and look for reference. Look for images of reptiles and notice how the skin has a lot more color than just a plain green, in the case of the dinosaur. In the kids’ case, everything was more straightforward, I just applied the wool material straight up. The only part where I placed special attention was the face.
Lookdev & shading
It is time to get the most out of our textures! Here I tweak my maps imported from Substance Painter by adding ramps, changing the hue, and adding subsurface scattering. Take the kid’s costume for example, to get that nice fabric look I added a very basic groom, to get the fuzz of the cloth, and added a tiny value of subsurface scattering because I think adding it to cloth makes it look better. For the lookdev and shading it’s best to set up a standard studio lighting or work with several HDRIs. If you work under your final lighting your colors and roughness values may not be accurate across multiple scenes.
Posing the main character
Once I was done with the texturing, I started posing the kid character using Blender’s new pose tool. If you separate your mesh by groups (polygroups), you can essentially pose your character with inverse kinematics without rigging it. I separated all the fingers, torso, arms, legs into different groups.
Building the elements of the set
To build the set, I got everything from SpeedTree, except for the big maple tree, which I bought from another webpage. When dealing with vegetation, variation is key, so I used Blender’s new geometry nodes to scatter all the background trees and the grass. You can also use mash to do the same thing if you are using Maya. Add many grass and trees variation, and scatter some leaves through the whole scene, to give it that Halloween/fall look.
The lighting was quite simple, first I created my key light to loosely match our concept; it is a warm point light that is coming from the right of our characters. Then I added a cold blue sun lamp to use as a fill light to fill all the world and act as the moonlight, and then I added rim lights for both characters. That is the basic lighting, in the next stage I will add specific lights to give it a final shot look.
Adding the final details to the shot
After having everything set up like that, I add the final details, like a blend shape to have more wrinkles in the kid’s costume after I pose it. I added 4 extra lights too; a bounce light for the dinosaur’s pumpkin, and extra light to the kid’s face to emphasize his importance in the shot and another small rect light to emphasize the dinosaur’s face too.
Organizing your scene is very important for compositing; I divided the background elements in another render layer to add depth of field with the use of the mist pass. With the mist pass I also added a little bit of fog into the scene to separate the background elements even more. Finally, I added a glare node to give a little bloom to lights.
Top tip 1 - Take your time
Remember to take your time and iterate a lot through the project, before reaching the final image many things changed, many things were added. Do not get discouraged if your render does not look awesome from the get-go.
Top tip 2 - Ask for feedback
Ask for feedback If possible, sometimes other people will see things that we will not. Or take a break from work and come back to the piece later; I am sure you will spot mistakes you did not see before. A lighter that works at Walt Disney was kind enough to give me lighting feedback
Top tip 3 - Enjoy the process
Ultimately you have to do something you enjoy so pick a concept you know you’ll enjoy working on, because you’ll spend quite some time before reaching the final goal. I picked one of Max