Rebuild 3D concepts
In part three of John Mahoney’s ZBrush series, he concludes events by taking his character apart…
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!