The Making of Fatal Attraction
Digital artist, Fescher Neoilustração uses his 18 years' worth of experience to take us through the creation of his studio's ad campaign image, Fatal Attraction.
BASF – The Chemical Company has developed a new product for pest control and we were contacted through ad agency e21. Our challenge was to develop an image that could in no way elicit a sympathetic response for a group of rats, while trying to avoid showing any aggressiveness through the ad. Easy task, right? We came up with the solution by showing the rats mesmerized by the client's product, while working with the agency's input during the development of the traits of each rat, aiming for the right balance between funny and repulsive.
The whole Fatal Attraction illustration took us almost 2 months. An intelligent team co-ordination is vital to keep track of all the parallel workflows we deal with on a daily basis. Any mistake could set us back a few days and the last thing we want is to compromise our reputation of beating all our deadlines while keeping a high quality.
"The concept phase shouldn't be overlooked, since any mis-steps here will show up in the next ones"
The image concept
We wanted each rat to have its own personality, including fur and eye color, to avoid any kind of image staleness. At the studio we have a Cartoon Department that was fundamental in developing the gestures and actions of each character. The concept phase shouldn't be overlooked, since any mis-steps here will show up in the next ones, just like all the modeling and shading work won't cover up for any weak ideas during the early image planning stage.
There was a need for laborious research due to the realistic effect we were trying to achieve. Besides a thorough study of rodent anatomy including tails, skin, eyes, teeth and nails, we needed a convincing environment. A quick walk around the block with a camera in hand can be very surprising, and creating your own textures very rewarding for the complete control it brings to the image planning stage. An ever-expanding reliable texture library can never be a bad thing, too.
Modeling in Blender
The rats and sewer were modeled in Blender 2.49 with a few touch-ups in ZBrush 4 for hands and eyelid wrinkles. The bricks that appear where the wall has fallen were made from the photos taken in the previous step. Once we edited the texture, we used it to create the 3D bricks by displacing them from a mapped plane in 3ds Max.
No camera on earth could recreate the forced perspective effect we wanted for the image, so the whole sewer was modeled in straight planes. We then used a Lattice Modifier to distort the whole scenario at once, with the benefit that all mapped textures would be following the same distortion, creating a coherent image.
Creating the fur
Despite all the hard work that goes into every detail of the illustration, the fur was essential to sell the believability of the image, so we took it with special care.
In addition to creating a height map texture that would be generated in 3ds Max, we modeled small planes (to be later converted into Splines) that would dictate the flow and direction of the hairs. It's important to have in mind a hierarchy of Splines: the fur that will be generated later will take into account the order in which the Splines were created and the direction of the extrusion from the original vertices. We were also careful to model the rats with an even topology, so that the fur generated from their bodies' vertices ended uniformly.
"The order of the Splines affected the direction of the fur, so extra care was taken to make it as close as possible to the concept of the image"
We used the native Hair & Fur plug-in for this part. The hair orientation was done after careful placement of geometry (planes) that had their edges extracted and converted into Splines. The order of the Splines affected the direction of the fur, so extra care was taken to make it as close as possible to the concept of the image. With some test renders we were able to correct and further adjust the hair orientation and size through the Splines.
In order to distinguish one rat from another we used a different configuration in each fur and some specific body parts, such as head, eyebrows and cheeks in a different geometry to allow for better control. Hair Styling was used when a specific adjustment was needed.
The lighting was a bit tricky; we wanted to make a dark, damp environment that contrasted with the brightly lit street outside, while at the same time lighting the rats from below in an ethereal way. We first lit the environment and then the rats. To do that, we started to place V-Ray lights to simulate the light from the sun and sky while at the same time trying to make the image's details readable.
A small light was placed to simulate the warm rays of the sun, to make the shadows a bit sharper, and the blue sky light was achieved through a combination of a Dome light from outside and 2 V-Ray light planes to simulate scatter inside the sewer. We then added the rats and foreground pipes to see how everything was coming together and noticed that some parts were too dark and not noticeable. A third V-Ray light plane was then created to better simulate the sky light on the rats and make their silhouettes stand before the background.
A counter light was also placed on the ground level pointed upwards, to simulate the light bouncing and make some details in the pipes a bit clearer. Two lights were also created to better illuminate the foreground pipes. Every light had shadows except the counter light. In regards to the light coming from below the rats, three small V-Ray light planes were created and placed to make both the left, middle and right main rats stand equally and have proper specular reflections. To achieve the ethereal feel we wanted, all three didn't cast shadows.
Texturing the background
After setting the lighting, the background materials were detailed. We wanted to convey a wet, dirty environment. Since it was very dark and we wanted to show some details, every material had a slight reflection, even the concrete and bricks. In order to have more control over them, they had Fresnel activated in the reflections; and most had high IORs.
