Character Profile: Natalia Williams
Occupation: Stripper. Student.
Abilities: Natalia has no supernatural abilities.
Appearance: Slim. Long wavy hair. Wears glasses. Usually wears laid back, comfortable clothing.
Natalia Williams is a smart girl, with a bit of a cynical outlook on life. She works as a stripper to support herself while trying to finish her University degree.
She lost her parents in a car accident when she was a little girl. She then went to live with her blind uncle.
Natalia was always a smart girl and a bit of an overachiever. She was very pretty, but kind of a tom-boy. Rather than join the cheerleading squad like all the other pretty and popular girls, she joined the womens soccer team. After graduating high school, she moved to the city to attend medical school, wanting to specialize in eye surgery and sight research.
In the beginning, she paid for this with her inheritance from her deceased parents, but the city was expensive and the money ran out fast. She had to drop out of university and find a job. After going from job to job, always getting fired for some reason or another, she ended up taking a job as a stripper in a local club. This made her enough money to cover her living expenses and allow her to return to university on a part time basis, trying to finish her degree.
This was when she met her boyfriend Ryan. A friend of Julian, a doorman at the club. Ryan stepped in when a creepy customer tried to wait for her in the parking lot after work, this lead to a late night diner “date”, and since then they have been together.
Abilities: Highly intelligent. Powerful telepath, but actively hides his ability.
Appearance: Tall, slim and good looking man. Blonde hair with side part. Always dresses sharply and keeps himself well groomed. (Reference keyword: Brendan Fraser, Aaron eckhart)
Personality: Very intelligent. Always playing an angle. He’s friendly and accommodating, but always for a reason. Carries great distain and bitterness towards his father and his adopted siblings.
Gabriel is the second in command in the Connor criminal empire. He is extremely intellegent and a very savvy and ruthless business man. Lacking any obvious abilites like his father and siblings, he’s made up for it with his brilliant mind. While the other children each run a part of the Connor empire, Gabriel oversees the whole operation and usually deals with the big picture plans as opposed to the little details in the every day running of operations.
The biologial child of Joseph O’Connor, he was never treated well by his father after it became apparent to him that Gabriel had no abilities. He was mostly disregarded as a failure by his father, despite clearly being a very intelligent man and every bit as ruthless as his father.
Gabriel’s undeniable brilliance has made him the second in command in the Connor family, but he’s never been treated as such by the others, always kind of looked down upon for not posessing the kind of power the others do.
He absolutely despises his father and siblings, and is always looking for his opportunity to dispose of his father and take the Connor criminal empire for himself.
Character Profile: Julian Wright
Occupation: Prize fighter, Doorman.
Abilities: No supernatural abilities. Very athletic. Strong wrestler.
Appearance: Tall, heavily muscled. Shaves his head. Has a goatee. Usually wears a suit. Has hawaiian tribal tattoos. (Ref: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson)
Personality: Julian is kind of a sleeping giant. He’s goodhearted and jovial most of the time, but when pushed he becomes a fierce beast. He’s pretty laidback and likes to joke around.
Julian Wright is a professional fighter who works as a doorman at the local club.
He was a bit of a spoiled kid. Born into a wealthy family, his father is a politician and his mother is a doctor, Julian was a star athlete in high school and college, who eventually lost his scholarship and was expelled because a girl accused him of rape after a night of excessive drinking and smoking following a big win for the college football team.
Julian ended up going on a bit of a self pity fueled bender, and got into a brawl in a local club. He absolutely the guys he was fighting, and caught the attention of a local kickboxing trainer. His natural athletisism and killer instinct marked Julian as a promising prospect. The trainer tracked Julian down the next day and offered to train him to be a professional fighter.
Julian got into mixed martial arts, and trains diligently, seeing this as a second chance to follow his dream of being a professional athlete. This is where he met Ryan and Tommy, two fellow fighters training diligently and working on their abilites, each for their own reasons.
After compositing my renders, I decided to create two final images. One basic beauty shot, with just a plain black background and no blurring or grain filters, intended to display the model and textures without any distractions.
The second final image is the composition I was working towards according to my concept. It features the background from earlier, as well as more stylized saturated colours and a film grain filter.
I am pretty satisfied with my image and the work I put in. I think it turned out relatively well, and that I improved upon many aspects of 3D work that I would consider weaknesses of mine. Like texturing, lighting and rendering.
Texturing is really mostly a matter of putting in the time to work on it, as opposed to trying to get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’d say the texturing I did on this project isn’t great(the character is decent, the environment and the demonic arms aren’t so good), but quite a bit better than I have done previously. It’s definitely something for me to build on.
I’ve always thought that texturing is all about photo-manipulation, which I have had no trouble with in regards to environments, but I am still not sure how to effectively work that into characters, as their UV’s are too complicated to just slap a sampled image on them.
I spent quite some time researching lighting and rendering. I read Essential Lighting Techniques With 3DS Max by Darren Brooker, which helped me out a lot. I think my understanding of light and shadow improved immensely during this project.
