Design a character from scratch
Pedro Conti shares his secrets for bringing characters to life
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adding a specular reflection to the eye model ensures its realism and stops it looking flat and unengaging.
Aaron Dabelow’s Debrismaker plug-in is perfect for creating ground interest in scenes.