The Action Hero Contest may be over, but we're not done bringing you good stuff from it! This week is the first of five "Making Of" articles from the top winners, beginning with SolidSnakexxx and his creation: Mantis Man. Weighing in at an amazing 71 pages, Yongkiat's entry was the most active thread in the whole contest. Now we're pleased to be able to bring you a detailed walkthrough of his thoughts and techniques as he worked on our Fourth Prize winner.
The first time I heard about the contest and the topic, I knew it would be one cool contest. However, I didn't think I was able to join in as my full time workload at Prommitr Visual Effects company as managing director is quite full. But then I thought it would be a fun challenge to do after work and would be a great way to push my ZBrush skills (as one of the rules suggests the use of ZBrush as much as possible) and learn something from other contestants. I set my determination that no matter how busy I got, I'd try to spend at least 20 minutes of ZBrush daily. That way I was certain that I wouldn't get too far behind in the course of the contest.
After reading the contest rules, I spent my time thinking about the concept of my hero. It was that afternoon that I saw a one-arm praying mantis in my backyard. I was thinking how the raptorial blade's looked so menacing and would look rather cool as a weapon. At first I was going for more typical hero characteristics with a lot more human-like traits. With my mind fixed on the Praying Mantis as the basis for my hero, I started studying the insect from the web. Then I changed my mind and went after a more insectile look instead as it would bring more uniqueness to my character. I kept the sketch pretty loose and planned to tighten the design in ZBrush.
After completing my initial concept sketch, I couldn't wait to jump into modeling. Before I discovered ZBrush, I would do it with traditional polygon modeling. (Previously my tool of choice for base modeling was Silo.) But nowadays, ZSpheres provide a much easier way and take very little time to construct. However, I think planning should be done at the very beginning of the process. So I rough out on how I'd separate the models into SubTools on paper first. Two main factors that I used to determine where to dissect the model into SubTools are the amount of polygons needed for that area and different materials that I want to apply per SubTool. After I have the plan roughed out the overall ZSphere construct is completed within minutes. I turned the model into an adaptive skin with subdivision levels set to one (using the Density slider) so I can manage the overall shape easily.
At this stage the only brush I used was Move with varying size and intensity. Also I decided to go for a neutral pose as I planned to use Transpose Master to put my model into an action pose. Once the overall proportion's right, I'm ready to move on to the fun sculpting phase.
The first SubTool I wanted to sculpt was the Raptorial Blade as it's one of the main elements of the character. After the rough shape of the raptorial blade was formed, I turned my focus to the chest and torso as these 2 areas are the first few lessons I learned form Alex Oliver. The process was rather fast as I recalled most of what my master taught me and at this point it still holds the basic human torso form. In addition, I also referenced my sculpt with the 24" Male Anatomy Figure: Version 3 from FreedomofTeach (Now Anatomy Tools) which I obtained awhile back. My main brushes during this stage are Standard, Clay, and Clay Tube. I tried to stay in the lowest possible subdivision as long as possible before adding extra polygons. And at this stage I'm trying to refrain from over-detailing the model.
It's worth noting that with the nature of the contest being a Work-In-Progress (WIP) Challenge, I was able to gain almost instant feedback from other contestants and forum members. That feedback was really invaluable as it alloweded me to get good critiques on my model progression and I was able to amend what I might have neglected.
The head of Mantis Man's not a traditional human head in a sense, but I decided to start the head with a human skull. The skull itself was sculpted with a PolySphere (found in the ZTools folder) as the base mesh. Then I slowly transformed the human skull into a more insect-like head. The head itself is composed of several SubTools: the two composite eyes, three simple eyes, the antennae, and the facial hair. For the composite eyes I utilized a Stencil to wrap a uniform pattern atop the eye ball. I've also included the steps in creating the seamless alpha pattern in the entry as well. (CLICK HERE) The Antennae was created with a very basic Zsphere construct.
After the main forms were set, I would then subdivide further and tighten the design; especially the exoskeleton plates. For fine detailing of the Mantis Man, I resorted to Adam Lewis's Standard Brush which allowed me to create fine lines and precise details.
Although I might have gotten away without redoing the topology, I realized certain SubTools were not very optimized. I also thought it would be a good project to test ZBrush with doing the topology task. Two main SubTools where I spent a lot of time redoing topology were the head and the main body.
PolyPaint & Materials
This is the first project where I fully utilized PolyPainting. It took me a few PolyPaint sessions to get used to, but after that I could say to anyone that this is the coolest method to color your model. For me, this feature is very intuitive as you are able to color the model, turn then color and see the result in real-time. I normally begin the PolyPainting process by filling the base color and gradually adding layers of colors atop the base, similar to my painting technique.
During the coloring phase I also experimented with materials for each part of the character. Like I've stated earlier, Mantis Man was planned out so that parts which I wanted to apply specific materials to are of their own SubTools.
Setting the Pose
This process was by far the most difficult process for me, as the main contest criteria was to create one impact hero pose. I spent a lot of time working on the pose design. After a few sketches I decided to throw them up in my thread for others to help me choose which pose might be most suitable for my character. I then used the initial ZSphere version of the model to create some sort of pose previz. I'd also like to thank members, especially J.P. Smith, who provided great pose suggestions.
The TransPose Process
Posing a character has never been this easy. Before the advent of ZBrush 3.1 I'd have to rig and pose my model in Maya and it would take days to do the pose. With Transpose Master I was able to pose my model with multiple SubTools. I ran into a problem at the very beginning that caused ZBrush to freeze every time I finished my pose and wanted to get out of Transpose Master. It took me awhile to pinpoint the cause. Later I realized that it was because the model had too much polygon density. So I stepped back my subdivision and used the semi high-res version to do the TransPose instead. This allowed me to pose my character very easily. I did four different poses with this method and along the way got very useful critiques to improve the pose of the model.
After the model was posed I then went back to do some minor fixing on both sculpting and PolyPainting, along with final details. The base, rock, landmine and missile were added at this last step as well.
First, I would like to thank Pixologic and sponsors for hosting such an incredible contest. Secondly I'd like to express my sincere gratitude to Prince Chatri of Thailand, my mentor and my boss, who entrusts me with a significant task of managing a CG team at Prommitr Visual Effects (PMVX) and allows me to introduce and fully utilize ZBrush in our film pipeline from the initial concept stage to final modeling. In addition, I'd like to thank Alex Oliver, my Digital Sculpting teacher who taught me human anatomy from ground up. I'd also like to thank everyone in the forum who participated in this contest.
We would like to thank Yongkiat for taking the time to put this article together. Watch over the next several weeks as we bring you the other top entries, counting down to the Grand Prize winner. There's an epic amount of great info on the way!
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.