I am particularly happy about learning more about render passes and compositing. I really love the amount of control I have over my final images with this approach, and it’s definitely something I’m going to use in my workflow from now on.
The UVW issue I ran into was quite regrettable. Fortunately I was able to resolve it and move on, but I was stuck for over 3 weeks on that one, trying to work around it as best I could while looking for a solution. As much as I love Zbrush, I find that in my pipeline, the transition back and forth between Max and Zbrush is the place I most often run into problems that destroy both my schedule and my momentum. It seems every time I feel like I am aware of, and taking care to avoid, all potential problems, a new one pops up to get me.
That said, aside from the UVW issue, I think my workflow was pretty effective this project. I managed that time well and had no trouble with the deadline.
I got off to a good start by spending some time properly visualising the image with my concepts and mockups before starting 3D work proper. It was nice to work with a clear objective in mind rather than making it up as I went along. The modeling was quick and painless, and I had it done by the beginning of December, leaving me plenty of time to work on my textures and read about lighting and rendering.
I’m happy with the resulting image. I believe I got a decent result, considering I decided to go for low poly with normal maps, as opposed to high poly with displacement maps. That is a character that could conceivably be put directly into a game engine.
I am a games artist and I wanted to work somewhat within the confines of game art, so I decided to go relatively low poly and rely on my normal maps and standard shaders. Kind of challenge myself to see what I could do with it, so the characters and environment in the image is about 24000 polygons in total.
As for the lighting, I wanted to set it as a dark sunset shot, so I chose to have one key light set from the top to simulate the sky, with a high key to filler ratio to create a bit of contrast and shadows. I also put about 6 filler lights with a blue shade to soften the shadows a bit and light up the places that were too dark, while still keeping the illusion of darkness.
I still thought it didn’t look very nice. The lighting seemed off somehow, and the background seemed a bit “busy” and didn’t blend well with the character in the foreground. I decided to remove the background and just go for a plain black background, and then create a composed image in Photoshop later where I would include the background. I also put a volume light on the key light in order to create a bit of a glow around the character.
I decided to try my hand at render compositing. Rather than spend a day rendering out one image, I rendered one simple beauty shot, and then used the scanline render elements rollout to create a lighting, specular, z-depth, and diffuse pass. I also did an ambient occlusion render pass with mental ray.
I then took all my render passes to photoshop and composited them. The ambient occlusion render pass in particular was quite the eye opener. It added a lot of depth to my image that made all the difference in the world. With a little work with the dodge tool in photoshop, the specular pass was really useful as well.
For the specular and lighting passes, I played with the hue a little bit, to change them into more of an orange-y colour that would make the light and highlights warmer, to match my background image that was more of a sunset image than moonlight.
I created a background image for my character. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on the background, so I found a nice nature image of the horizon and sky I liked, and used it as a base for a paintover to create an environment that fit with my intended style.
It turned out quite well, however I wasn’t sure if I was going to use it, as a lot of character pictures actually work better with a plain black background and a spotlight, with maybe some volume lighting. Backgrounds also may take the attention away from the character if you’re not careful.
I ran into a rather large problem during my UVW mapping. After finishing the UV’s for all my meshes, I exported them back to zbrush, only to find that the UV’s were broken. When I tried to render out my normal maps, I was met with this issue:
As you can see, there is a lot of faceting going on there. On a properly working UV mapped model, this would be completely smooth, only broken up by the seams I had put in place.
Now this faceting did not cause any issues with textures created in photoshop, but they completely broke any maps generated from zbrush. Naturally, this turn of events was fairly catastrophic.
This was a new problem I had never seen before, but I had recently upgraded from Zbrush 3.5 to Zbrush4 and from Max 2009 to Max 2010, so I assumed the problem would be caused by one of those.
I did a lot of research on the problem, and located forum threads where people reported similar issues on sites like Zbrushcentral, but none of these people had found any solutions, so it was up to me to figure it out for myself.
After a lot of testing and changing of software, I managed to solve the problem by rolling back to Max 2009, merging in the assets from the Max 2010 file, clearing all UVW information and redoing the UVW mapping, then exporting with Max 2009. Once in Zbrush4, instead of replacing the subdivision1 model with the UVW mapped base mesh, I imported the new meshes separately and projected the model information on the new meshes. That eventually solved my UVW faceting issue.
Unfortunately, this whole process delayed me by almost 3 weeks.
I never found out exactly what caused the issue or where it occurred, but as far as I can tell, the problem has something to do with the export process from Max to Zbrush. I found a way that works, and I will stick to that from now. I’ve also changed my workflow to include regular UV tests when I start the UVW mapping phase from now on, so I can catch any potential issues like this much earlier.
For my diffuse texturing, I created base textures in Zbrush using polypainting, and further refined them in photoshop.
I played with the idea of using mental ray materials and relying on their properties for armor pieces and skin. However I decided against it based on the fact that I am a games artist, and I want to work within the confines of what I would usually do for a game. So I decided that I would rely on diffuse, specular and normal maps for my texturing.