And here it is! The "Making Of" article for the Grand Prize winner from our Action Hero Contest. This week concludes our series of articles from the top winners, with lots of ZBrush goodness as cmoffit goes into detail about creating his winning entry: Dr. Root. Chris's thread had it all: A great concept and back story, top-notch ZBrush skills, and terrific presentation. The competition during the public vote was fierce with Dr. Root and Overwatch running neck and neck. But Dr. Root ultimately triumphed, and now we're pleased to be able to bring you an overview of what went into the creation of a Grand Prize winner.
I want to thank everyone at Pixologic and all the sponsors involved in putting together such an incredible contest! I’d also like to thank everyone who voted for my character and took the time to visit my thread and give feedback. The ZBrushCentral community is truly an amazing group of professionals and I’m proud to be a part of it.
When I first found out about the Action Hero Contest, I knew I had to enter. I’m a huge fan of comic book characters and so I began brainstorming ideas. I came up with a few hero ideas but the idea of a villain seemed so much more appealing. It is much more fun to make something look ominous and threatening than heroic. I wanted to really take advantage of ZBrush and design something very organic with intricate details, so I went with a “nature” themed character.
This idea of a tree man with giant branches for hands and roots growing from his torso kept coming to mind so I decided to go with that. I found some images of roots and vines; things that would be fun to sculpt. I roughed out some shapes and defined where I wanted things to grow off of his body, trying to keep it all balanced. He started to look a little bare so I decided to add some armor elements. The armor turned into Mayan plates and it seemed to complement the organic side of him. Once I had the concept finished, I was ready to sculpt.
I had only messed with ZSpheres a couple times but I had yet to actually integrate them into my workflow, so I thought this was the perfect time to learn! I roughed out the character with ZSpheres and converted it to a polymesh, then started pushing and pulling the shapes using the “Move” brush. After I was happy with the basic form, I subdivided a couple times and started defining some of the primary forms. My favorite brush to use for sculpting muscles is the “Clay Tubes” brush with a solid square alpha. It really gives your mesh that rough, sketchy feel and allows you to get really loose with your strokes. I then go over everything with the “Smooth” brush. I ended up adding an extra local subdivision to the head to get the additional detail I needed. Once I felt like I had a solid foundation, I was ready to add some other elements.
I decided to create the plates next so I jumped to 3DSMax because I knew the plates were going to need holes through them and I hadn’t yet learned how to do that in ZBrush. I did, however, install the smoothing group plugin to keep hard edges on the plates and it worked like a charm! I was able to control how tight I wanted the edges by only subdividing twice and then uncreasing the edges. I then subdivided a couple more times and the hard edge smoothed out a bit giving me exactly what I wanted. I then masked off a unique pattern for all four front plates, one back plate and a small shoulder plate. Once I was happy with the designs, I then inverted the mask and using the "Inflate" brush, extruded the designs out. Next, I would invert the mask, turn off symmetry and using the “Clay Tubes” brush with Zsub, I tried to give the plates a “carved” feel. Finally, with a small "Standard" brush, I added the little cracks to make it feel like stone.
For the roots I went with ZSpheres for both the front and back pieces. I really love how easily you can move ZSpheres around to get the shape you want. Once I was happy with the proportions and lengths of the roots, I converted them to a polymesh and decided it was time to start thinking about a pose.
Like ZSpheres, I was new to TransPose so I played around with it a lot before I started posing. I sketched out some pose ideas and did a practice pose with him down on one knee and his arm forward as if he was punching into the ground. This pose wasn’t working so I decided to go with a more “upright” pose and record my final TransPose movie. Once I was happy with the new pose I started sculpting some details in. Originally, I was going to have him mid-air with his left arm connecting to the ground as if he was vaulting up over something he was about to attack. But over time, it just didn’t feel very tough and almost looked too graceful. I started moving the legs around here and there while sculpting his face and chest and eventually he ended up with both his feet firmly planted on the ground.
