The Making Of Gladiator
Batman: Arkham Origins artist, Aleksandr Kirilenko takes us through the main processes involved in creating his image, Gladiator
The idea for the project came from reading a book that had nothing to do with either gladiators or the Roman Empire in general. The line that gave me inspiration to start the project read something like this: "Coliseum is a monument of human destructiveness." Scary, and unfortunately true.
I always start my projects by gathering as many references as possible so I don't get distracted when I'm in creation mode. In this case, I started doing some research on the web to get myself familiar with types of gladiators – there were quite a few of them as it turned out – as well as putting together pictures of clothing, weapons and accessories. I decided to go with a combination of Thraex and Murmillo for my model.
I'm not a fan of huge jaw/Mr. Olympia-looking models, that's why I decided to go with a more natural-looking guy who wasn't all muscle beneath the skin. I wanted the character to look quite heavy and brutal too, so Fedor Emelianenko was a perfect role model for this. I used another MMA fighter as a reference for the anatomy too, but he was too pumped so I mostly used his pictures as a reference for certain muscles, like pecks for example.
Modeling the body
The sculpting process of the body was pretty straightforward: ClayBuildup for most of the sculpting, a bit of Standard brush here and there, and a custom brush I created solely for this project. Basically, it's the Clay brush with tiny tweaks in the settings (Alpha 35, Brush Imbed 8). I used this brush on the forearms and lower legs where the muscles are long and relatively flat so the brush worked quite nicely in these areas. I'm not sure if I'll use it in my future projects but it was fun experimenting for a change.
Modeling the head
Since I knew that the head would be completely covered by the helmet, I didn't even bother to make it look natural or believable. A general representation of the face features and correct proportions of the skull was all I needed to model the helmet correctly later on.
Modeling the accessories
All the accessories were done in 3ds Max, ZBrush and Topogun. I started off in 3ds Max with a very simple geometry, brought it to ZBrush and started working on the shape, proportions and detailing. If I needed some other elements on a newly created object, for example additional plates on the helmet, I took it to Topogun and created new geometry on top.
Topogun plays a big role in my modeling pipeline, not only for asset creation, but for retopologizing too. With the introduction of ZRemesher though, I'm finding myself using it less and less. Pretty much all the bigger parts of the armor as well as the body itself, which was started with ZSpheres by the way, went through ZRemesher.
I started modeling his helmet. In my opinion it's the most interesting piece of a gladiators' armor which makes them stand out from other warriors. For that reason it was crucial to me to make it look right. I could also tweak the proportions of the body once the helmet was modeled.
Modeling the leg and arm guards
The leg and arm guards were also started in 3ds Max, but since those objects were so simple in shape and form, I modeled some detail in, such as stitch lines, in 3ds Max rather than doing it in ZBrush. It's a common thing for me to model this type of detail for a couple of reasons: the end result looks more accurate and clean and it's perfect for unwrapping.
The fabric look of the guards was achieved by using the NoiseMaker in ZBrush. There are many ways you can create this type of detail but I chose probably the easiest and fastest one.
The process is as follows: first of all, make sure the object is unwrapped (UV Layout and UV Master are my tools for making UVs). Then in NoiseMaker, change the preview mode from 3D to UV; select the Stripes pattern in NoisePlug and play with the rotation controls so the lines align vertically on the object. Apply the surface noise and go back to NoiseMaker; change the rotation controls so the lines would go horizontally this time, and finally apply the surface noise.
Folds and creases
It's a good idea to store this noise on a layer so you can change the intensity of detail if needed. I used the same technique on other elements as well, like his underpants. Speaking of which, I barely used any reference for the main piece, just a couple of pictures to get an idea what direction the folds would go.
The front piece had a different approach to it, however. I actually took a picture of myself holding a kitchen towel with my fingers pressing where the belt would press on the model. I rarely do something like this and it would've been easier to just simulate the cloth in 3ds Max, but it feels better when you do all this work yourself without using any cheats.
The animal parts on the armor were started with a sphere. The lion on the shoulder pad was the trickiest of all to make. It was a very stylized version of a lion head, based on an image I found online.
The problem was that after making the asset, it felt out of place on the gladiator's shoulder. The silhouette was very awkward-looking and I couldn't balance that out by simply making a bigger leg greave on his opposite side. What I did instead, was squash the lion piece quite a bit in 3ds Max using an FFD Box modifier and aligning it to the counters of the shoulder pad. Even though the head lost its aggressive look, the silhouette of the model as a whole improved quite a bit and so I left it at that.
