• CGSociety :: Tutorial
    3 August 2010, by Lukasz Pazera




    Dog of Zone II is an image from a series of works under the common title 'Postcards From The Zone' that Lukasz has been creating since 2007. Lukasz Pazera won the Abstract & Design Master Award in EXPOSÉ 8 for his image 'Dog of Zone II'. My concept of 'Zone' has three inspirations: the classic science-fiction novel 'Roadside Picnic' that was written by Arkadij and Borys Strugatsky in 1972, the movie 'Stalker' based on the book, made by Andriej Tarkovsky in 1979 and a real nuclear disaster that happened in Chernobyl, Ukraine on 26th of April 1986. So far, 'Postcards from the Zone' include digital paintings, 3D graphics, acrylic paintings and ink drawings. I exhibited a part of the series earlier this year in Poland.


    Dog of Zone II was meant to be a raw expression of violent motion and destructive influence of the 'Zone'. Visually, I wanted to achieve some of the qualities that you can see in works by such great artists as Anselm Kiefer and Franz Kline but give them a bit more technological spin. I wanted to experiment with merging gestural drawings, photographic shading and rendered details to make out the best of the traditional and digital worlds.



    The idea of Zone creatures has been in development for quite a while. I've been doing some dogs and wolves sketches to work out where I wanted to go. A very strong sense of motion was important. I also wanted something quite abstract yet realistic enough to convey an impression of a living creature. The first dog image took a lot of experiments but by the time it was done I got a pretty clear idea on what to do next.


    The idea of Zone creatures has been in development for quite a while. I've been doing some dogs and wolves sketches to work out where I wanted to go. A very strong sense of motion was important.

    I also wanted something quite abstract yet realistic enough to convey an impression of a living creature. The first dog image took a lot of experiments but by the time it was done I got a pretty clear idea on what to do next.





     Dog of Zone I.
    I like multi-layered details and the feel of complexity the image has right from the start with this approach. I also find it very interesting to reuse bits of old work in new context.

    The most important thing at that stage was to stay loose, keep a very raw expression of brush strokes and not get bogged down with unnecessary details. I knew that I was going to use these painting as camera projection texture for various channels, so I kept in mind painting with varied tonal values that could provide enough information to successfully manipulate the image in modo's shader tree



    Once I had the composition, expression and brushwork right, I moved to modo to start working in 3D. I wanted to keep the process organic and simple, as if I was building an image up on an interactive 3D canvas.

    A key feature here was the interactive render preview in modo. Instant, full visual update of the whole scene gave me an impression of very direct creative process, almost like a traditional painting workflow.

    The scene itself was rather simple. I started from setting up a general material with camera projection using the dog painting as an image. It was the ultimate reference for further 3D work. I like working with camera projections and I avoiding UV mapping whenever I can. I applied the image to diffuse, displacement and stencil channels. To add some very little details that would work with the displacement I added a bump map.

    A heavily graded photo of a concrete blocks that I took at old cargo train station.
    The Shader was based on one of modo's great material presets. I was trying various kinds of metals until I settled for one and tweaked it to my liking.

    A full Shader Tree setup.


    I started blocking out the creature shape. I only needed a model detailed enough to give me some nice shading. It was not meant to be a full blown sculpture and only intended to look perfect from the render camera angle. I wasn't planning on animating it either so I wasn't particularly worried about the correct edges flow or mesh density.

    This approach would most likely fail if it was not for the stencil map applied to the geometry. Stenciled edges of the 2D painting provided a great impression of the complex, detailed model full of gesture, something I would need to spend hours on to achieve with traditional modeling or sculpting.
     I discovered this effect accidentally while experimenting with the first 'Dog of Zone' image.

    Another interesting discovery was that offsetting the render camera's view slightly from the projection camera angle created some nice overlapping effects around the stenciled areas and made the sculpture look even more complex.

    The lighting setup was quite simple. Just one directional light (from the top) and two bounces GI with one of modo's stock HDR images as the environment.




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    Having all scene elements in place I could focus on refining and adjusting the picture based on what I saw interactively in the render preview.
    I could tweak the light, retouch a painting or change a shader a bit but mainly it was about improving the sculpture to the point it worked well enough with the 2D painting projected on it.

    I do not think I did many test renders on the way. At some point I started instancing the main model and moving it around to see what kind of effects it would create.
    To my surprise, stenciled lines created an impression of a dog's strong, barking mouth even though it was not there in the real model. I decided to leave it like that.


    These kinds of happy accidents are a really nice bonus with a more organic workflow.


    I rendered the image 7,000 pixels wide. I set the displacement settings to maximum that my machine could handle without running out of memory. If I had 64-bit machine I would certainly take it much higher. With image this big it didn't need high GI or AA settings.

    I used only 16 rays for monte carlo GI and one of lowest AA settings. I like the grainy and not so crisp quality of low settings monte carlo GI and the nice, natural texture that it gives to the image.

    I'm not a fan of smooth, interpolated GI and fortunately in case of static image I didn't have to worry about any flickering that would certainly appear in animation rendered with such settings. At the same time the image gets nice and sharp when scaled down to screen resolution.


    I usually do a lot of compositing in my works and I very rarely use raw renders as final image. Surprisingly for myself, this time it was almost exactly opposite. I only did some slight tonal adjustments and cleaned up a few unwanted parts of the modo render.


    The production of 'Dog of Zone II' went very quick overall (for my standards anyway) and was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying creative processes I've been through. I'm looking forward to pushing this approach even further with subsequent works.




    Lukasz Pazera was born 1978 in Poland. Artist, animator, director. A graduate of Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, Poland (Graphics Department, Animation Faculty). He works in a variety of fields including animation, digital graphics, traditional painting and drawing. He's also keen on programming and studying 3D technologies, he wrote a couple of plugins for LightWave 3D.

    Pazera has been working as freelance artist for Passion Pictures since 2005 and took part in projects such as Gorillaz music videos, BBC 'Journey to the East' and cinematic for 'The Beatles: Rock Band' video game. He also worked as an animator on BAFTA winning short film 'Fallen Art'. He is inspired mainly by music and eastern European post-communist landscapes. He loves destructive themes, considers cargo trains and especially Russian internal combustion engine locomotives to be something of extreme beauty and he finds concrete the best subject to paint. In his spare time, he likes to make noise on electric guitar. Currently, he shares his professional time between London and a home studio in Poland where he works on personal projects in which he hopes to merge all his artistic, animation and programming skills.




    EXPOSÉ 8
    Lukusz Pazera
    Postcards from the Zone
    Luxology modo



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