The Making Of Chef Eric
Talented 3D artist, Esteban Pacheco describes the workflow behind his 3D creation, Chef Eric, from the sketching stage through sculpting, mapping, linear workflow, rendering and post-production
Chef Eric is one of the 4 main characters of The Fine Diner, a final modeling project I did at school a few years ago. Since then, I've wanted to texture and render one of the characters and I decided to go with Chef Eric.
For me, the main purpose of this project was to create a render, so my workflow doesn't really apply to games or animation, and it certainly was more of an experiment for me than a process. Also, I took this project as a texturing and rendering challenge and to push myself to learn new software and techniques, so a lot of my time on this project was spent on research and going through tutorials online.
Here's a breakdown of the process:
2. Modeling: Maya, 3ds Max and ZBrush
3. UV Mapping: UVLayout and 3ds Max
4. Texturing: Mari and Photoshop
5. Rendering: V-Ray in 3ds Max
6. Post-production: Photoshop
As you can probably tell, I went all over the place with this character and so keeping track of all the steps was essential. I'll be going through each phase of my workflow and hopefully you can find something useful along the way…
Before opening your 3D application, it's always important to spend some time collecting reference online, and roughing out your concept with simple sketches. If you feel like doing so and have the time for it, you can go ahead and create a quick color concept that allows you to understand your character better and will help you decide the color scheme for the texturing phase early on.
Of course, you will make changes to the design once you're modeling your character, and that's perfectly okay! For example, you might find that you want to add (or remove) stuff, change the shape or move things here and there; but sketching your concept serves as a very helpful first step in any project.
In the 3D software, I modeled a base mesh in Maya which I then brought into ZBrush and started sculpting away. This is the part when things started getting fun since this is where you work on the overall look of your character.
Sculpting in ZBrush
A mistake I normally made when I first started using ZBrush was to subdivide the mesh way more than I needed before I was even done with the main shapes. I found myself sculpting at these high levels and I spent a lot of time trying to fix things. So my advice is that you should start at the lowest level and only add more levels when you really need to. Obviously towards the end you might have to add a couple more levels to add very fine details, but it's important to max out every level before you move on.
Also, if you're, for example, at level 5 and find yourself wanting to change the general shape of the body, you can come back down to level 3 or 2 and do so. That's what makes ZBrush (and all other multi-level sculpting apps out there) so special, and this is one of its core advantages.
Anyway, back to the body. The brushes I used for this stage were the Standard, Clay, Move and Smooth brushes. I also did some basic sculpting on the torso because I needed to use that main shape as a base for the clothing.
Modeling the accessories
After the basic body sculpt was done, I exported it at level 2 from ZBrush and brought it into Maya to model the clothes and props. They were kept simple since most of the modeling work would be done in ZBrush.
I won't go into detail about the sculpting process, but I want to mention that you should take advantage of this stage where the model is still not posed and it's easy to use symmetry (especially for the body). Don't go too far with the detail though, since you'll have to sculpt most of it once the character has been posed.
This image below shows the final pose for which I used Transpose Master. It's a subtle pose, but I wanted to show his stoicism and overall heaviness. During the whole process I kept going back to the references I had collected, especially for the folds in the clothing and of course, for basic anatomy. The brushes I used in this part were the Standard, Clay, Move, Smooth, Flatten and DamStandard.
Preparing the model
One last step before the modeling/sculpting was done was to delete the parts of the body that were not going to be seen. For that, I selected the parts I wanted to delete using Ctrl+Shift and LMB with the SelectLasso (instead of SelectRect) and inverted the selection by Ctrl+Shift-clicking on the model. I then went to Tool > Geometry > Modify Topology > DelHidden to delete what I didn't need.
When I felt that the modeling stage was done, I exported each sub-tool separately as OBJs. The SubTool Master plug-in made this process a breeze.
The next step was UV mapping, a process we all love, don't we? I'm neutral to it (sometimes…), since it's often a welcome rest from all that sculpting. I used headus' excellent piece of software, UVLayout. They have a bunch of short video tutorials on their website on how to unwrap models quickly. Learning the shortcuts saves a lot of time too.
Basically you import the OBJ and in the Load Options make sure you check New to start with a new set of UVs. Use Edit to edit the UVs that the OBJ already has, in case you just want to fix something.
There are 3 views in UVLayout: UV View, Edit View and 3D View. Once your OBJ is loaded, you'll be in the Edit View and you will be making cuts where you would like to have seams on your model. As usual, try to make these cuts (shortcut - C) in areas that will rarely be seen, like on the inside of the arm and legs and on the top of the head.
After making the cuts, you drop (shortcut - D) each of the UV shells so that you can edit them in the UV View. Each shell will then need to be stretched and relaxed accordingly (Shift+F). Areas that are stretched will be shown in red, and areas that are compressed will be shown in blue. If you see that a shell needs further cutting, you can un-drop (Shift+D) it back into the Edit View. Cutting can be made in the UV View but sometimes it's easier to visualize where your cuts are when working in the Edit View.
