Re­build 3D con­cepts

In part three of John Mahoney’s ZBrush se­ries, he con­cludes events by tak­ing his char­ac­ter apart…

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In part three of John Mahoney’s ZBrush se­ries he takes his char­ac­ter apart.

This month, I’ll show you how to take any ZBrush or OBJ char­ac­ter and make it into a more in­ter­est­ing, eye-catch­ing im­age. I’ll use the prin­ci­pals of cu­bism and fu­tur­ism to break apart a fig­ure, to create a much more com­plex pre­sen­ta­tion.

This is one of the key tech­niques I use to help me think out­side of my own box. Once I start mov­ing pieces and parts around, other parts of my brain click in and im­pro­vi­sa­tion takes over. The beauty of ZBrush is that your char­ac­ters never have to be fin­ished – you can con­tin­u­ally re­visit them and change them at will.

Here, I’ll show you my method of cut­ting apart my char­ac­ter in a me­thod­i­cal way. I’ll add a va­ri­ety of me­chan­i­cal in­ner work­ings with de­fault In­sert meshes. The work­shop will also cover adding ba­sic ac­ces­sories to en­hance the con­cept de­sign. Then I’ll move into Pho­to­shop, tak­ing mul­ti­ple ren­ders from ZBrush and stack­ing these el­e­ments in Pho­to­shop for some in­ter­est­ing mix­ing and match­ing.

1 Seg­ment­ing an orig­i­nal char­ac­ter

I start with my char­ac­ter’s head and select the head Subtool first. I du­pli­cate the head, go to TrimRect and cut the first head in half. I then select the copied head and cut the re­verse side in half, so I have two halves on sep­a­rate Subtool lev­els. I hit the Trans­par­ent but­ton to show which level I’m on. Now I can de­cide what I want to add to the in­side of the split head.

2 Adding a skull in­side the head

I select the ZBrush’s skele­ton, mask off the skull and then go to the split masked parts, plac­ing the skull on a sep­a­rate Subtool. I go back to my fe­male fig­ure, select Ap­pend, then click the skull, which ap­pears as a new Subtool in my fe­male char­ac­ter’s Subtool menu. I select the skull, then re­size and move it into my fig­ure’s head. I con­fig­ure bones to fit my cartoon head us­ing the SnakeHook brush.

3 Di­vid­ing the waist and adding parts

I go through the same process with the waist. Once di­vided, I add hoses to re­sem­ble me­chan­i­cal parts. To do this, I select the brush InsertCy­nen­drExt, to draw hoses and give my char­ac­ter a ro­botic look. I di­vide her leg­pelvis sec­tion, cut off part of the pelvis and add more me­chan­i­cal parts. I can add as many me­chan­i­cal parts as I like, al­though I try not to get car­ried away!

4 Di­vid­ing the chest and arms

I cut off one of the arms and can now re­po­si­tion it, like a me­chan­i­cal doll. I add a hose in­side the arm area, then create an open­ing hatch for the chest. I pic­ture this be­ing where you could plug her in for recharg­ing. I du­pli­cate the chest area, cut the hatch area on one chest, and then copy and cut the op­po­site sec­tion on the other chest copy.

5 Adding test tube

Maybe she’s look­ing at a float­ing test tube and a bizarre crea­ture that’s in­side it? I find an in­sert piece in the In­sert mesh brush that looks like a sci-fi test tube. Once po­si­tioned, I du­pli­cate it to use as glass later on. I use the TrimRect brush to cut to the mid­dle area. Next I use the CurveTube brush to draw in­tes­tine-like shapes in­side the test tube.

6 Ren­der­ing the test tube

I have a full test-tube shape on one Subtool layer and the tube with the crea­ture on an­other. I select the test tube Subtool and select Dis­play prop­er­ties>BPR ren­der set­tings>BPR Trans­par­ent shad­ing. I click in the up­per right-had corner of the screen and select BPR. Once ren­dered, the test tube ap­pears to have glass. I could pick more trans­par­ent sec­tions, but don’t want to overdo it.

