Hi, my name is Akin Bilgic; I'm a freelance modeller and VFX artist currently living in San Francisco, CA. I'd like to thank 3DTotal.com for inviting me to share this making of with you. Hopefully this article will help others, as many of the tutorials here have helped get me to where I am today. If you have any further questions after reading this making of, I invite you to contact me through my website, and I'll do my best to help answer any questions. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!
3ds Max for low-poly base meshes and hard-surface props; ZBrush for organic detailing, proportions and posing; Photoshop for painting alphas and assembling the final renders.
The concept for 'The Sky Fisherman' came from the work of an amazing concept artist, named Stoph. I stumbled upon his work one day while browsing ConceptArt.org - looking for good concepts to work from, since I'm not much of a 2D artist myself. I immediately fell in love with his concept and knew I wanted to create it in 3D. I contacted Stoph shortly after, asked for his permission to use the concept, and he was more than happy to have me take a crack at it. Here's Stoph's original concept art (Fig.01).
The back story of the concept is about two boys, Eli and Ardent, who ride the skies on the back of their turtle, Artoise, hunting a menacing species of flying squid that terrorizes their shores ...
Modelling the Turtle
I began the modelling process in 3ds Max, as I find it's native poly-modelling tools, combined with the Poly Boost plugin, are a very powerful and quick way to create a clean base mesh for use in ZBrush. I like to keep my base meshes fairly low-poly and loose - just enough to give me a good idea of the overall form and proportions.
I constantly referred to the concept art as a guide, and made sure the base mesh would have just enough to work with once I took it into ZBrush for higher level detailing. The turtle base mesh was constructed from basic geometry using a spherified cube for the shell, and an extruded box for the fins and neck (Fig.02).
After the turtle's base mesh was ready, I chose to stay in Max and model the high-res props that would be attached to the turtle's body. I felt having the props on the turtle's body would give me some additional landmarks to help judge proportions from, and since the concept art was so great, I wanted to make sure I stayed as true to it as I could
Once I had the props and base mesh ready, it was finally time to take them into ZBrush to really start bringing the turtle to life. I began with the turtle's shell - heavily relying on reference images of sea-turtles I found on the internet. Even though the concept is strictly fantasy based, I find that having realistic detailing helps ground a concept to reality, and helps sell the character's believability. Most of the sculpting was done by hand at this point, using the Standard brush with Lazy Mouse to define the large scute edges, and Clay Tubes to create the lined ridge texture on the top of the scutes (Fig.04).
For the flippers and neck, I approached the sculpting a little differently. I took a screenshot of the low-poly flipper base mesh in ZBrush, took that into Photoshop, and used it as a guide to hand-paint a black and white alpha map. The reason for this was so I could use photo references to quickly find a way to create the intricate pattern I wanted. Once I was reasonably happy with the painted pattern, I took the image into ZBrush, and used it as an alpha with the drag-rectangle stroke to lay the pattern down onto the higher-res mesh (Fig.05).
Once the alpha pattern was down on the flippers, I went back and added smaller details and irregularities so it didn't look too flat or uniform. I also used the lines as a guide to build up bigger folds and creases as the appendages merged into the shell. The same technique was used for the head and neck. Once the rest of the props were added, the turtle was mostly finished and it was time to move on to modelling the kids - Eli and Ardent (Fig.06).