Details and Color
Once the body was posed, I used TransPose to move the roots and plates to his body and added spheres for eyes. I started sculpting the roots and using the "Standard" brush, I began roughing out some of the large details. With the "Clay Tubes" brush, I began connecting pieces together by sculpting over the previous strokes. To add more mass I used the "Inflate" brush to thicken certain areas and then for smaller details I used the "Spray" stroke with “Alpha 22”. For the PolyPainting, I used the cavity mask and a brush with the "Spray" stroke to paint black in certain recessed areas to add more depth. Then I would invert my mask and fill everything with a dark brown as my base color. With the mask turned off, I would then spray a med grayish blue on the highpoints to give it a dry, worn feel. Using a small "Standard" brush set to Zadd and Rgb on, I added small green vines going in and out of the gaps and finally, I used the "Snake Hook" brush to add a few small thorns in different areas.
When I first posed my character, I used posable symmetry, thinking I would mirror everything. But somehow I ended up sculpting both sides just to give it a very organic feel. The hands took a lot longer than anything else because they were such a big part of the character. I wanted them to have elements that resembled the actual muscles in a human hand. I ended up later adding two extra fingers to each hand as SubTools and integrated them into his hands. I also added tentacle-like plants coming out of his palms that were made from a clone of a section of the roots on his back. This was a good way to add a bunch of medium and small pieces all over the larger roots. I exported the pieces to 3Ds max and cloned them all over his body to fill out areas and make the silhouette more interesting. I also added very thin vine strands to go around his legs and sculpted similar strands into his leg so that they blended together.
When painting the body, I started with a light green base color and a dark brown color for the lower arms and legs. With a Flat Color material on the mesh, I could easily fade the legs and arms into the body with a custom spatter brush set at around 10 intensity. I then tried different skin materials until I found one that worked for both the skin and the wood parts of the body since it was all one mesh. With the plates hidden, I sculpted all the roots, sometimes forgetting that the plates would cover up a lot of stuff on his chest and back, so there is more detail underneath that isn’t seen.
I originally wanted Dr. Root to be standing on top of a Hummer, ripping the door off and ready to kill some poor guy climbing out. Due to time constraints, I had to go with something simpler. I ended up making an oil refinery station that he’s ripping apart instead. I made a bunch of cylinders for the oil tanks and imported a low mesh of the posed character. I then moved and scaled everything under his feet to fit his pose. I made sure to move the tanks up to intersect his feet so that I could later dent them in to match the bottom of his feet. Once I had everything ready, I imported the objects into ZBrush, again using the smoothing group import plug-in for all the hard surface stuff. I used the “Stitch1” brush and a solid round alpha for the rivets along the tank. Then I just used the "Standard" and "Pinch" brushes for all the dents. I used "Inflate" for the larger recessed areas. I also made custom alphas for the text and then used cavity masking to add dirt between the rivets and dents.
For the final images I used Custom Transform in the ZAppLink properties to lock my camera position and the SubTool Master plugin to fill all my SubTools with different materials and colors for all the render passes. I started with a regular render pass, filled everything with a flat color material for the flat color pass, a spec pass with a skin material, a ZDepth pass, an AO pass, a fast shader with intensity cranked up for shadows and finally, a solid white pass for quick selection in Photoshop. After playing around with different layer filters for each pass I was able to achieve the final look I was going for. I didn’t want the lighting to be too dramatic but I wanted all the details to read well and have an illustrative quality to it.
For the “action snapshot” I wanted some dramatic lighting but just didn’t have time to learn how to use lights so I rendered a pass using the “Hells Breath” material by Oliver Kaeser. I then set the blending mode to “Color Dodge” and using a mask, got rid of areas that I didn’t want lit.
(Editor's Note: This material and many others are available for free from the Download Center.)
I am thrilled to have won this competition and I have learned so much about ZBrush in the process. It has given me many ideas to build upon and I anticipate using ZBrush on a regular basis.
We would like to thank Chris for taking the time to put this article together. His partcipation in the contest has truly been an inspiration! We would also like to thank EVERYONE who took part. The Action Hero contest brought out the very best in the ZBC community. Not only were there an amazing number of truly incredible entries, but the community as a whole really came together in the spirit of fun and mutual support. It has been our great pleasure to run this contest.
If you are looking for your chance at a rematch or have been inspired to throw your own hat in the ring, well keep an eye out! It's not going to be much longer before we announce the next contest, with a theme that should push the limits of your creativity! Stay tuned...
Be sure to also check out our many past interviews, which can be found in the ZBrush Artist Interviews forum.