In this ‘Making Of', find out how to create the character, Tiny, from the old school cartoon classic: "Battle of the Planets”..
From my childhood memories I can remember watching Battle of the Planets after school, and as I grew up I thought about these characters, and they are now cooler than ever - amazed by their strong colours, bold designs and iconic silhouettes. So, I decided to create a character from the G-force team, choosing Tiny, simply because I think he's probably the last choice people would make out the 5 members, yet he has one of the most unique designs and forms. As references, I gathered whatever I could find on the Internet. Main references included cover illustrations by Alex Ross, and screen captures of the original TV show.
Initially, I blocked out the general form of the character in 3D Studio Max, to find the right proportions. With a very rough base mesh I took the model into ZBrush to further refine the form, which allowed me to be much more flexible in playing with the shapes and making rapid tweaks (Fig.01).
This step was purely a quick 3D sketch, which I could then use as reference to rebuild my final polygon mesh in 3D Studio Max. At this stage, I left out the details like gloves and accessories. I find that this process can save me a lot of time than if I were to create a model with the same quality purely from 3D Studio Max. After blocking out, I had a good understanding of my character. I then started to build the character by building polygons directly on top of my 3D sketch imported from ZBrush. I did this by creating vertices with face snapping on, and then by joining them to form polygons (Fig.02). I did this whilst keeping in mind the topology for animation; as well as adding more details where I felt appropriate (Fig.03).
For individual pieces which had more complex organic forms (e.g. head, gloves, boots etc.), I liked to reiterate the 3D sketching process to find more accurate shapes before I retopologised. For hard surface models (e.g. belt buckle, helmet etc.) I generally modelled with poly surfaces combined with the shell and mesh smooth to turn the surface into solid parts (Fig.04).
Once I had all my models created I went back to ZBrush again for a detailing pass. This usually only includes the organic parts, such as the face. At this point I tried to push the details as much as possible, adding things like wrinkles and pores (Fig.05). I baked these details into a normal map to use in my shaders; some people like to bake displacement maps instead but I find normal maps really give enough detail if your polymesh already has good forms.
Apart from the face (Fig.06), textures for this character were very simple. Since the clothing and accessories are mostly very flat coloured, the texturing was at most complex with the textile or leather grains, with some stitching layered over, in Photoshop. Shading on the other hand was more complex. This character had many interesting shading types on him; skin, metal, leather, glass, and a swimsuit-type body suit. I gathered many photographic references for each of the materials and refined them over and over again until I was satisfied. This was also my first time rendering completely in Mental Ray, and so I also took the opportunity to learn more about Mental Ray shaders. The SSS Fast Skin Material (mi), Metal (lume) and Glass (physics_phen) were just some of the Mental Ray features that I used in the renders (Fig.07 and Fig.08).