Pascual Rubio Cervera is a 3D modeler and member of CGSociety who recently stunned our audience with his photorealistic CG portrait, "Young Felicity Jones." Upon seeing Pascual's talent, we were eager to chat with him and learn the secrets behind his lifelike creations.



How long have you been modeling for, and where did you get your start? At what point in time did you start experimenting with photorealistic character portraits?

I always have passion for photorealistic characters since I was a kid. As a child I enjoyed drawing portraits and studying them, so it was a natural step for me, once I starting using CG tools, to model the portraits as well.

Your recent piece 'Young Felicity Jones' is incredible and has definitely created waves amidst our audience. Can you give us a broad overview of your workflow in executing this piece?

The first step of the process is studying the person you will be portraying, in this case Felicity Jones. Finding and analyzing the possible reference photos on the internet is a pretty long process but enjoyable at the same time. It´s interesting to observe people´s faces, and identify the specific facial traits that cause their likenesses or disparities.

Then, once I chose the references I would like to work with, I start modeling a rough concept with very basic shapes to try to lock in the overall look of the face, constantly coming back to the reference. At one point of the process, when I look at my model I say to myself, “Ok, I have it, this is Felicity Jones”. Once I am happy with how the model is coming along, then of course, I can start grooming the hair, texture and shading.

The lighting stage is normally the last step but it usually makes me go back and modify aspects from the previous stages since certain lightings reveal imperfections and things that need to be corrected.

You definitely achieved her likeness, and we'd love to know your workflow for creating some of those textures, specifically the hair and eyelashes.

Since the portrait is so close to the camera, the skin and the details such as her eyebrows and eyelashes had to be spot on. I used xyz textures for the skin color and displacement maps and carefully studied the skin of the original Felicity Jones. I applied the textures in Mari and worked everything together in Maya through the lookdev process. Given the young age of the character (early 20s), the pore size had to be relatively small. In addition, it was important to keep her skin color in mind.

Regarding her hair, I always use XGen for my grooming and hair styling as it is amazingly powerful and it allows me to achieve the look that I am looking for. In this particular case for her eyelashes I used a thickness a bit higher than usual since technically she would be wearing makeup which adds an extra layer to the hair. For me, it was crucial to remember that when I do likeness, I am portraying actors and actresses whose facial features and hair are considerably enhanced by make-up, which naturally affects the look of their skin and hair.


What other software program(s) did you use? Are these your go-to programs, or did you experiment with something new for this project? What is something you learned about your technique or workflow during the process?

My main software programs, Zbrush and Maya, are where the modeling and rendering happen and now, since they are putting Mudbox tools inside Maya, the corrective shapes process is smoother and easier. Given the projecting instruments and non-destructive workflow, Mari is the ideal painting tool for this type of projects.

I prefer to use XGen for the hair because the power of this tool is simply amazing since it has its own language. Depending on the certain conditions, such as the length and density of the hair strands, I use some expressions to guide the look in order to create convincing hair styles. And, of course, I go to Arnold for rendering since, in my opinion, it is the best render engine for creatures, humans, etc.- their skin and hair materials are just amazing.

For the sake of time I wasn´t able to try any new programs, although I would have liked to. More than learning something new, I think that the more you practice, the better your eye becomes perceiving the details of the person you are portraying and your capacity to replicate those traits in your model.


What kind of pipeline did you use for creating her eyes, which certainly are the focal point of the piece?  

The base model I used for the eyes is nothing special, just an object for the cornea and another for the iris. Once I had the right size to match Felicity´s real eyes, I started the texture/look dev in which I used Mari for painting the textures and an xyz iris scan as the base.

I chose the scan that was the closest color to the one I was looking for, and then I started from there. With a few modifications and the addition of some layers I was able to achieve her natural eye color.

Lastly, then I went to Maya to continue with the look dev process now with the proper lighting. In this case I put special attention on the fact that Felicity is a young person, whose eyes don´t have many veins yet. Age is a factor that always affects every element of the character.


Switching gears to your depiction of Saw Gerrera. His skin is incredibly well crafted, right down to the details of scarring and pores. How did you achieve this? And how was your process similar or different to that when creating Felicity Jones?

Overall the process was basically the same as what I did for Felicity Jones, however I did an additional step: I used the xyz maps but instead of using them directly in Maya, I applied them in Zbrush because I had to model the facial scars on top of the pore layer. I knew that this extra procedure would help me to create the photoreal look I was intending.

Due to the fact that the skin texture and materials are different colors and were exposed to different physical conditions, (for example Felicity is in studio setting, in studio lighting in very controlled conditions while Saw Gerrera is clearly in mixed exterior/interior environment and has noticeable perspiration on his skin, which also shows evident signs of damage) the materials and their physical properties must be different, like the specularity and roughness.




What are the initial steps in creating a model like this, once you've found your references?

Well, first of all, the challenge it not just finding references, but finding ones that you can work with. Many times the lighting is artificial or so modified that it is impossible to read the shapes. It´s fundamental to be able to recognize these aspects of an image so you don´t have to go back after you´ve already started because something just doesn´t work and the product is not photoreal.

What are a few key factors for creating a render that is qualified as "photoreal." Any specific techniques you can call out or details to keep in mind?

I personally spend a lot of time on making sure that the proportions of the facial features are on target, especially the eyes, the skin under the eyes, the lips, etc.


What is your favorite part of the process when it comes to creating these portraits? Alternatively, what are areas that you feel you could improve upon?

I truly enjoy every single part of the process, though I must admit that the hair styling is one of my favorites. Also, the final stages of the process are the most exciting to me because you are seeing all your work coming together.

As an artist I think that everything can be improved on. Nothing is ever perfect in this field, and for photoreal projects our job is even harder because even an untrained eye can identify the smallest flaws. Furthermore, when working from home many times we have limitations. We don´t have as much time, we are not working with an expert team or we don´t have the access to cutting edge technology, so we do the best we can. Personally, I am pleased with the results of these two portraits, but I still need to improve so the next characters I do are even better.


Lastly, where do you seek out resources for your own growth as an artist?

The resources logically depend on which skills the artist would like to develop. For these two projects, I used XYZ texturing, tutorials from other artists, CG Soceity and Gumroad.

I would like the thank CG Society for this opportunity to comment my projects. I hope my experience can help artists with their future projects in the same way that I have learned from so many others. For any specific questions that were not addressed, please feel free to send me a message on www.animalpask.com

CGSociety thanks Pascual for his time and thoughtful answers! We hope this inspired you to create.