The Action Hero Contest may be over, but we're not done bringing you good stuff from it! This week is the fourth of five "Making Of" articles from the top winners, highlighting jp_smith and his creation: Overwatch. From the moment the concept sketch was revealed at the very beginning, it was clear that Jason's entry would be a major contendor. It came as no surprise to anyone that he was among the winners. Now we're pleased to be able to bring you an overview of his thoughts and techniques as he worked on our First Prize winner.
When I heard about the Action Hero Contest it took me about .3 seconds to decide I wanted to enter. Comic book heroes are my area of expertise so to speak, being a lifelong comic book nerd and having worked on two superhero games back to back. I had a hard time initially deciding what kind of hero I wanted to make since I've had so many different ideas for my own superheroes over the years. I'm a huge Captain America fan, I love patriotic heroes, and I'm kind of a military tech nerd to boot so that direction was natural for me. There are a lot of cool anti-hero paramilitary characters in the comic book world so I took inspiration from characters like The Punisher, Deathstroke, and Deadpool. Additionally, being a big gamer I really liked the idea of the Metal Gear Solid-type stealthy cyber-ninja like Grey Fox and Solid Snake in MGS4. Overwatch's eyebeam concept is inspired by the X-Men leader Cyclops' optic blasts, plus I thought it was pretty cool to have a military themed bad-ass hero who no longer needs a gun to get the job done.
Base Mesh and Pose
I started out with a simple ZSphere body, then I subdivided a few times and roughed in very basic anatomy to get a feel for the proportions before I set about retopologizing that mesh for the base body. The boots were made in the same fashion and the pouches are retopologized cubes included with ZBrush that I shaped into the rough size I needed. The straps, belt, and helmet are all retopologized mesh extractions from the base body. Now this is the point where I deviated from the way most artists in the contest began. Instead of sculpting all of the body and gear first then posing, I chose to pose first. The reason for this is that I have had trouble in the past wrangling lots of SubTools with lots of subdivisions while using TransPose Master, so I figured the easy route would be to pose first and then do a completely non-symmetrical sculpt which is what I wanted to do anyway. The pose itself came very quickly, since I knew I wanted something powerful and intimidating without being over the top or cartoony (something that I knew wouldn't fit the gritty and grim nature of the character). Another consideration was that I wanted to make sure he could solidly support his own weight if he were ever 3D printed. I own dozens of superhero statues, so by studying how those were constructed I was able to come up with a pose that got the feeling I wanted while working as a statue as well. As I got deeper into the sculpt I decided to change the arm pose to add more of a sense of action and power, and I felt his head was reading a little small so I scaled it up slightly with TransPose.
I started out sculpting the base anatomy of the figure with the Clay brush for building up forms, then refined it with the Standard brush. The kneepads, arm straps, etc. are simple inflated masks, but by reprojecting higher subdivition (Tool>Geometry>Reproject Higher Subdiv) a few times I was able to smooth out most of the poly-shearing that occurs from inflating masks. After I had finished the contest I learned about a neat feature of the Layer brush from a friend at work. Apparently when you have a morph target on your model before you begin using the Layer brush and use the Dots stroke type the Layer brush will not build up continually over itself but instead stay at the same depth of the initial stroke. A very handy feature which I now use all the time instead of mask/inflate. I used lots of Lazy Mouse for seams, and I also used the Line stroke with the Single Layer brush in Projection Master when it made sense to do it. The stroke duplication and move feature in Projection Master is awesome.
(Editor's Note: When using Projection Master you can activate the gyro to transform your last brush stroke. You can then use the Snapshot function to drop multiple copies of the stroke.)
I used lots and lots of alphas to add detail to the body and base as well as many hours of hand sculpting little nicks, scratches, and dings. The alphas were applied as either DragRect strokes with the Elastic brush or as stencils. Much of the detail I added will never be seen in the renders, but it adds that extra bit of polish that makes it feel complete to me. Most of the alphas I used I found online and a great free texture resource is: http://www.cgtextures.com. I highly recommend it. The sandbags are the same SubTool, just TransPosed into different postions and resculpted if needed. The base is a combination of alphas applied in Projection Master and hand sculpting with the Standard and Layer brushes. The distressing on the sides of the broken concrete was created using a very small, tight alpha included with ZBrush and the Spray stroke set to Zsub. The hexagon pattern on the sides and legs was created by UV-unwrapping the body with headus uv layout (awesome program for UV's), then in Photoshop using a seamless hex alpha. I pasted and scaled the pattern into the areas where it would be used until I got the look I wanted, then I brought that texture into ZBrushas an alpha and used the Tool>Masking>Mask by Alpha feature and inflated it. Working that way gives me great seamless patterns with little of the stretching I get when trying to use DracRect around curved surfaces.
Texturing and Rendering
I struggled for a few days trying to come up with a good color palette for Overwatch. Initially I thought about going very dark, like a black Navy SEAL wetsuit, but when I tried some color tests the detail just got lost (not something I wanted to happen). I also played around with a digital camouflage look, which is very fitting for this character, but I came to the conclusion that camouflage (as it should be) is very good at breaking up form and diminishing detail, so that idea was out. Then the idea of a blue stealth suit somewhat similar to Solid Snake's in the Metal Gear Solid series came to me so I tried it and liked the results. My initial paint job was a tad dark but when I played with the materials and added lighting the colors really popped to get that dramatic comic book feel I was looking for. The texturing itself was done as a combination of pure poly painting in ZBrush and ZappLink. For materials I decided to stay with the standard ZBrush materials since they react to light in a predicable way that MatCaps do not. I used PolkADot1 and 2 extensively because those materials have a ton of material modifier options so I figured they'd give me a lot of flexibility. I also used a tweaked Intensity Metal on the helmet and BasicMaterial2 for less specular areas. For the shiny gold areas I made a custom reflective gold material, and the Glow material was used for the "glowy" parts. My light setup included four lights: two lights at high intensity for the rim light, one key light, and one ambient fill light. All but the fill had shadows on. I played around with depth of field a little but it just seemed to make him look like a toy so I decided against it. The final renders turned out well enough that I didn't feel the need to do a lot of rendering passes and compositing.
This was an amazing competition filled with amazing artists. The judges must have had an incredibly difficult time judging this contest given the dozens of high quality entries. I learned a few new things about ZBrush, but the most important thing I took away from this competition is the great friendships I've made through the last few months and seeing all the inspirational work this community does. This is, bar none, the greatest, most supportive online art community I've ever experienced, and I hope it always will be.
We would like to thank Jason for taking the time to put this article together, and hope to see a lot more from him in the future as he works on his new projects! To see what we mean, check out his Art Blog.
Next week, we'll be bringing you the Grand Prize making-of article, so keep an eye out! In case you're new to the Action Hero excitement, here's the list of top entries.
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum. We'll be returning to our regular format after next week's conclusion of the Action Hero series.