Design a char­ac­ter from scratch

Pe­dro Conti shares his se­crets for bring­ing char­ac­ters to life

3D World - - TUTORIALS - Au­thor Pe­dro Conti Born and raised in São Paulo, Pe­dro has held var­i­ous roles through­out his nineyear ca­reer, most re­cently com­plet­ing a role at Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios work­ing on Moana. He is cur­rently work­ing as a free­lance 3D artist. www.pe­dro­con

the fashion and style of the 1980s is some­thing I’ve al­ways en­joyed and ac­tu­ally in­spired me to start cre­at­ing things. After watch­ing a movie called Dope, I got su­perex­cited to cre­ate this char­ac­ter. I didn’t have a spe­cific idea in mind, but I knew I wanted to make a skater boy. I searched for a bunch of ref­er­ences to help me with the out­fit, skate­board and lo­ca­tion. The boom­box is some­thing I could not re­sist. One of the chal­lenges of the project was the fact I de­cided to design the char­ac­ter my­self, some­thing I don’t usu­ally do com­mer­cially, so work­ing on the design, lay­out and pose was the most tim­ing­con­sum­ing process for me. It ended up be­ing a fun project and I learned a lot while work­ing on it.

Cory Loftis is an artist that in­spires me a lot, and I tried to em­u­late the kind of com­po­si­tion and shapes he uses in his work. In ad­di­tion to the ac­tual shapes, I also played with the con­trast be­tween straight and curved edges, as well as ta­pered shapes. The com­po­si­tion is pretty flat so I de­cided to cre­ate a di­ag­o­nal that brings a dy­namic feel to the im­age and also helps di­rect the at­ten­tion to the char­ac­ter’s face. This project took around a month to pro­duce in my free time.

01 Find the Char­ac­ter

I started in Zbrush. Us­ing Dy­namesh I played with the shapes, try­ing to fig­ure out the per­son­al­ity and design. At the be­gin­ning I didn't care too much about de­tails; the main thing was to find the essence of the char­ac­ter. I tried three dif­fer­ent de­signs un­til I found one I was happy with. With the shapes sorted, I started pre­par­ing the char­ac­ter for pro­duc­tion.

02 topol­ogy

To get a clean mesh for ren­der­ing, I used Zremesher in Zbrush. Us­ing the keep­groups func­tion in Zremesher, I was able to cre­ate the main loops I wanted on my mesh. Zremesher gave me a good base to bring to 3ds Max for some ad­di­tional poly mod­el­ling work on the cloth­ing and props. The body was made to­tally in Zre­mer­sher I and didn't put any ex­tra work on it since it was only for an il­lus­tra­tion.

03 uvs

To cre­ate the UVS, I used 3ds Max for the seams and brought it back to Zbrush to re­lax the mesh with the Uv­mas­ter plug-in. That's a pretty easy and ef­fi­cient pipe­line that I use in all kinds of projects. After that, I brought the mesh back to 3ds Max for or­gan­is­ing the UV lay­out in the best way.

04 Pos­ing the Char­ac­ter

To pose the char­ac­ter, I used Trans­pose Mas­ter in­side Zbrush. This is the trick­i­est part of cre­at­ing a char­ac­ter. I took a few pic­tures of my­self to help me work out the de­tails of the pose. While pos­ing the char­ac­ter in 3D, I was tak­ing screen­shots and tried to draw over my model, so I could get a nice flow and ges­ture in the pose. I've been try­ing to learn 2D art tech­niques and that is help­ing me a lot with my 3D skills.

05 block the en­vi­ron­ment

With the char­ac­ter model com­pleted, I started block­ing out the en­vi­ron­ment. I wanted to cre­ate a re­ally sim­ple com­po­si­tion, so I used ba­sic prim­i­tives to find the best com­po­si­tion for my char­ac­ter. This process ac­tu­ally in­volved me try­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. The first idea was to do a kind of beach back­ground, but I ended up go­ing for a ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment.

06 model the radio

The radio was cre­ated di­rectly in 3ds Max us­ing poly mod­el­ling and ba­sic prim­i­tives. I used the sym­me­try mod­i­fier and on top

of that I added ta­per and an FFD mod­i­fier to help me bring a lit­tle bit of in­ter­est­ing dis­tor­tion to the radio. The same process was ap­plied to the skate­board.

07 model the grass

The key thing when cre­at­ing grass is the way you group the blades. I used a sim­ple plane to cre­ate the first blade and then I du­pli­cated and ro­tated to cre­ate the main grass clump. With that in hand, I started plac­ing them close to the wall. I wanted them to by dy­namic and not to be even and bor­ing. With the help of Pho­to­shop, I drew over the 3D shapes a few times to help me fig­ure out where the best place to put them was.

08 De­bris­maker

Aaron Da­be­low cre­ated this in­cred­i­ble free 3ds Max plug-in for cre­at­ing de­bris. You can cre­ate rocks, leaves, brick wall, wood sticks, crys­tals, etc. I used the plug-in to add ground de­tails on my scene.

09 in­stanc­ing ob­jects

For distribut­ing these ob­jects in my scene, I used a plug-in called Mul­tiscat­ter. I loaded my de­bris ge­om­e­try in it and dis­trib­uted in the side­walk. I painted black and white maps to define the re­gion I wanted to have stones or leaves. I also played a lit­tle with the scale and ro­ta­tion to add variation and make things look as ran­dom as they are in the real world.

