Juan David Pitluk, freelance 3D artist and generalist from Uruguay, shares the ZBrush workflow behind his action-posed characters…
3dtotal: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
My name is Juan Pitluk. I'm 32 years old and I'm from Argentina, but moved to Uruguay with my wife and two kids about four years ago. I've been in the industry for the last seven years working as a freelancer for several studios in both countries, mainly as a generalist.
Some background story… I've always loved drawing, so I started with Fine Arts. I discovered sculpture while I was studying, but after two years I had to quit because I got a full-time job. In 2009 a friend of mine introduced me to ZBrush
(it was version 3.1) and… BOOM! I was amazed right away. It was the perfect bridge between sculpture and technology. So the race began and I started learning ZBrush, 3ds Max
. I got my first job in 2011 as a junior modeler and animator for a local animated film. Then I worked for commercials, TV shows, small videogames, and architecture visualization.
3dt: What was the workflow behind your latest gallery image? Where did the idea come from?
I was getting familiar with collectibles so I was working to develop a new character-oriented portfolio. I'd always liked Green Arrow so I decided to give him a try. Also I realized that there were not too many statues of him.
Actually, my usual workflow can be divided into 9 sections:
Looking for references of the character (there may be many versions), doing some research on his background, anatomy references, anything I feel might help with the concept.
I like sculpting my character right in the final pose so I'm very fond with ZBrush Mannequin. Once I'm happy with the pose I append a skeleton that will help me keep my proportions in place. There is a great video on YouTube in which Martin Canale
talks about this technique. I also add all the props.
Here I take the time to adjust the pose to improve my composition, rhythm, and guide lines.
This is the step in which I take the rough model and props to the next level. I always have references for everything.
I'm using ZBrush for unwrapping and texturing. UVMaster is a great plug-in that will help unwrap your model very fast so you can then export it into your render software. I hand-paint a color texture and an Ambient Occlusion map. I use masking to get a Cavity map and also extract a Normal and a Displacement map. Then I combine and adjust all the maps inside Photoshop.
Decimating and exporting
Given that I'm not interested in animating the model, there's no need to retopologize it, so here is where Decimation Master comes into play. I decimate all my SubTools, always keeping my UVs up to a max of 500 tris for the most important ones like chest, arms, legs, and head. Then I export each SubTool as an OBJ.
Lighting and shading
I start with the three-light setup for lighting. With these lights on, I start creating my shaders which then will tell me if the light setup works fine, or if I have to add some fill lights and change the position of the ones I already created.
I tend to render a lot of passes for later composition. But I usually end up using just a few.
I do my composition in Photoshop. I combine my passes and also do some hand painting and add small textures to break the smoothness of the picture.
3dt: What challenges did the image present? Did you learn something new?
I found many challenges during the creation of this character. There are challenges in every step of the pipeline and you are always learning something new, new ways to overcome problems or to approach a particular task. Lighting and shading are always very challenging but I feel I'm getting better and faster. The most important thing is that I learn where my weak points are. If you don't know your weak points there is no room for improvement.
3dt: Do you use any other software, either for work or personal projects?
There are great software out there. Right now I'm working with ZBrush, 3ds Max, V-Ray, Photoshop and KeyShot eventually. But I also had to use quite a few others in the past depending on the needs of each job, e.g. Mudbox, Softimage, Maya, 3D Coat, and After Effects. Not that I've mastered any of them, but it gave me a taste of each one.
These tools help us achieve our goals faster, so we must make the best of them and also try new things. For this project, I wanted to try Marvelous Designer, so I ended up doing the hood and some parts of the costume with it. It was very fun and helpful. Another program I would like to learn is Substance Painter; I think it's the ultimate tool for texturing.
My final thoughts regarding software would be… look for new ones and try it but be sure that you know how to use the main ones that your actual job requires.
3dt: How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date? Any tips?
Actually, my portfolio was very outdated, but a few months ago I watched a video made by Joe Mena; and suddenly it struck me that I should devote more time to develop my line of collectibles. I then realized that I would have to design new models that reflected that interest. So I pulled my sleeves up and started working. It wasn't easy; I had to spend more time working on the computer to be able to work on both professional and personal projects.
Keeping your portfolio up-to-date is very important and it's also important to show professional work and some personal projects. An important thing to remember is that your portfolio will get you the job you are looking for, to show what you are interested in.
3dt: Are you a member of any social media groups? Any favorite hashtags you check on a daily basis?
Yes, 3dtotal, ArtStation, ZBrushCentral and many Facebook groups related to 3D and collectibles. You can find great new things every day. There are a lot of people doing extreme quality work in all media, both traditional and digital. Looking at all that amazing work gives me the energy to keep moving and improving.
3dt: How important is the recognition of your peers?
I think that being noticed is very important for every 2D/3D artist these days. Besides, recognition means that you are moving. For me, as important as recognition, is to ask for feedback. I always try to get feedback from those I admire and are more experienced than me. Their advice helps me grow as an artist. I am very thankful to them since they are spending their time on me.
3dt: What are your artistic ambitions?
TO KEEP GROWING. There are a lot of things I have to learn and improve, e.g. anatomy, composition, rhythm, proportions, lighting, texturing, and shading. "The ceiling is always moving higher” so the road is endless. Learning never stops.
3dt: Who are your favorite artists, traditional or digital, and can you explain why?
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti are what I consider (as many of you) my top references. This may sound "cliché" but they are what I consider an "Artist;" always in search of improvement in areas like arts, science, philosophy, math, geometry, and so on. I'm also very fond of Albercht Dürer and Ian Vermeer, gothic architecture and their use of math to achieve harmony.
Moving forward in time I have to mention Frank Frazetta, Todd McFarlane, Peter Chung and also a lot of anime artist from the 80's and 90's. In the 3D field, it would be Daniel Bel, Ryan Kingslien, Erick Sosa, Mufizal Mokhtar, Marthin Agusta Simny, and Ehren Bienert. I find their style and skills something to admire and imitate.
3dt: What can we expect to see from you next?
I'll keep developing my skills and my portfolio with new characters. Right now, I'm working on two new ones that I hope to show you soon. Also I'm planning on doing a more stylized character, Phantom 2040 maybe?
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