The wet walls had water running down in some spots, so in order to make that effect visible, the materials were very reflective and had a black-and-white texture applied to the Reflection Glossiness slot. We also rendered some high reflections for the foreground pipes, to later edit them in the areas that we wanted.
"The textures on the hands, ears and noses were tailor made for each model, so no dirty pattern would be recognizable"
For the skin, we decided to apply an SSS material with 2 layers of textures: one sub-dermal, with veins and hints of bones, and a top layer with a lot of dirt and scratches. This was particularly important to get the final aspect of dirty and slimy skin. This couldn't feel too plastic or it wouldn't be icky enough. The textures on the hands, ears and noses were tailor made for each model, so no dirty pattern would be recognizable.
SSS skin parameters I
An essential part while considering SSS is scene units: in our scene, the main rats had approximately 6 inches. We did some skin materials with slightly different settings for the following parts: bodies, hands, ears, tongues, tails and noses. A very important aspect of these materials was the scatter radius setting. For the parts where the SSS effect needed to be more apparent (such as ears and hands) a bigger radius was chosen (4cm and 3cm, respectively). The bodies had a lower radius (0,5cm), for a more subtle effect.
SSS skin parameters II
The previous textures were then applied to the diffuse color and SSS color slots. In order to have a more realistic effect and to enhance the forms, trace reflections was activated. The diffuse amount was tuned and ended in 0.8 in all of the materials, in order to make a good balance between the diffuse and subsurface textures and colors. A procedural bump was created to make the skin more realistic through a Cellular map independent of UVs. We also put it in the specular amount slot this same map with more contrast to further break the specular lighting.
The final image size was very large (9000 pixels wide) and so we needed a renderer that would be able to capture the amount of details with enough speed. We opted for V-Ray for all the renders. When the lighting was set, we surprisingly didn't need indirect lighting, so a good amount of speed was achieved through that.
When setting the renders, we divided the render in some parts to make the image as editable as possible: the outside street (buildings, pole), the background, the furthest rats, the scenery rats (which were interacting with it), the middle-ground rats, the main rats (the 4 big ones) and the foreground pipes.
For the fur, we tried mental ray but in the end went for V-Ray, since the fur rendered with more information. Every fur was rendered separately from the rats to allow a better degree of editing. The fur had different passes, one of them allowing for selection of hairs when in Photoshop. We rendered 2 distinct Light Select passes (to separate the background lights from the ones from below), Specular, Wire Color and Reflect Glossiness passes (the latter 2 being the selection passes).
An important aspect when choosing render passes is information. Even weird render elements can end in interesting results. Another important part is time. Every render pass adds a bit to the final render time.
We did a lot of tests with low res renders in order to choose which of them were best suited for editing. For the environment we rendered Diffuse, different lighting passes, different shadow passes, light select passes (to separate the front blue light from the other lights), different Reflection passes, Specular and ZDepth passes.
The rats were rendered with two lighting setups: the background and below lights. They had the same passes of the environment plus the SSS and Reflection Filter passes. Both the rats and the environment had two Ambient Occlusion renders, with different radius values.
Small webs between the sewer pipes and mold on the walls were added using textures extracted from the photos taken in Step 2. The smaller cracks were made using 2 Curve Adjustment Layers (one for darkening and the other for lighting the image). Putting two brushstrokes together – one on each layer mask – created a naturalistic bevel effect.
Post-production – rats
One of the several consequences of living in a sewer is crawling among mud all day, so the rats would have to lose their fresh from render, 3D-clean appearance. A textured brush with low opacity can be used in a Solid Color Layer with a Bevel & Emboss setting. Each brushstroke will then create its own bevel effect and the low opacity will prevent the strokes from blending too fast with each other, creating a richer texture.
"Those are not friendly, cuddly cartoon rats so a few pieces of their ears have been bitten off in post-production as well"
Several areas of fur were erased, showing the skin beneath (rendered separately, actually), simulating a piece of skin or fur that could have been lost to scabies or in a fight. Those are not friendly, cuddly cartoon rats so a few pieces of their ears have been bitten off in post-production as well. Look really close and you'll find a few ticks and lice, too.
Because the ears, hands and tails were modeled separately from the main bodies, it was necessary to create a transition from these areas to the rendered fur, including the naturally sparse hairs that rats have in these areas. These extra hairs were drawn one by one to create an especially organic feel. The whiskers were drawn in Photoshop as well.
The volumetric light was simulated in Photoshop, to have a better control of the light sources according to the design of the ad layout, respecting areas like customer logo and slogan.
The whole environment was darkened a little to help to better define the rats' silhouette and bring them to the foreground. On the same note, a small glow was added to simulate a rim light around the rats' edges and help separate their figures from the background (create a selection of the rats, and then expand and feather this selection). We also added an atmospheric perspective to the buildings in the street to make them recede further into the background (using Curves Adjustment Layers and lowering the opacity of the sky).