The making of the Elven Archer was quite an organic process. Unlike most of my modelling projects, I didn't start this one off with a set goal in mind. In fact, the model just started off as a doodle in ZBrush. I had no idea when I started that I would take it so far!
I was developing my own 'metamesh' of sorts - a concept that I picked up from Alex Huguet - which is basically a mesh topology that is generic and serves as a good base for quickly starting sculpting in ZBrush. I made a couple of head meshes and was doing a couple of quick head sculpts to test how flexible they were and how well they worked (Fig.01).
The elf started off just as a sculpt of an old man. I started off first gathering some quick references from the net on older men's faces and just pretty much went to town on the 'metamesh' base. I used the Clay Tubes brush to build up the base shapes and quickly lay down the major facial anatomy. Then I did a quick smooth pass - then more clay tubes and standard brush to start defining details in the face such as major wrinkles and creases.
Once I was happy with the overall look of the face - using the Move brush to make adjustments to proportions at lower subdivisions - I started tightening up details using the Standard, Smooth and Pinch brushes. You have to be careful with the Pinch brush though, since it redistributes your polygons unevenly, so it's best to use this last as a sort of final refine pass.
Also, a neat trick I discovered is to go back down about 2-3 levels from your highest subdivision where your polygons are more evenly distributed and hit the 'Reproject Higher Subdiv' button, which will more evenly distribute your polygons on the higher levels and project the details back onto the mesh. However, make sure to save a morph target or create a new layer when you do this - since sometimes it does mess up in some places.
At this point I looked at the model and a sort of story started emerging from the character; I saw him as being this veteran warrior - an archer maybe (Fig.02). He had seen his fair share of battles and had the scars and stories to match them. Although he had seen much hardship in his life, he still managed to remain positive and hopeful. I wanted to convey that through this project.
The next day I continued refining the sculpt, adding some asymmetry to the model - something which I think is very important to making believable CG characters - and adding some high frequency details, like pores, with some custom alphas I had.
Once I had the sculpt of the head pretty much done, I drew a quick concept sketch of what I had in mind for the character then imported it into XSI to build the base meshes for the rest of the character (Fig.03). It was here that I decided I wanted to put some life to him and animate him. I didn't want to do anything really drastic - just enough to convey the personality and make him seem believable. Knowing that I only wanted to do a medium shot of him, I didn't bother to model what would not be shown in the final animation, so I didn't model hands or legs.
Once the rest of the meshes were modelled in XSI, I exported them back to ZBrush to start detailing and sculpting. I used ZBrush's mesh extraction to produce some thickness to the cloth and using mainly the Standard and Smooth brushes I began to rough out the cloth folds and wrinkles. I painted some custom alphas in Photoshop for the design on the shirt and applied it via the UVs, and used Inflate to raise it a bit.
For the leather straps I did the fine engraving by using ZAppLink to project masks I painted in Photoshop onto the geometry then deforming in inward.
For the leaf shoulder armour (Fig.04):
- I started off with a plane and quickly sculpted some leaves onto it
- I then hid and deleted the excess polygons
- I retopologized the mesh and added thickness to it using Mesh Extract in the SubTools menu
- The holes were created by exporting the mesh to XSI and adding them in there; I then continued to refine and sculpt the leaves with the new topology
Here is the finished elf in ZBrush (Fig.05 - click to enlarge).
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