The 3D View is mostly used to check on your UVs with one of two different checkered textures (press T to switch between them) that are integrated with the software.
Texturing in MARI
After I was done UV mapping all the parts, I fired up MARI and brought each part in one by one. MARI is a powerful 3D texture painting software that can handle multiple UV tiles and hi-res textures easily. In my case I didn't use multiple UV tiles, though.
I won't go into much detail on how to use MARI, but it's pretty simple to learn and from version 2.0, the software has been revamped to be more user-friendly (I used version 1.5 and I must admit that the shader and layering system was a bit odd). I found this website with a bunch of MARI tips that were useful.
To aid in painting textures I exported a Normal map for each of the parts from ZBrush and used them in MARI to display the details that I had sculpted. This helped in deciding where to paint the textures, since it showed where the character had wrinkles, folds, imperfections, and so on.
The main tools I used were the Selection tool (S), the Paint tool (P), the Paint Through tool (U) and Clone Stamp. Also, I found it very handy to use the shortcuts to access the color picker (J), the Brush palette (K) and the Image Manager palette (L).
Texturing in MARI II
One last tip: MARI comes with different types of masks, and the most useful one for me was the Edge Mask, which can be accessed in the Projection palette. The shortcut to activate this mask is ‘G' and you can show/hide masks with ‘,'.
The reflection and gloss maps for some of the parts (like the hammer, stand, knife, etc) were made in Photoshop using the diffuse texture as a starting point, and then de-saturated and adjusted to achieve the level of reflection or gloss needed. Also the eye texture was made in Photoshop following Kris Costa's great tutorial found here.
After that, I went back to ZBrush and imported the UV-mapped OBJs to update each SubTool's UV mapping co-ordinates. I then exported 16-bit displacement maps. Each SubTool's displacement map was different in size, but most of them were either 1k or 2k.
Once I had all the textures ready, I moved all the OBJs into 3ds Max and started assigning materials. I used a VRayFastSSS2 material for the body, and for the rest of the objects I used regular V-Ray materials with a map for the Reflect and Refl. Glossiness nodes.
I applied a TurboSmooth modifier to each of the objects and then the displacement maps were applied correspondingly with a VRayDisplacementMod. The one shown below is the modifier stack for the body.
I used V-Ray for rendering with a linear workflow. Yes, those 2 words send shivers down my spine too, and I can't tell you how many hours I've spent reading about it, from the beginner's guide to the highly technical stuff, but I highly recommend using a linear workflow on every project you work on. If you want to learn more check out these tutorials on how to set it up in 3ds Max:
Linear Workflow: A Guide
Linear Workflow – The Whole Shebang!
For the lighting setup I used 4 spotlights instead of V-Ray lights since I wanted more control over the highlights and shadow placement. After experimenting with several setups and moods I went with one where the key light is positioned higher up, since that helped give more dimension to the character.
The render settings for V-Ray are shown below. Most of the settings are pretty standard, but I'd like to mention that I had to increase the Dynamic memory limit from the default number to 6000mb, since I was getting an error that pretty much froze the rendering process and I read that increasing this value to half of the RAM installed on your computer would solve it. And it did.
Lastly, here's a screenshot of the V-Ray Render Elements I decided to use for the post-production phase, which is just a fancy name for render passes. This tutorial explains the steps to render each pass (element) and how to composite everything in Photoshop:
Compositing V-Ray Render Elements
I pretty much used the same workflow explained in the tutorial except for the fact that I didn't use the raw lighting and GI passes that need to be composited together with the diffuse filter pass in Photoshop. Instead I used the lighting and GI passes that come with the diffuse filter incorporated (VRayLighting and VRayGlobaIllumination). Also, instead of using VrayMtlID to render the color masks, I decided to complicate my life and assign separate object IDs to all the parts of my model and used VrayObjectID, which pretty much produces the same result.
And this brings us to the final phase, which is where you bring all the render passes together and try to make your final image as pretty as possible without going overboard (no lens flares, please!) The render passes are shown below.
Compositing each pass
The first step in post-production was to composite each pass on top of each other, which was pretty simple as all the passes were added (Linear Dodge) except the AO pass, which was multiplied (Multiply). The only extra stuff that I added in Photoshop was the eye reflections and the glow on the neon sign.
The object ID masks were essential for selecting parts easily. For each part I made minor adjustments on areas like hue and saturation. And finally, I merged everything together and did some minor fixes here and there before I considered it done!
This personal project was a good challenge and a great way to learn new software and techniques. I am always surprised by the amount of resources out there that will help you along the way and I hope that I have made a small contribution with this Making Of article. As an afterthought, I realized I spent too much time researching, though, and sometimes the best way to learn is to just dive in and get your hands dirty. Thanks for reading this and feel free to write if you have any comments.