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Making of 'Fern'

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Date Added: 7th January 2010
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With the initial phase done, I was ready to start modelling. Whenever I start work on a model, I prefer to have a mass that will correspond to the proportion. It's really hard to begin by just extruding edges. So, basically, I started with a simple box with a meshsmooth modifier (iteration 1) that I converted in editable poly and start adding edges, following the model sheet. At this stage, I didn't really care if the model was clean, I just wanted to get the right proportion because while the proportion wasn't going to be final, it gave me an excellent reference to work from. A good tip when you are modelling a head is to add ears at the beginning. It doesn't matter if it's the final ear or an ear from another character, just add a pair of ears as a place holder! This will help you a lot in making your character come alive in front of you right from the beginning, and it will be a lot easier to work on the facial proportions.

So when that was done and I was happy with the shape, I started to focus more on having a clean mesh that follows muscle. It was now time to delete and reconstruct. In this step, I didn't focus on detail, I just added important lines because even if the proportions are correct at first, it's easy to destroy them! So, during the reconstruction stage, I always take care to adjust the proportions every time I'm adding edges so that I won't finish this phase with weird proportions. This character was quite different from those I've done in the past, because a lot of the details were concentrated and squeezed near the nose and eye area. I had to take care to keep the right proportions and deal with lots of poly in this area. But I knew where the important lines were, so I just followed them, as you can see from the progress picture, and I ended up with something I was happy with.

As you can see, the final model of the face in the progress picture is not like Fern's final face (Fig.05). There are lots of differences in the eyebrow and nose sections. On the concept, the eyebrow looks pretty good, but it's not as great on the 3D model, so, I passed the model to Patrick Beaulieu. He had a fresh vision of the head, because he hadn't worked on the face yet. He did a great job reshaping problematic sections and keeping the model as close to the original model as possible. After that we made some minor tweaks and the head was done.

Fig. 05

To conclude this modelling section, you should always make sure that the proportions are correct right from the beginning. Cleaning the model is far easier this way, so I kept that for later. Follow the important lines with polygons and this will give your model better proportions, fewer polygons, and it will make for better deformation for animation.


In this section, I will explain the process used for mapping, high resolution sculpting and shader creation that I used for Fern. First of all, I took the model from our modelling team and examined it thoroughly for anything that might hinder the texturing job (uneven polygon density, stretched polys, triangles, etc.). Next, I unwrapped the model using 3ds Max's unwrap modifier for the greater part (Fig.06), and also the handy relax function of UVLayout. After some tests, I decided to use three UV regions: one for the head and arms, one for the eyes and one for the rest of the body. This was because I wanted to keep the parts that would have very different shaders applied to them separate.

Fig. 06

With every part properly unwrapped, I exported an OBJ file containing all the body parts as separate elements. I did this to be able to use subtools, a great feature added in the most recent ZBrush release. I then imported the OBJ into ZBrush and used Tool > Polygroups > Auto Groups to give every element a specific group, and then Tool > SubTool > GrpSplit to split them into different subtools. Subtools allow for a much more precise and manageable high-res modelling job because you can subdivide the part you are working on up to ZBrush's allowed maximum for your machine, and then return to subdivision level one to work on another part. With everything ready, I started sculpting the mesh. I suggest starting with the main shapes and using the layer system to add levels of detail. For sculpting, I mainly used ZBrush's default brushes and the stencil tool with photographic alphas. Once I was satisfied with the sculpt, I rendered the displacement map, the normal and cavity map with Zmapper (included with ZBrush), and I exported them back into 3ds Max for the shader job (Fig.07).

Fig. 07

For Fern's skin, I used Mental Ray's fast skin shader. It renders fast and gives good results for the sub-surface scattering. I made a diffuse map using photos, and a specular map from that diffuse. The displacement map was used to give detail to the character's silhouette. The eye has a stylised cornea and iris to make it catch light in a realistic way. The iris has a high specular value, and the cornea renders only reflection. A normal map is used on the surface of the eye to make it look wet and imperfect, and to help with the bulge of the cornea. The rest of the body uses standard maps (diffuse, normal, specular, reflection), with a bit of sub-surface scattering for the thinner cloth part (Fig.08 and Fig.09).

Fig. 08

Fig. 09

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