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Making of “The House on the Roc”

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Date Added: 18th August 2017
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Learn how freelance 3D artist Nicolas Morlet created his "House on the Roc" image using ZBrush, 3ds Max, and Photoshop...


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Hi, I will take you through the processes I used to create this illustration based on the concept art by the talented Charlène Le Scanf. This personal project was interesting on several points like dynamic of the composition, the presence of various elements to sculpt, and the opportunity to learn more about BPR rendering workflow in ZBrush. I wanted to create an entire scene including the backface giving me the possibility to make a turntable and exploit it later.

Step 1: Creating the basemesh

I blocked out the principal shapes in 3ds Max with standard primitives, then I added more polygons on some parts like the arches, windows and rocks for more control before going to ZBrush. Each piece is individual and I used GoZ plugin as a bridge between 3ds Max and ZBrush to export all the elements.

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Base mesh created in 3ds Max

Step 2: Sculpting details in ZBrush

I was not familiar with Blizzard's graphic 3D styles, so I did some research and found awesome works by Michael Vicente, like "Orb" on heroes of the storm, which was my reference during the sculpting process. In ZBrush, each element is organized in a different SubTool from top to bottom (cloud, house, rocks, and water) keeping a logical hierarchy with the visual reading of the illustration.

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Adding details

Step 3: Making the foam

I left the partially submerged rocks visible as a landmark then I duplicated the water mesh, deleted the base and started working on the cap. I drew the foam with MaskPen and in Polygroups I used Group Masked with Polish set to 1. With these different Polygroups , I selected the inner part of the created foam and I isolated it as one mesh by deleting the hidden groups.

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Creating process of the foam

Step 4: Sculpting fishes

I started from Dynamesh Sphere and used SpotLight to sculpt the main shape of the fish. First time using CurveQuadFill brush for the fins and it is very efficient. Once you have the model ready, go to Deformation and use Bend by paying attention on the selected axis. Once that's done, you get a fish with a clean curve.

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Sculpting process of the fishes

Step 5: Composition

After setting up the document resolution it is time to define the composition. ZAppLink is useful to store a view and you can easily move round your model while you are sculpting, then get back your view by clicking the corresponding slot (Cust1, Cust2). I re-scaled and moved some elements until I was satisfied with the composition.

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Setting up the composition

Step 6: Texturing & Shading

I created the textures directly in ZBrush with Polypaint for this scene, a Basic material for the House and the Rock, Skinshade for the clouds and the foam, ReflectivPlastic for the fishes and GreenGlass (Matcap) for the water. You can find the GreenGlass Matcap on the Pixologic's download center. To get transparency with a SubTool, select it and go to Display Properties / BPR Settings, then activate BPR Transparent Shading and set the BPR Visibility as you want. Don't forget to activate transparency in Render > Render properties > Transparent. You can also refine the effect with BPR transparency settings.

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Texturing and shading

Step 7: Lighting & BPR passes

The lighting in this scene is very simple. Two lights, a main light on the right side and the second light on the bottom-left side of the image. The tutorial "BPR Rendering Workflow in ZBrush 4 R2" by Daniel Bystedt is instructive and helped me a lot setting up BPR passes.

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Setting up the lighting and render BPR passes

Step 8: Photoshop compositing

Once I have rendered all the BPR passes needed, I put them together in Photoshop and started the compositing. If you have no ideas about how to compose BPR passes in Photoshop, I advise you to take a glance at Rafael Grassetti videos. By using some adjustment layers like Level, Hue/Saturation, Curves, Color Balance... I added the final touches. Thank you for reading this making of and I hope it has been useful to you.

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A bit of compositing

Related links

Nicolas Morlet's ArtStation
"The House on the Roc" in the gallery
Grab a copy of 3ds Max Projects

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