Tutorial Introduction

 Artist Profile

This tutorial will guide you through the process of creating ‘The Journey’. I will be explaining my texturing and modelling techniques, talk about the challenges and give you my best tips and tricks on creating a successful project of this scale. Additionally, we’ll have a look at how to create an appealing flat shaded look with outlines and how to model economically when the workload is big. I hope you’ll find this tutorial useful, and hopefully, you will be able to use it to enhance your own work.

Deciding on the Concept

I’ve always been a fan of Sam Bosma’s work and have dedicated an entire board to his art on my Pinterest. I took note of his concept “Stability” a few years ago, but what ultimately ended up being bringing the project to life, was when I showed his illustration to a friend and joked by saying “Imagine if I made this in 3D. It would be absolutely insane.” Not long after that, I began modelling the first asset. The sheer scale of the project was quite overwhelming, though, so on the first day I started by creating a cube in Maya, and that was it: small beginnings.

"The original piece, Stability, by Sam Bosma"

Emilie Stabell

Character & Environment Artist at Media Molecule

I am currently working full time as an artist at Media Molecule in the UK where we’re making the game Dreams for PS4

Blocking out in Maya

The first step when creating any asset is to block it out in Maya. Using an image plane of the concept and setting my camera to the “Front View”, I would match the silhouettes on the illustration closely using simple primitives. Since the geometry is flat shaded and won't be deforming it gives me a lot of freedom in how many pieces each asset can consist of.

"The process of blocking out an asset in Maya"

How the lighting hits the geometry also becomes completely irrelevant; as long as the silhouette looks good, you’re on the right track. Since I’m mostly concentrating on the front view to match my geometry to the illustration, it becomes quite forgiving where objects exist on the Z-axis, as long as they’re overlapping in the right order. It’s really a rather flexible, different and fun way to do 3D.

"An example of just how many separate pieces an asset is made up of"

Pro Tip: I make sure that my model doesn’t cover up the outline on the concept. We’re going to need that little bit of extra space for when we add our own toon outlines later

Projecting in ZBrush

Once I’m satisfied with the silhouette, I do my UV’s and export the mesh as an OBJ into ZBrush. I project the texture from the concept to use as a guide for the hand-painted textures I make in Photoshop. I import the OBJ file, divide the geometry a few times to get a good amount of resolution for the polypaint and lastly position and scale the model so it’s ready for projection.
Next step is to import the concept and project it on to the mesh using Spotlight.
Once projection is done and works like it should, simply go to Zplugin > Multi Map Exporter, choose Texture From Polypaint and hit export.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Spotlight and how it works
Check out this user guide by Pixologic

"Projecting on to the mesh using Spotlight"

Pro Tip: To better see the projected texture, choose the white ‘flat color’ material for your mesh to eliminate any distracting light information

The projection simply provides a rough guide to where important aspects such as eyes and key details go on the model - the rest is up to you.
Below you can see an example of what a texture looks like when exported out from ZBrush. Next to it is my finished texture painted in Photoshop. By dragging the slider you will get a good sense of the before and after, and just how much work goes into the making of the texture.

"Initial projection from ZBrush and the finished texture done in Photoshop"

Texturing in Photoshop

Open your newly exported texture from ZBrush in Photoshop. In Maya, take a UV snapshot of the assets UV’s and set it as a layer on top of the ZBrush texture.
Now create a mask for all UV shells and group them into appropriate subgroups, in this case: bird, wing, thighs and legs. This approach will allow you to create clipping masks for each group so you don’t have to worry about ‘coloring within the lines’. Another important thing to note is to always make your masks a couple of pixels wider than the actual UV shell, otherwise, you might run into issues with Maya displaying black edges around the seems.

"Here you can see how I layer my Photoshop Document"

Pro Tip: To create a 'Clipping Mask' in Photoshop click between two layers while holding down the ALT key. A small arrow will appear next to the top layer if done correctly

For the painting, I begin by applying a flat base color to everything using the Paint Bucket Tool. Next, I quickly paint some rough gradients and color vibration using the “Awesome Paint 1” brush (it really is awesome). At this stage, you shouldn’t worry about precision at all as it is simply about applying some nice gradients and bold colors. Once you have something decent, it’s time to switch to the smudge tool using the “Smudge Blender” brush. This brush is optimized for the tool, so you won’t get any of the lag you’d normally experience when using smudge.
Furthermore, it leaves behind a bit of texture creating that nice, painterly effect. From here on, it’s a back and forth process between painting and smudging until you’re satisfied. Lastly, draw the inner lineart as we’ll apply an outline as our final step.

