Set up a zombie attack forest scene in 3D with Cinema 4D
The image was to be created from the following provided key words, Fire/Forest/Quiet. We will be creating this image starting with quick rough sketching, then jumping quickly into 3D to block out our scene in Cinema 4D.
Using various resources from online we will find assets to fill our scene, before moving into other 3D packages (DAZ & ZBrush) to create our characters. And last but not least we will render our image using Octane and paint over it in Photoshop.
The completed image
Cocktail napkin sketching
Using the key words I decided that the image would be about a woman in the woods silently killing zombies and had to somehow add fire. Well nothing gets ideas out faster than sketching so we start there.
I do a handful of quick dirty sketches, really quick like 20 seconds. And that is usually good enough to find an image I like and can build on. A few minutes scribbling can save you a ton of time down the road.
It helps give you a guide (albeit a rudimentary one) that saves you from getting lost in 3D, something very easy to do. I pick the thumb I like best and move on to the next step.
Sketching is incredibly useful before jumping into 3D, even if it’s quick and ugly
Now that we know what we are doing, its time to hit the internet looking for resources to populate our scene. The usual suspects I go after are MegaScans, Sketchfab, Turbo Squid, kitbash 3D, and ArtStation marketplace.
I like to open a Cinema 4D file and start loading and applying textures if needed to the models. It’s very nice to have all of your assets in 1-2 files so you can just copy and paste between your asset file and your actual project file. Being organized like this saves you from having a cluttered scene that can slow you down.
Organizing your own asset scene allows you to copy and paste props into your project scene
The first thing I do in this step is set up my ground plane with a megascan texture. Then I add a blank Daz Character as a proxy for scale, and adjust my plane and texture size accordingly. Now we can start adding our props: Trees, rocks, and camper.
Once I arrange the elements to match my sketch, I start playing around with some different camera lengths. When I find one I like, I make any necessary adjustments to the props to line back up with the sketch. I then use an Octane daylight to find a lighting direction I like. I also add some cylinders off-camera for fake tree shadows on the ground.
Using found assets online we block out our sketch in 3D
We need to make a rough sculpt of a zombie to put in our scene – since this will be photobashed on top of, the sculpt can be very loose. Starting with a Dynameshed bust I start sculpting out the head. I only use Move, DamStandard, ClayBuildup, and Curve Tube brushes to make the bust. Then we do a quick Polypaint using the Standard brush set to spray, and just one mid, light, and dark tones sprayed in. Then we Zremesh and UV master our model. Once that’s done we decimate our model and export using subtoolMaster. I didn't really want to spend more than an hour on this since it will be photobashed anyway – anymore work is a waste of time since it will just get covered up.
Rough zombie head from Dynamesh to Polypaint
In order to make our female character we are going to use the free software called Daz 3D. It’s a very easy to use software (although I'm far from in love with the UI) to create character models, they also have an asset store with a massive library.
Are they the best looking characters out? Not even by a long shot, but they are fantastic for bases especially for the posing ability. We grab a female model, throw an outfit on her, add a bow prop, then pose and export. Very quick tool! Export options depend on what program you are moving to but the attached image will show the ones I use for Cinema 4D. Equally as important are the import options in Cinema 4D (see image) to make sure it doesn't import with a rig or thousands of objects. Once in Cinema 4D, I combine any materials that share the same texture and apply some cloth textures from Octanes LiveDB. Since I didn’t apply hair to the model, I delete her head and put an ArchViz 3D scan head in its place.
My Daz 3D export/import settings for getting into Cinema 4D
Preparing the render
Our scene is set, now last touches before rendering. I add a 3D scan of a coat for the zombie since I wasn’t digging any Daz 3D clothes for him. I also add Octane VDBs for fire and smoke (VDB's can be found on the internet) coming out of the camper. They look awesome and interact with and produce light.
I then put both characters in a group and all of my assets in another group. You can add octane object tags to these groups in order to turn on and off visibility and still keep the shadows and reflections of objects. And we are ready to render! See attached image for render settings.
Scene ready to be rendered and my render settings
So since we put on those octane tags we can turn off the characters for now. We render out a Material ID Pass and Pathtracing pass. Then we turn on characters and turn off the scene, grab the same passes. AO, Zdepth, Postion, and Geometric Normal are other useful passes, but we are just using the bare minimum today and it works just fine! Open up Photoshop, go File > Scripts > Load files into Stack, select your images, load, and we are on the final stretch now.
When photobashing a scene like this, I usually start with the background then characters, but since the zombie is taking up 1/3rd of the image, he is tackled first so the terrible sculpt is not so distracting when working on the other parts. I have a general approach to editing a photo (see layers in attached image) and the main thing is using two different levels adjustments in order to paint in light/dark via the mask. Hue, saturation, and color balance as needed, be sure to set color balance layer mode to color so it doesn’t affect your values. This is very trial and error with finding photos, for instance I used some photos for her clothes, trying many options that weren't working, so I landed on just painting over her. Some textures are added to the jacket using Overlay/Soft light.
Organizing layers and trial and error are your friends at this stage
Finalizing the image
With the photo elements in place we paint in some light atmosphere. Now we go over the paintings with whatever brush you like and try to knock back some areas that look too 3D. The Mixer brush is also useful when doing this. Images of fire set to screen mode are added to the VDB fire. And our last FX is a little lens flare light hitting on the camper and blood on the zombie. Now for color corrections – I don't have any strict approach to this as it varies image to image. Curves, color balance, selective color, vibrance are the first adjustment layers that get added, then a color lookup to find a LUT that looks good (these almost always need to have the opacity turned down). Then a quick trip to Lens Correction to add a little chromatic aberration. Our last stop is the camera raw filter for any final adjustments and to add grain (a great tool all around not just at the end). And there you go, all finished!!!
The finished image