Concepting and Story
For this render, I didn't really have to do any concepting since I had this idea for very long time. I love anything about outer-space, universe, stars, planets, etc. My idea was to create a little story about a human missing home while adapting to a new one. The idea of an astronaut living in a space station orbiting a red planet was clear, but the connection to earth was a little challenging. The after several ideas and struggling, my wife gave me the idea of including some sort of painting, which I think it was an excellent idea.
I really enjoy modelling especially hard surfaces. Before I started modeling I did a basic set up with simply geometry to have an idea where things will go. I spent around 8-10 hours searching a lot of reference in the internet so I can do the modeling as accurate as possible. The more reference you gather the better. I utilized Maya to create the space station also I used Mudbox to create the padded wall and the side of the center copula. I knew it was going to be a dark interior render but I still wanted to give enough detail to the geometry so when the light hits it creates nice silhouettes. When modeling I tried to re used some props to build other that way I was able to create more variety.
I decided to learn a new software. I found Marvelous Designer to be an immense help. With Marvelous designer I was able to simulate the astronaut's suit, the ground big bags and the backpack. It took me couple of days of watching tutorials and practicing to be able to use it efficiently. The cool part about Marvelous is that you can simulate your cloth with very low polygons density once you are happy you can just add more polygons without affecting the simulation. Another benefit with Marvelous is that the cloth geometry will have perfect UV's for texturing. Once you are happy with your cloth you can animate your rigged character with the cloth. Finally, you can export the cloth geometry as a single merged object or as a multiple object.
Same as modeling reference was key to achieve convincing results. Even if your render is stylized is very important to gather as much reference as possible. There a lots of ways to create textures and I have been using Substance Painter for about 6 months and I love it you can achieve great results in short time. I wanted all my props to have lots of detail coming from its textures. Another advantage of using Substance is that you can export as many textures channels you can even use tis presets which in my case was perfect because there was one for Arnold renderer. I mainly worked with Diffuse, Specular, Normal, Displacement, F0 and Roughness. My main goal with the textures was to give it a feel that someone has been living at the space station but not for very long time so its not too old.
Hair and Brush
Xgen is an amazing tool that comes with Maya. I didn't have much experience so I had to spent a couple of long nights learning it. Its very technical but once you get the feel of it becomes a very fun tool to play with. You can use different types of Xgen depending on your purposes. I my case suing the Xgen with splines it was perfect since my character has long hair. I started setting up splines, I added about 20 for the main head and 30 for the ponytail. Splines are great you can adjust them at any time without breaking your hair system. To make the hair look realistic I used some modifiers mainly clumping and noise. Also I did two hair systems one for the hair of the head and another one for the ponytail, that way was easier to add more detail without effecting each other. Once you are happy with the look you can add any material to the hair system in my case I used alHair Shader.
Rendering and Lighting
For the first time I decided to use Arnold for Maya. The moment I started using Arnold I was happy. You can use the progressive rendering window to have faster feedback. You can also use its debug tool to isolate props, lights or even shaders that way you can work independently. I started to add the lights to my scene with no textures or complex shaders that way it was fast to do the lighting test. I decided to have my main key light an ai-sky and physical sun light to simulate the light coming from the red planet. Once I was happy with the direction of the light I started to add more fill lights. Sometimes I added one light per prop specially the ones that I thought were more important, like the astronaut, paint brush, paint tubes etc. Like I mention before using Arnold I was able to isolate the lights that way I could see how each light individually was affecting the scene.
Materials and Shaders
Materials and lighting definitely go together. Once I was happy with my light rig I started to add the shaders and textures. Arnold has some great easy to use shaders and for my scene I used some aiStandar. But then I discovered alShaders which turn out to be the best shaders I have ever worked with, they are extremely powerful. You can download them at http://www.anderslanglands.com since they are open source and free to use I highly recommend it. alShaders come with 2 specular nodes so I was able to plug in my specular and roughness textures in the Specular1 node then I used specular 2 to add more detail. With alShaders I was able to create everything I need with the exception of glass since in my opinion Arnolds’s aiStandard had a more desirable result.
Here is where the fun comes. I love compositing since you get to see the final render coming alive the way you want it. With Arnold I was able to render multiple AOV passes and saving the renders as EXR 32bit gave the opportunity to use Exr-IO (a very cool plugin for photoshop) that will give you the ability to open your render with all your AOV's in layers ready to composite. When compositing I like to add some extra but very important details such as atmospheric fog, particles and in some cases do minor color changes. I wanted to add some Depth of Field to the props closer to the camera. Usually I create a Depth of Field pass to composite it later but in this case I rendered with the DOF baked in. At the very end I like to add a color gradient which helps bringing all layers in to one nice final image.