|CGSociety :: Tutorial|
17 December 2009, by Jose Alves da Silva 'Zeoyn'
When I decided to enter the 'Secret Agent' CGChallenge I had no idea that I was buying a ticket for the greatest roller coaster ride of my life. My main goal was to test my skills and hope that some of the 'gurus' could give me advice on how to improve my technique.
Even though two months sounds like a lot of time, I quickly found I'd have to find a steady rhythm if I wanted to finish on time. My full time job and two kids made sure I couldn't even begin work in this until after 10pm each night. I've slept a lot less than I would have liked. By the deadline, I was exhausted. However, the support of the fellow challengers boosts the adrenaline levels and kept me going.
The first thing I did was to read the challenge rules carefully. The most important thing for the judges was 'storytelling'. I knew the image had to accomplish these two goals: scream 'Secret Agent' and tell a great story!
I explored the character look in Photoshop in the hope that tweeking his physical image would suggest to me a better story.
I have made a few sketches and came up with a middle aged secret agent based on clich?s: stylish suit, dark glasses and straight pose, but with a contrasting ridiculous element: the mask on his head that looks like a sock and reveals him as a 'not so' Secret Agent.
From this moment on, the story line, the defined character, color palette, composition and setting were all developed simultaneously and it is very difficult to separate them, as all of these are inter-connected. I found it easier to create the whole puzzle myself, in fact it was the funniest part of the project. The story was tweaked during the whole process, so there were very few moments where I felt bored (except for the UV's unwraps of course).
ZBrush has achieved a wonderful user interface that once you get its grasp you have the feeling that the computer is no longer a barrier between you and your creation. You definitely feel like you just have to worry about sculpting, so it is possible to actually sketch and explore ideas interactively in 3D.
Cinema has filled our heads with references, especially the James Bond series. When we think of a 'Secret Agent', some very clear images pop up. I have collected a bunch of images of some of the most famous agents to use as reference.
A highly clich?d situation in a Secret Agent film would be facing the threat of a world domination menace. I knew it would be great if I could take these stereotyped elements together and give them a humorous twist.
While my first ideas were quite different from the final one, I wanted a character which looked quite sharp and elegant, a serious but yet ridiculous agent, definitely the Anti-Hero type.
I started preparing a low polygon anatomically-correct face in 3ds Max and imported it into ZBrush in order to start experimenting with the proportions of the facial features. Cos this challenge was all about having fun, I got carried away and made a few work flow mistakes. I started the face way too soon, sculpting the mask on the same mesh as the head. At the time I was too worried about solving the tight mask with all its wrinkles and loose tissue on top (that would give that funny sock feeling) and rushed into solving that problem. However, the head topology was not adjusted to the mask and it brought me some problems.|
With a highly detailed head in my hands and everything else to do, I exported the high polygon head back to 3ds Max and started to work on the body. |
I was still looking for the character's proportions, so I created only the parts of his body/suit I needed for his silhouette.
I modeled base meshes for the coat, shirt collar, trousers, hands and shoes with some extra edge loops around the joints, so that they deformed nicely while posing the mesh. When I was satisfied with his overall proportions I exported the body to ZBrush.
I still prefer to pose models inside ZBrush, even if it for a still image. When I divide the mesh into different subtools and polygroups, it becomes easy to select/isolate different body parts. So with the transpose tool, the posing is faster than having to rig the whole mesh.
The life of a Secret Agent, must have its ups and downs. I portray a bad moment in which the agent is surprised while on a mission to unveil a world domination plot. I thought it would be funny if the antagonist of our highly trained agent was an apparently harmless small creature:
However, the story could get better if things were not so 'black and white' or 'good vs evil'. It is also true that mice have been victims of human exploitation through animal research. What if those mice were freeing themselves from captivity and just trying to get their destiny back in their hands?
It was time for the character to start acting. His pose had to transmit that he was surprised by a mouse while in the act of spying. From this moment, I know the result would have been a lot poorer without the feedback from CGSociety's community. I have received a lot of great advice and most of the suggestions were really helpful. I am very thankful for that!
After some great advice I have settled on a body pose that could work. The agent was leaning his back against a wall, tucking the jaw inward, with an arm in a protective position, trying to keep his feet off the the floor and with both knees turning inside. If this pose was working I had to test it in a composition and from the final point of view.
The posed mesh, still in low poly, was exported to 3ds Max. 3ds Max 2010 has the ability to preview shadows and screen space occlusion in real time (in case you have a Pixel Shader 3 compatible graphics card). This allowed me to study the whole composition, basic lighting and shadow placement in real time.
I have modeled very basic meshes representing a mouse, a flashlight and some boxes as placeholders for props. I started experimenting with different camera angles, placement of the characters, props location, light direction and color.
I ended up with two elements standing out: the agent and the world domination plan. I have tried to follow the 'thirds rule', placing the agent at the distance of one third from the right image border, with his head and arm also at the distance of one third from the top of the image, and the world domination plan and mouse leader were placed at one third from the left side.
I also tried to create contrast in both these areas. Another composition element that I emphasized was the diagonal starting on the lower left and ending on the upper right. You can notice that the light cone of the flashlight, the pointer of the mouse leader, the agent's front arm and its shadow are all lined up according to this diagonal.|
Regarding the color, I have decided that there should exist two distinct areas: a saturated red office area, where the mice are meeting, and which reinforces the evilness of the mice plans, and a dark blue area outside the office which emphasized the undercover role of the agent, only broken by the revealing warm light of the flashlight.