Woohoow! The group project short I’ve been putting my heart and soul into for the last 4 months is finished.. So it’s time for a write up!
You know that one kid in primary school who dreamt of becoming the best inventor the world has ever seen? Well, Theodore was that kid. So when the news broke that the Internet Cloud had escaped – lost to the skies – he knew that this was his moment to do something big. Returning the Internet Cloud would be his mission.
20 years later, his journey is about to come to an end.
An NCCA second-year group short
Directing the one minute short was the most challenging aspect of the whole group project for me. I had never directed anything before of this size and weight before. During the process I learned an incredible amount about telling stories. ..Or.. How not to tell stories, haha. First of all I learned I have to be realistic. You have to be a pretty amazing storyteller to be able to tell a 5 minute story in one minute! I am not (yet!), so – note to self: keeping it simple and clear is key.
Since I had a clear vision of what the visual aesthetic of this project would be like and knew that we did not have much time at all to get all the work done, we decided not spend an insane amount of time on pre-production. In the timeframe of two or three weeks several iterations of both the character and ship were sketched out on paper and pixels.
I sculpted the character in Zbrush and retopologized it in 3DCoat. As I have a fair amount of previous experience in this area this was very straightforward. I prefer 3DCoat over every other piece of retopo software I’ve tried. It’s simple and does what it needs to do. No bullshit about not being able to select points, etc. It just works.
I unwrapped and laid out the UVs for the character, hoover and ship over 10, 8 and 12 UDIMS.
The texturing was done in Mari. As it was important to follow the art direction that I was going for, I played around with colour schemes for a while before diving into any details. This was especially invaluable for the hoover and ship.
The skin of the character is completely hand painted in Mari (no photos involved). It’s all about layering up the skin, starting with your base colours and adding colour variations and skin details as you go. Just like you wouldn’t start to sculpt on your 5th subdivision level in ZBrush, you shouldn’t go too quickly whilst texturing.
The rest of the character texturing was straightforward as there were no insanely complicated techniques used. All the displacement maps on the character were sculpted and extracted as 32bit EXRs.
A cool little thing I did was using the displacement map of the vest, and piping that in as a mask for the paint layer on the vest. By doing this the paint didn’t go into the ridges and I didn’t have to mask this out myself.
Because I sculpted the stitches, I also wrote out a colour map for just the stitches from Zbrush. This was super handy so i didn’t have to re-paint them again in Mari. Small thing, but spares you a lot of work.
For the hoover and especially the ship I wanted to find a way to speed up the process since so many parts needed to be painted. I did this by making three base layers (rust, primer and coloured paint) and procedurally masking between them based on different variables like the angles between the normals or the ambient occlusion. This allowed me to procedurally create wear and tear on places where it would naturally appear, like the edges of objects. This provided me with a good base and I painted on top of this to break it all up.
From the color maps I extracted several complimentary maps like specular maps, displacement maps, dirt maps, etc.
The grooming of the hair was done by sculpting the big forms of the hair, making those objects live and drawing paintfx strokes on top of them. These strokes were then converted into curves to pipe into the hair system as guide curves. Although labour intensive, it allowed for an insane amount of control and art direction. Maya’s nHair was used, although I would have preferred to use Yeti.
I recorded a little video explaining the process.
Since look development is an area I am highly interested in, I wanted to tackle this as professionally as possible. I set up a look development environment in which I developed all the shading networks for the various assets. Some shaders are more complex than others, with layered dirt and various isolation maps for different properties. Doing all this in a neutrally lit environment meant that only slight (artistic) tweaks had to be made on a shot per shot basis. All the assets will work in any lighting condition and are all consistent with each other.
Lighting was one of the areas I enjoyed doing most. The base setup was fairly simple. It consisted of a physical sun and sky system, together with a separate sky dome that was used for the glossy rays only. I tweaked the angle of this on a shot per shot basis and added extra fill and spec lights in where needed to break up the image.
If you made it this far, thank you very much for reading this little write up! 🙂
As a little extra I also made a poster for the short.
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