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Bringing a fantasy character to life

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(Score 4.92 out of 5 after 38 Votes)
| Comments 5
Date Added: 22nd December 2015

Self-taught 3D artist Dmitry Cheremisin brings life to his beautiful Elf girl using ZBrush

Hello everyone! I'm going to share with you my workflow of my latest project. I'll show you my process creation of this Elf-girl (sculpting, texturing, shader setup and rendering) I hope it would be very interesting and you will find something new and helpful. Let's start!


When starting a new project I usually make a draft sculpt to get the base forms and proportions correct. Once this is done I can move on to refining all of the elements of the model; also, it's very important to have right size of the model because if the size is incorrect then the end result can be unpredictable you will spend more time to get right settings. That's why it's important to care about this at an early stage. With the elements refined, I retopologized the bust.

Stages of sculpting and refining the model

Next I created UVs without any overlap; each time I added a subdivision to the bust, I used Project All in ZBrush, doing this means I can transfer the sculpt to a new mesh. This gives me a mesh which looks identical to the previous sculpt, but has good topology and UVs. I follow the same steps for the rest of the objects: clean topology, make UV, projecting the sculpting on new mesh.

Making UVs and transferring the sculpting

Refined meshes

Sculpting pores

I find the key to a successful sculpt is using references; this is especially true when creating a character with realistic skin. I use some high resolution photos as a base, apply a High Pass filter to the image in Photoshop, desaturate it and correct the levels ? this gives clearly visible pores and wrinkles, which can be used as a stencil for sculpting or as a base for a custom brush. With the skin pores added I use Noise Maker in ZBrush to add some variation to the skin.

Pores and wrinkles structure

Finished bust sculpting

Scene setup

All we need to set up a scene is an understanding of shaders, light sources and a camera ? all working together as one system. If we use the right settings for the light sources and camera we can largely to facilitate adjustment of the shader. For test renders I placed test light sources and the camera for shader setup, the final placement can be different. I placed the light sources in such a way as to reveal subsurface scattering. I usually use a frontal light source tilted by 45 degrees and the back light is to see the scattering of light in the ears. The settings for the V-Ray camera equate to real camera settings; White Balance is neutral (I try to avoid any color distortion). I added HDRi map in a dome light and used it as environment map. Once again I make sure that the scale of the model imported from ZBrush is correct, because VRayFastSSS2 shader is sensitive to the size.

Scene settings in 3dsmax

Skin shader setup ? part 1

Skin shader is a complex thing, that's why I prefer to split it into different elements, or sub materials. I started from the subsurface scattering (SSS) with the Specularity completely off. The textures influence the look of the shader (color, saturation, brightness), in the early stages I used VRayColor node instead of textures. This makes it much easier to work on the shader and in the future these nodes will serve as a basis for the textures. Next, I try to find correct scattering radius, the optimal size is between 1.2 and 2 cm.

Subsurface scattering radius test values

I add a single scattering (SS) to the shader's structure using VRayMtl with grey color linked into diffuse slot. Then I connect both shaders by using VRayBlendMtl, but pre-subtracting the value of the SS (grey color) from SSS color. The difference between SSS and SSS plus SS will be more visible when I will use textures instead of VRayColor.

Adding single scattering into the skin shader structure

Since the red color diffuse is much deeper in skin than the green and blue ones, I decided to reproduce this phenomenon in the skin shader. I split SSS color on red, green, blue (RGB) channels using ColorCorrection node. Each channel has its own VRayFastSSS2 shader with its own scattering radius; these were all merged using VRayBlendMtl (Additive (shellac) mode is ON!). Eventually I get a multi-layered subsurface scattering and a nice color gradient transition in the scattering (See comparison between single and multi-layered scattering on the image).

Multi-layered subsurface scattering

Then I add primary and secondary Specular shaders. All shaders are connected to VRayBlendMtl (Additive (shellac) mode is ON!). Now we can switch to the texturing process.

Adding primary and secondary Specular shader into the skin shader structure

continued on next page >

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Alten on Fri, 01 July 2016 7:38am
Ahh...excuse me? can you tell me the details of making the Pores and wrinkles structure in Photoshop?
Dmitry Cheremisin on Thu, 14 January 2016 10:41am
Thank you very much, guys! P.S. to Rai.chu98 - I hope next time!
Rai.chu98 on Wed, 30 December 2015 5:01am
Could you make a tutorial specifically on painting the skin texture because it looks really good.
Rai.chu98 on Wed, 30 December 2015 5:00am
Could you make a tutorial specifically on painting the skin texture because it looks really good.
Douglas Bicalho on Fri, 25 December 2015 3:00pm
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