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Turtago – getting from 2D to 3D

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Date Added: 2nd November 2016
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Milivoj Popovic shares how he made the awesome Turtago using ZBrush...


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In this making of I will go through my process of turning a 2D concept into a 3D model using ZBrush. In the process I will show you how each segment of the model is made, from the low poly to the high poly polished version. In the end I will talk a bit about the light and surface setup for a quick and effective render of my model.

Step 01: Base Mesh

I spend some time studying the concept art - to understand the visual language - before moving into ZBrush. As an artist, one of the most frightening things is a blank canvas, which is why I love using ZSpheres to quickly build up the base mesh. It is so much fun to play with the forms as you can quickly get from nothing to something. Once I am happy with the ZSpheres I generate the mesh using Adaptive Skin. For easier management I split the mesh into logical SubTools. Now it's time to tackle each of those segments!

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Concept by Martin Punchev

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Creating the base mesh using ZSpheres

Step 02: Head modeling

ZSphere topology is never great, but it is good enough for me to start establishing the basic form of the head. This stage is all about hitting those big landmarks. I look at the silhouette, main shapes and try not getting lost in the details and small moves. Once I have the basic shape I always retopologize so I don't have to fight with the edges to get the desired shape. I prefer using MODO for this stage as it has great retopo tools. The only thing I look in retopo is edge flow - getting edges where the surface changes form. After this I slowly build the form, adding details as I increase Subdivisions.

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Tackling the hands! Using masks, learning how to save them, making sure hard parts of the skin are clearly different than soft parts

Step 04: Shell modeling

I really like take advantage of retopology, defining all the shapes clearly using well thought of edge loops. I combine this with Crease PG option in ZBrush and I very quickly get a nice, clean model, easily defining sharp and soft edges. A great way to design parts of the character is to simply draw the design directly onto the model using PolyPaint. This method allows you to quickly change the design and see how it looks on the model. I use the concept drawing as a guide when building up the design geometry.

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Taking full advantage of retopo and clean edge flow, defining shapes and surface changes. Using PolyPaint to help with the design

Step 05: Legs modeling

Getting the shape of the character in the lowest subdivision is a very important thing, if you get this right then everything else folds into place much easier. This is true for all the parts here as well, once that knee and the bend of the leg was in place the rest was easy. I use masks to draw out the pattern which I build up with clay buildup and refine with Trim Dynamic and Dam Standard brushes. It's always nice to have a play with the hard and soft surfaces, making the leg interesting with those opposites.

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Getting the character of the shape in the lowest subdivision is the most important thing

Step 06: Surface Detailing

This last step is where I additionally define surfaces of my model and also give it more life. I ask myself questions, such as "What is his skin like?" Is it smooth, scaly, or rough? Some parts will be rough, some smooth, and others with more folds. All of these things tell a story and "sell" the character to the viewer. They speak of the way his body moves, where he lives, how old is he, and so on. They also break up the surface and make it more interesting to the eye. By saving masks I could now easily use one set of alphas and brushes for the hard parts of the skin and another for the softer parts of the skin.

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Giving life to skin, adding the final layer that supports the story of the character

Step 07: Final image

For rendering I turned to Lightwave3D. I find that the best solutions are often the simplest ones and this was definitely the case here; I used the basic 3 point light setup to light the model. I often use bluish light for the fill light and I tend to go with a bit warmer, yellowish light for the main light. Surface setup is also really simple. I gave it enough Specular shine so that all the little details of the model really pop out. This is where you can really see all the effort from Step 6 shine through. Most of the materials in real world have reflection on incidence angle (Fresnel), so I've added a gradient on reflection to get that extra bit of realism. When doing the compositing I add a bit of atmosphere and subtle variation to the render to make it more interesting. Small tweaks to brightness/contrast and color balance really go a long way!

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Getting the best possible render of your model, making sure all your hard work shines through!

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Related links

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