CGSociety :: Winner's Tutorial
17 August 2012, by Darko Vucenik
When this competition came along, it looked like it was tailor-made for me. I just recently started to learn V-Ray, a personal quest to give myself an opportunity to push rendering and modeling skills to a new level. Inspired by the cool contest header, featuring the famous inventor Nikola Tesla (as illustrated by Toni Bratincevic), my initial ideas explored famous, world changing inventors like Einstein, Newton and their work.
However, none of the ideas featured really pinpointed a single ‘decisive moment’ so I decided to go with something different. Not a world changing event, but possibly the most decisive moment an ordinary person could face. The moment it is decided whether they will live or die. So I chose to picture the moment when a drunk driver, (let’s call him Mister Jonson), crashes in to an old telegraph pole. Is this his last moment in this world? Did he fasten his seat belt? Is his buddy ‘Death’, here just to party or is he here on business? With this in mind, I created a very rough sketch in Photoshop. The purpose of the sketch was just to check whether the composition I had in my head actually worked on paper. Well, ‘screen’, to be more precise.
Since this is the picture of a car crash it seemed logical to start building the car first. I am not much of a car enthusiast, but the old model Mini Morris was always one of my favorites. Perhaps because that’s what Mr. Bean drives. So, I Googled a bunch of reference pictures and chose the ones featuring a good side, front and back view. In Photoshop, I changed the proportions of the car making it about one third shorter and the cabin a lot taller. This gave the car a more stylized, cartoonish appearance. With these altered images as blueprints, modeling was a simple process.
I used the standard 3ds Max poly modeling features. One of the methods that made the process a lot faster is to model on the surface of another object. What I mean by that is to draw a simple curve following the curvature of the car, extrude it into a surface and then using freeform graphite modeling tools build the actual topology of the car on to that surface.
Using this method you can cut, extend and move your polys around without worrying that you will mess up the smooth curvature of the car's body. Building the mini was a lot of fun, so I modeled the whole thing despite knowing that a lot of it won't be visible in final image.
With the car was finished, I began to block in the characters. I didn't like Death’s pose in the sketch so I loosened him up a bit by tilting his head back and extending the arm holding the bottle. He is in a happy party mood. After all, he doesn't have anything to worry about. Mister Jonson on the other hand is panicking. I decided to raise his hands off the steering wheel. Positioning them in front of him looked natural, like an instinctive move to protect himself. At this stage, characters are just a fast assembly of slightly modified geometric primitives. At the same time as I'm positioning the characters, I also play with the camera looking for the right angle.
Next I made thumbnail sketches of character faces on paper (a). They are very tiny, just a two or three cm in size. Sketches can be this small because at this point I'm only looking for right overall proportions and general expressions of the face, not caring about details (yet). Using the sketches as blueprints, I block in the 3ds Max form using very simple geometry (b). Then I send the geometry to ZBrush and using DynaMesh, merge the pieces into one continuous surface for sculpting. I quickly refine the shape using various brushes, but mostly the clay build up, move and smooth. Then its back to 3ds Max for retopologizing with the Freeform Extend tool. With new topology done (c), it’s back to ZBrush for detail sculpting and poly painting (d). That is the process I used for all the character pieces.
When sculpting and polypainting all pieces was finished, I baked out color, cavity, normal and displacement maps. Various specular and glossiness maps were derived from other baked maps in Photoshop. Usually just adjusting the curves is enough with occasional overpainting.
At this point, before modeling the rest of the scene, I did a little render to check the direction in which the picture is going. Materials at this point are pretty basic. Most of them are just V-Ray materials with diffuse color and the reflection amount adjusted. Character materials are a bit further along since all the textures were already polypainted. The main lights are already in place, but more on lighting later. In Photoshop I mocked up the sky and indicated some water effects. Satisfied with the feel of the picture, I proceeded on to modeling the background and water effects.
The background is very simple. Since it will be heavily blurred in the final composite it didn't make much sense to spend much time on detailing. The sky with lightning is a painting I did in Photoshop. The ground is a plane object. The hills were created by applying the noise modifier over the soft selection. The road is another narrow plane object with bend modifier. Textures for the ground and road are procedural substance maps. In case of the ground a blend of dry ground texture, a noisy green texture for the grass and a light gray texture with distance blend for the fog effect.