When we set out to do the SyFy Original Movie "Piranhaconda," we knew it would be a challenge to create a 100ft long and not have the model fall apart for closeups. To achieve the necessary level of detail while working within the confines of Zbrush subdivision levels, we decided to break the model up into four separate meshes.
First we focused on the head by sculpting with Dynamesh. Once the head was approved, we retopo-ed and box modeled the body. Once we had approval on the overall structure and shape we split the model into four meshes and loaded them as sub-tools in zbrush.
On real snakes, the size of the scales grows in relation to the body thickness. For our creature, we UV'd the body with a single seam down the belly and pinned the island edges to maintain a constant body width in UV space. We then laid out a custom painted tileable snake scale map in UV space along the length of the body. We brought the texture map with the temp UVs into ZBrush and generated a mask using the luminance channel. Using the deformation slider we then displaced the geometry and sculpted additional details by hand. By laying the snake out and using Zbrush's deformation slider, we could ensure an even scale height along all 3 parts of the body.
To ensure maximum detail, all our displacement and paint work was exported as dual 8k maps for any close up shots, and 4k maps for rest. We then exported the maps from each sub-tool and painted out the seams in 3D-Coat. Finally, we exported the second subdivision level meshes from each sub-tool and welded the vertices together along the seams.
We are releasing some great compositing plugins developed internally that we used on every shot on Piranhaconda.
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