Not very exciting, is it. That's okay. We're dealing only with diffuse colour at this point and we're not seeing highlights, shadows, reflections, diffuse glows, ambient occlusion, GI, etc. Even though I will be texturing some objects outside of ZBrush, such as the eyes, it still helps me to colour-code them white in ZBrush for a more accurate representation of my character.
Now the model gets exported from ZBrush and imported into 3ds Max where I will be using V-Ray for lighting and rendering. In order to export the model, I derive a diffuse and displacement map of the highest detail level and save that out. Then I decrease the subdivisions several steps and export a reasonably-dense model so that my 3D application can handle it. The textures generally get exported at 4K since I will be rendering very high resolution images. Once the model has been imported in 3ds Max, the diffuse and displacement map is re-applied, proper materials are assigned, and a good lighting setup is created. Additional minor features are also modelled at this time, such as the pupils and teeth, for instance. Fig.07 shows the character rendered with V-Ray, using the same texture as above but with proper materials, lighting and shadows.
As you can see, the difference is enormous and this is still the exact same texture as before. This is why it's important to know how to light properly.
Fig.07 is what I tend to call a 'raw' render. That means that no colour correction or processing of any kind has been applied to the image - it's simply a direct output from V-Ray. As a result, no highlights are present but that's okay because these will all be rendered out in separate layers to provide as much flexibility as possible during the composite.
Next, the various additional layers are rendered. This means setting up numerous 3D files in order to output the required assets. These assets will consist of highlights, shadows, reflections, diffuse glows, ambient occlusion, GI, and much more. Fig.08 is an example of the highlight layer.Most of these layers are rendered in greyscale since I will be colouring them in the compositing software and layering them on using various compositing modes.
As with all of my work, 50% of the image is generated in the 3D software and the other 50% in the composite. This is the 'post-production' part of the work as you have already produced your main assets and it's the colour correction and image treatment that are important now. In order to work on the composite I will use Photoshop as my primary tool. If the render was a sequence instead of a still frame, I would most likely use After Effects.
About as much time is spent working in Photoshop as there was with ZBrush. This is because of all the missing elements that still need to be added, such as the background, clothing, decals, touch-ups, etc. Time-consuming details, such as hair, are also added at this time, and many of these elements are found in various public images scattered throughout the Internet. As a result, a great deal of researching is also required in order to gather all the necessary images you will be cutting elements from. Finding an image of a close-up of an old man with a good eyebrow to cut from may take over an hour - and this is just for one element which then needs to be properly colour-corrected and distorted to match my current palette! Working with photographs in this manner is called working with a "photo-composite".
Image distortion is used extensively for my compositing work. It is extremely rare, for instance, that one will find a photo of a chin with whiskers that will simply 'fit' perfectly on my character's heavily-exaggerated chin. Therefore, these elements must be distorted to fit onto my character and this is generally done with Photoshop's "Liquify" tool. The overalls, for instance, were pieced together from numerous photographic elements of clothing and then distorted to fit "Billy Bob's" thin neck.
Proper colour correction also takes a considerable amount of time; finding the correct balance of red, green and blue, deciding on how much saturation and contrast to add and figuring out what kind of colour grading I intend to have at the end. The colour grading is the very last step involved in the production, but it is a crucial one. This will tie all your elements together in a unified palette. In this case, my colour grading is a subtle orange, in order to enforce the sunny afternoon setting.
At this point we have our finished image!
The steps outlined above provided a general overview of the process involved. Needless to say, there is much more work that goes into developing a character like this but cannot be fully covered in such a brief "making of".
I hope you've enjoyed this article.
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