Posing, Environment & Lighting
I did the posing in Max, using a biped to move a the low poly version of the body and using the skin wrap modifier in the high poly objects so the biped was moving the low poly version and the low poly version was moving the high poly objects (Fig.04). Once I had the pose I wanted, I just had to tweak the parts that were not looking too good, like the shoulders, elbows and so on. I did this using a proxy version of the environment, a few boxes and planes - just enough to know where the volumes would be - which also helped me in placing the camera.
Once I had the body posed, I did the high poly versions of the environment. Most of it was also planes and boxes (the walls and the wood parts). The only part which was a bit trickier was the roof. To do this part I modelled and unwrapped one of the tiles and then I cloned it to create a vertical line, making sure to do the same with the unwrapping, keeping all the pieces in a vertical line and not all in the same place. Then I duplicated all the tiles, mirrored them and placed them to create one of the lower lines. Once I had that I duplicated the entire structure again - enough times to complete the roof. This way I just had to tweak the unwrap again, placing the unwrapped tiles more or less in the same way they were placed in the 3D scene. With the previous work I had done I just had to select each of the lines and move them, instead of having to move them one by one. Once all this was done I used an FFD box modifier to get some randomness on them (lowering some parts and moving a few others up), and I finally moved a few of the tiles individually to finish adding a bit more randomness.
I only used Mental Ray Spot lights and Omnis to light the scene. There were a few small bluish sources of light in the outside environment, a bigger whiter source to better light the character, and strong yellow lights from inside the building. I "cheated" a bit in some parts to achieve better lighting. For example, I used two yellow Omnis only affecting the character to add more yellow light coming from the back of her, to get a nicer profile and some contrast with the background. With only the light coming from inside the building that effect could not be done, so I added those 2 lights placed outside the window to win that effect - even if it wasn't physically correct.
Hair is always a tricky part to do, and it has been is a special part in this project, too, as I did lots of tests with different methods until I found one that worked (Fig.05). First I tried with the hair plug-in that comes with Max, but I was really unhappy with the results (the same happened every time I tried it, but for some reason I kept trying again and again). It was really slow to render, I was getting lots of random errors that were resetting all the combing I had done, and the result wasn't half as good as I expected...
The second method I tried was the old textured planes method, and I got a decent looking hair in the T-pose model, but once I rendered it in the final pose with the final lighting it didn't look too good...
I had almost finished the hair with the textured planes method, but I decided to give the Hairfx plug-in try to (or Hairtrix, as that's the last version where you have the Hairfx and Ornatrix plug-ins combined). The results couldn't have made me happier; I was able to create the new hair starting from zero very quick and easily, and the result was very nice (or at least that's what I think!). Considering the small amount of time I spent doing tests with this plug-in (as I wanted to finish the image as fast as possible at that point), I can't wait to use it in a new project to see what else can it do!
There are some Hairfx tutorials that explain how to create hair with it better than what I can explain here, but I can share a couple of tips I've learned while doing it:
First of all, even if the last versions of the plug-in can render in Mental Ray, the render times become crazy, so I found it much easier to render the hair in Scanline in a separate pass, and then combine them in Photoshop.
Finally, with all these kinds of hair plug-ins, I always try to create the hair using different hair settings and growing objects for each zone. This gives me much more control on the hairstyle than if I try to create all of the hair growing from a single mesh. Apart from that, the process for creating hair is easy - you just have to keep creating growing zones and hair guides to define the hairstyle you want!