7 Ex­port­ing mul­ti­ple ren­ders

I go to Ma­te­ri­als and choose any that look suit­able for my char­ac­ter. I select each one and then hit BPR, be­fore select­ing Doc­u­ment>Ex­port. Then I go to Ren­der>Ren­der Pass Mask, and I can now ex­port a mask here. This is the most help­ful ex­port for my Pho­to­shop ren­der­ings. In the same menu, I ex­port the Depth Pass, then stack all the ren­der­ings into one Pho­to­shop file.

8 Ren­der­ing in Pho­to­shop

Once I pro­duce a ma­te­rial blend I like, I flat­ten the im­age, then du­pli­cate it, tint one layer red and the other blue. I erase half of the blue layer, so the char­ac­ter ap­pears to have a red light on one side of her fig­ure. I flat­ten the im­age again, soften it with Gaus­sian Blur, then add a sub­tle layer of rust from a pho­to­graph. I fi­nally add film grain, to give the im­age a 1980s air­brushed look.

9 Ren­der­ing in KeyShot

I go to Ex­ter­nal Ren­derer and choose KeyShot. I turn off Auto Merge, then hit BPR, which sends my file to KeyShot. In KeyShot I choose Ma­te­ri­als, then drag in se­lected ma­te­ri­als one at a time to see what looks best. I choose an en­vi­ron­ment that gives me the best HDR light­ing, then go to Back­plate and choose a photo of a rusted wall, which I’ve blurred in Pho­to­shop.

10 Adding sci-fi hoses

Once sat­is­fied with the Pho­to­shop and KeyShot ren­ders. I ex­per­i­ment more with my char­ac­ter in ZBrush. I add more hoses and ran­dom in­sert meshes. I just scrib­ble the hoses on, then move then into po­si­tion. This is the most en­joy­able phase of the process. I’m a great ad­mirer of Terry Gil­liam’s film Brazil, which de­picts a dystopian bu­reau­cratic fu­ture that com­prises mostly of junk re­con­fig­ured in an artis­tic, cre­ative way.

11 Fi­nal­is­ing char­ac­ters

I open a new project us­ing the De­fault­WaxSphere and choose my fi­nal char­ac­ter. I re­ally like the wax look of this project set­ting. I go in and fix any tiny ar­eas that look out of place. I add a heavy cor­ru­gated hose along the side of her fig­ure and a large can­is­ter on her back that re­sem­bles a sci-fi back­pack. Here I usu­ally create a turntable to record my work for my demo reel.

12 Du­pli­cat­ing char­ac­ters

Us­ing the con­cepts of cu­bism and fu­tur­ism, I du­pli­cate the char­ac­ter, and move one copy to the side, cre­at­ing a dou­ble fig­ure. This en­ables me to think out­side the box. The con­fig­u­ra­tions are in­cred­i­bly stim­u­lat­ing to my imag­i­na­tion and I’m sur­prised what the split heads look like. On my first live-ac­tion short films I used to ex­per­i­ment with mul­ti­ple mir­rors, and this im­age re­minds me of this.

13 Com­pos­ing du­pli­cated com­po­nents

I con­tinue to play with these du­pli­ca­tions. I thought I might be able to en­large one fig­ure, as if she’s a gi­ant build­ing be­hind my smaller fig­ures. But when I en­large one fig­ure, I like how the big head looks next to the small fig­ures. It re­minds me of the film posters from the 1970s.

14 Choosing the fi­nal im­age

There are sev­eral im­ages I like from these ex­per­i­ments. I choose this one based on the sil­hou­ette and the strange con­nec­tion be­tween the large fe­male and the lit­tle fig­ures. The Bor­row­ers, a film about a boy who dis­cov­ers tiny peo­ple liv­ing un­der a floor­board in his bed­room, is a huge in­flu­ence on me. In a way, this im­age is a self-por­trait, odd as it may seem!

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