• 3DCluster creates the scene of high-living monsters, kicking back in their off-duty hours.

    CGSociety :: Tutorial
    21 May 2009, by Paul Hellard

    3DCluster is, yes, a cluster of freelance creative 3D modelers in New Zealand. David Partridge, Andre McGrail, Simon Parry and Ben Parry work together catching all kinds of projects for film, game, commercials and sometimes just for fun.

    The creation of the 'Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem' began with a request from Gavin Siakimotu, a young Creative from DDB New Zealand, who approached the 3DCluster late last year to see if they were interested in producing a series of print ads and posters for the premiere of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem on Sky Movies (New Zealand).

    "There wasn't much money for this job though," explains Ben Parry, "and the time constraints meant that we would be working long hard hours through most of January. But because they were two of our favorite characters and the idea was so cool, we couldn't pass the job up."

    It was a cool concept to see these two characters so much out of context. Gavin chose the original Alien and Predator rather than the newer editions found in the 'Alien vs Predator' movies, as these are the most recognizable versions of the two characters.

    After some ideas were conceived, Gavin sent on some sketches of the final compositions and poses he wanted the creatures to be in. Soon afterward, he sent 3DCluster backdrop photos and reference of the versions of Alien and Predator he wanted. From these, Andre drew orthographic views of Alien to assist him during modeling. He used a combination of the reference pictures received from Gavin and from a detailed model from McFarlane toys.

    Andre McGrail (left) and Ben Parry (right).

    Modeling Predator
    "I started modeling Predator in early January," explains Ben. "Starting with his head, as it is the main focus of the character, I patched together his face and continued onto his body. His body was far easier as it is a normal human body that I was a bit more used to creating." Ben Parry then built his accessories and UVd him ready for ZBrush. He'd never used ZBrush before, and this was going to be his first time using it. There was no time to be going back or starting over, so he had to commit fully to ZBrush and hope that he produced the quality that was needed.

    "Once in ZBrush, I found it easy and fast to use," Ben is happy to report. "It is an essential for any work flow for organic modeling with intense detail. Within just a few Sub-D levels in ZBrush I found that my mesh was starting to look more realistic and more like Predator. Sub Tools were a vital part in my work flow in ZBrush as this added separate layers I need for Predator's armor, head and body etc."

    Ben used standard brushes for the sculpting, and a combination of default alphas for the skin details. He exported displacement maps for all of the Sub Tools and also re-exported the base mesh.


    Alien: Andre McGrail built Alien in modo, starting with the head and moving down the body as he progressed. He detailed Alien using the tube tool and instances to save modeling and rendering time. Some of the bone pieces were UVd first before cloning to save him UVing identical parts later on. There was a lot of going back and forth between Photoshop and modo to get the displacements looking right in all the extra detail that was needed.


    Predator: Ben continued painting the color maps for Predator's face and body in ZBrush. He used a mix of greens and browns, using several different alpha brushes, including one with the ZRGB setting on for the black scale-like details over Predator's back.

    Alien: Andre painted guide details onto Alien in modo, as this would assist him with his color and displacement textures. All the maps were hand painted by Andre in Photoshop, using a combination of soft and hard edge brushes, and using dual layer brushes for a more efficient way of painting some of the pipe details.

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    The posing phase of these posters is where the communications really started to happen between Gavin and the 3DCluster team. There was a lot of back and forth, working out the right pose based off the original sketches. "A lot of tweaking needed to be done to try and get the best result," explained Ben Parry. "We worked hard to achieve a believable pose and make sure the characters looked like they are interacting with each other."

    There was a lot of studying of the background image by David Partridge, to determine where all the light sources came from. Lights were positioned where the lamp is on the back wall, and also mimicing the studio lighting that the background image was shot in. "We also built the chairs, table and room in 3D to capture the shadows cast by Alien and Predator. A sphere was placed around the whole set with an HDR image mapped to it to assist with the lighting," Ben explains.

    SSS was used on Predator's skin to give that translucent depth. Shaders were set up for the leather and armor. Made with a fine balance of diffuse and reflection amounts to create a more harmonious look for Predator's accessories. "Alien was tricky to surface as he is normally seen with liquid all over him. So we had to try and fake this look using reflections," adds Ben.

    Both Alien and Predator were modeled using Sub-Ds. "We typically model almost everything here at 3DCluster in Sub-Ds because they render at a very high quality and stay very smooth when rendered at high resolution. Print advertising demands high quality and the utmost realism that we can possibly achieve. Global Illumination was used to create a smoother and more realistic look. Global Illumination calculates the bouncing of light, which in turn light our subjects more accurately and also gives us softer shadows. This worked well with the HDR background, and the lights that were set up to create a more realistic finished result."


    The final render was then handed onto Andy Salisbury, a freelancer who comes in to help out the 3DCluster guys to do the re-touching. He color graded the render and enhanced the colors and details of the characters, to held make them stand out. By adding a dark vignette round the edge of the render Andy gave the image more focus.

    Final Image
    3DCluster enmasse is pleased with the final image. They think it has a certain finesse about it. "It finished up with a good amount of detail," says Ben Parry, "and great poses that defy the norm for these characters; Alien is so graceful and Predator is so refined in his methodical thinking."

    Related links:
    DDB New Zealand
    Pixologic ZBrush
    Luxology modo

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