"The painting process"

Emilie has provided a set of brushes that she uses for her stylized workflow which you can download for free here 

Applying the outline and final assembly

Adding the final outline is an easy step. Simply go to “Rendering” in the dropdown menu, select the model and go to Toon > Assign Outline > Add New Toon Outline
In the attribute editor you’ll find a few helpful sliders to tweak the look. The first thing I do, is to change the Profile Lines from Paint Effects to Offset Mesh as this will allow you to smooth the outline. You can now go in your Outliner and select the ProfileMeshes group and either subdivide it or simply hit 3 for a smooth preview. Now you want to tweak the Line Width under the Common Toon Attributes. Here you’ll have to play around to get a thickness you like.

"The steps to add the toon outline in Maya"

Next, you’ll have to decide if you want Crease and Intersection Lines, also found under the Common Toon Attributes. I tend to stay away from Crease Lines as they create some ugly artifacts; Intersection Lines are sometimes helpful, but it’s very case dependant. The final thing to do, is to choose the color of your outline. You do this by expanding the Profile Lines menu below the Common Toon Attributes menu and set your profile color. If you’ve chosen Intersection Lines or Crease Lines, the color of these can be changed in their respective menus as well.
Once you’re happy with the look, all that’s left to do is to clean up the scene, delete all unused notes as well as the reference plane and save the file; and that’s it! You’ve now created a finished beautiful little asset, that’s ready to be imported into the master scene.

"Here I’m adding the asset to the master file and positioning it correctly using the front view camera. This is also where I decide it’s position on the Z-axis so it plays together nicely with the other parts of the scene."

The final scene

Now that all the assets have been modeled, textured and positioned according to the concept, is is time to build the surrounding scene. I start by setting up a camera with a simple 180 rotation around the model and am building the environment from there. This is also the point in time where I start to think about how the environment is supporting the narrative and is helping enhance the original concept.

Pro tip: When working with story, I like to listen to music that represents the visuals on my screen. This greatly helps my diving into the universe I am trying to convey and makes my designs seem more thought through and authentic

"Overview of the Maya scene after it's been set up"

I concept and model a few scenic elements, such as a pirate flag, a sunken ship and a chunky, rusty metal piece sticking out of the sand. I want to hint at a story of “A group of brave explorers on the hunt for treasure, that are traveling across a vast dried-up ocean in the hopes of discovering the ancient secrets of the pirates that once sailed the seas.” This may not be noticed by the audience, but helps me as a creator to inject a sense of meaning and history into the scene in the hopes that it will resonate with the viewer.

"Looking through the final camera with extra story elements added"

Rendering

Rendering, in this case, is a simple task; since the information is kept in the textures, all of my materials are surface shaders and there are no lights in the scene whatsoever. I split the scene into the appropriate render layers and render everything using Maya Hardware 2.0.
In After Effects, I apply the subtle effects of the flags blowing in the wind and the dust in front of the turtle. For the still images, I use Photoshop to do a few final tweaks before the project is all done.

"Final composite in After Effects"

Final result

What I like about this project is that I don’t end up with only a single product at the end of it. The amount of work I'm putting into each and every single one of the assets, means that I’m left with a substantial library of cool 3D characters and props. Furthermore, I decided to create the backside of the piece as well, which means that the whole thing can now be used both for still images, turntables, videos and even in real time.

"Final image"

"Completed individual assets"

"Finished textures for all assets"

For those interested in experiences and having a closer look at the piece, below you can see a fully interactive version of the complete 3d scene. Take it for a spin and have a look at and explore every little detail.

"A look at the complete 3d model and it's wireframe"

We would like to thank Emilie for taking the time to share this wonderful piece and making-of with all of us! It's great to have a peek at the thought process and workflow of any artist. If you feel inspired by what you've seen we urge you to check out the rest of her portfolio.

We hope you enjoyed this 'Making Of'. If you're in the mood for more or want to take your own ZBrush skills to the next level feel free to check out some of our ZBrush related tutorials.

 

Creature Concepting in ZBrush

A comprehensive series utilising ZBrush, MODO and Photoshop

 

The Complete MODO to ZBrush Workflow