When all the bigger pieces of armor were in place and I was happy with the way everything looked, I moved on to creating the smaller pieces. I wanted this gladiator to look like a champion, an emperor's favorite, so I decided to add a bunch of ornamental elements to make the armor look elite in a way. Those animal pieces on his armor were created for the same reason.
This is the technique I used to wrap the ornaments around his armor:
- 1) Using GoZ, bring an object into 3ds Max (star); place it close to the surface you want it to align with.
- 2) Select the surface (half sphere), make a copy of it and add the Morpher modifier to the original. In Morpher pick the copy the surface in your scene and make the duplicated surface completely flat.
- 3) In Morpher, bring the intensity all the way up to 100.
- 4) Move the imported object and the surface closer to each other if needed.
- 5) Select the object and add the Skin Wrap modifier to it. The parameters are added to the original surface, so select it and in Morpher, bring the intensity settings back to 0. If the result is messy, you might need to play with the Distance Inf. settings in the Skin Wrap modifier. Use GoZ to bring the object back to ZBrush.
The technique doesn't always work one hundred percent of the time, so sometimes I will tweak the shape in ZBrush if needed. For the smaller pieces of armor, like bolts and ropes, I used Path Deform Modifier to put them in the right positions all over the model.
Originally there wasn't supposed to be a shield (I had a different idea for the scene), but I decided to make a sword and the shield at the very end of the modeling process. I didn't want to overload the model with detail and a crazy amount of elements, so I chose a very simple design for the sword, and created it entirely in 3ds Max.
I used NoiseMaker (no custom patterns, just the standard one) to add an old and worn layer, and ClayBuildup with Standard brush to create the damage on the shield.
Adjustments to the model
When all the accessories and armor were done, I brought the model back into ZBrush to tweak the proportions of the body a little bit and improve the skin folding where the belts would press against the body.
Preparing for texturing
As I mentioned earlier, I used UV Layout and UV Master to unwrap the model. A very common technique for me is to bring an object to UV Layout, cut it the way I want, bring it back into ZBrush and turn on Use Existing UV Seams in UV Master.
The texturing was done in MARI and Photoshop. Normally I start by gathering images from 3D.sk for body texturing – and this project was no exception from this habit. Unlike ZBrush, where I have a bunch of custom-made brushes, MARI's standard set seems to be more than enough for my needs. I used Sandblast and RoundFreckles brushes for skin texturing and more simple ones to add moles and other lovely irregularities to the skin surface.
I really liked how on all the illustrations of gladiators I found, the colors of the armor and accessories were so vivid and lively. I decided to go with this look instead of a probably more realistic one with less saturation and more tone in colors. I was also very pleased with my decision to make the shield for this guy, as a combination of the red in his underpants and feathers, the blue of the shield, and yellow in other accessories helped to create a nice contrast in colors and break the monotony.
This is probably my least favorite part of the whole process because most of the posing I do is in ZBrush, which can be a nightmarish experience when your model has tons of accessories. However, this is the part where the model truly comes alive and gives you a fresh look at it.
I used Transpose tools for all the posing and some classic rigging techniques in 3ds Max for things like belts and ropes. I chose a very simple pose that worked quite nicely for what I was trying to represent – brute force and confidence.
I used KeyShot to render the model. Unfortunately the end result isn't quite as dramatic as I wanted it to be, but I didn't want to lose all the detail I put into modeling and texturing so I went with more subtle settings.
I created my lights in 3ds Max using simple planes and tweaked their position and scale later in KeyShot. The lightning setup for the scene was very simple: a fill light, a rim light and the Materials 2k HDRI (comes with KeyShot) with a couple of pins I added in the HDR editor to add some contrast.
As for the passes – nothing extraordinary here, I simply used the main pass with all the lights and shadows; a flat Diffuse to enhance the colors in some areas; Reflection; and a Clay pass to increase the intensity of detail and shadows where needed.
The final render
I've done 3 renders in total, using the same lights but in slightly different positions and this is the end result with a bit of retouch in Photoshop.
In conclusion, there is no right or wrong way to make your art. There are just tools and techniques that would allow you to make something faster and more comfortably. There are many other ways I could've created this image, including using solely ZBrush. However, the knowledge of the tools I use gives me more control over what I do and because of that, oddly enough, I have more freedom in my working process.
It's always good to experiment; don't be lazy, practice, and try new things. It almost saddens me when people ask me if I could send them my custom-made ZBrush interface. I never send it. Not because I'm so greedy, but because I want people to actually try and do something themselves instead of trying to obtain something without any effort. That goes for everything in life; art is no exception. It's a great feeling to create something and realize that most of it, if not everything, came from your own knowledge and effort.