10 block­ing the light

Before do­ing any de­vel­op­ment work, I cre­ate a very sim­ple light rig. I used a V-ray dome­light and HDR to light my scene. That gave a base to start work­ing on the tex­tures.

11 De­tail­ing light

I added a V-ray light to sim­u­late the sun. To make it more in­ter­est­ing, I du­pli­cated the key light and then made the area dou­ble the size and also over­sat­u­rated. This made the light more or­ange and sat­u­rated close to the shadow edge. This trick also helps to tone down the 3D feel in the ren­der, so it looks a lit­tle more like a nat­u­ral-me­dia paint­ing.

12 the skin shader

V-ray 3.5 in­cor­po­rated the amazing al­shaders, which is my favourite SSS shader by far. I painted a ba­sic colour map in Zbrush to give me warm/cold body ar­eas. I tried to make the cheeks/nose more red and the beard, knees and el­bow a lit­tle more blue. I added a seam­less skin tex­ture on top to add some de­tails. Al­shader is pretty straight­for­ward, so I ad­justed the SSS ra­dius and added a skin seam­less bump.

13 Cloth­ing

The se­cret of cre­at­ing cloth­ing is mainly the bump map and adding some sub­tle fur on top. I used a 3D scan bump map, you can find awe­some web­sites sell­ing 3D scan tex­tures. I used the Or­na­trix plug-in to add fur. As ma­te­rial base, I used Vraymtl with a falloff tex­ture in the dif­fuse. That gives a vel­vet ef­fect and helps the clothes look re­al­is­tic. To add de­tails, I cre­ated a ba­sic brush in Pho­to­shop and painted stitches on the UV.

14 Cre­ate be­liev­able eyes

The eyes are the most im­por­tant part of the char­ac­ter creation. The eye model was di­vided in two ge­ome­tries – the in­ner and outer ge­om­e­try. That helps to give a more re­al­is­tic ap­pear­ance to the char­ac­ter. I used al­shader to add a bit of SSS and avoid it look­ing like a ping pong ball. An im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is to add the lit­tle spec­u­lar in the lower part of the cornea. For that, I used a V-ray blend ma­te­rial and masked out the cornea to have re­flec­tion in there.

15 tex­ture the wall

I started play­ing with geo­met­ric shapes in Pho­to­shop. I used a ran­dom geo­met­ric pic­ture that I liked and ap­plied the

Cutout fil­ter. That re­moved all the in­for­ma­tion from the im­age. I then started paint­ing over and do­ing ren­der tests to bal­ance the com­po­si­tion. Once I was happy with the shapes, I added de­tail like paint and wa­ter drips. I used a few wall tex­tures in Over­lay just to add a lit­tle more in­for­ma­tion and make it more re­al­is­tic.

16 leaves AND grass shader

To give a translu­cent ef­fect to the leaves and grass, I used the Vray2sid­edmtl. You can set two dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als with two colours for each side of the ge­om­e­try. That adds some cool colour variation. I cre­ated a few dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als with dif­fer­ent colours to add some ran­dom­ness to the ob­jects.

17 groom­ing

For the hair, eye­brows and mus­tache, I used the Or­na­trix plugin as well. For the Afro hair I had a base mesh in which I added the hair on top. For the eye­brows and mus­tache, I brushed the guides the way I wanted and added a lit­tle frizz and clump­ing to make it a touch more or­ganic. For the shader, I added the Vray­hairmtl with some ba­sic colour variation on the root and tip, and be­tween each hair.

18 balanc­ing

With ev­ery­thing textured in my scene, I started balanc­ing things out. I spent most of my time ad­just­ing colour sat­u­ra­tion. One lit­tle ob­ject out of the colour pal­ette can kill the har­mony of your com­po­si­tion. So after many hours work­ing on the tech­ni­cal as­pects, it's im­por­tant to step back and look at your im­age as if it were a paint­ing, and try to take artis­tic de­ci­sions that will make a big dif­fer­ence to the fi­nal re­sult.

19 ren­der­ing

I wanted to get the best qual­ity I could from V-ray so I de­cided to use brute force and go for pri­mary and sec­ondary GI en­gine. I set the bounces to around 10 and then left it to ren­der overnight with the pro­gres­sive ren­der. I let it run for around 10 hours at the 3K res­o­lu­tion.

20 Post-pro­duc­tion

In Pho­to­shop, I added some ba­sic colour cor­rec­tion such as Curves, Photo Fil­ter and Vi­gnette. To add a more pho­to­graphic look to my ren­der, I used the Color Lookup ad­just­ment with a Ko­dak pre­set. That gives some sub­tle colour variation that is so hard to get purely from 3D. Once I was happy with the colours, I added some noise, chro­matic aber­ra­tion and lens dis­tor­tion on the im­age.

Aaron Da­be­low’s De­bris­maker plug-in is per­fect for cre­at­ing ground in­ter­est in scenes.

Adding a spec­u­lar re­flec­tion to the eye model en­sures its re­al­ism and stops it look­ing flat and un­en­gag­ing.

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