My name is Germán Zamorano, I have been working professionally in the field of 3D since 2006, at first in info-architecture and advertising, and then in the video game industry since 2011. Currently, I work at Saber Interactive as a 3D artist, specializing in characters, although from time to time they let me do other things.
Ape on the Run
Ape on the Run: About the Project
Watching the first trailers of the film "Planet of the Apes War", I was very impressed by the appearance of the apes and I saw it as something interesting for one of my free time projects. I use these projects to try out new techniques because in my daily work, having time limitations, I often have to get straight to the point and don't have much opportunity to test new working methods.
Looking for References
This step is one of the most important parts of the whole project. Good references give you a better direction when modeling, texturing, and shading your model.
This is also one of the steps I spend a lot of time on. In my personal projects, I work without any strict direction - I modify the initial idea as I advance and, therefore, constantly add new references to my board.
Good references help you make sure that you don't deviate too much from your initial idea, although sometimes, it is good that the project is changing. However, you must limit it to some extent because otherwise, it might take too long, and when this happens the risk of not finishing it or losing interest increases.
From Blocking to the Final Model
(A) In this particular project, I started the blocking with a sphere for the head using dynamesh. Mainly, I use two brushes "ClayBuildup" and "Move". Once I get a decent blocking, I add the torso, arms, and legs using new subtools with dynamesh, focusing on the volumes without going into much detail.
(B) Then, I merge the subtools as they are taking the form close to what I am looking for until I define the sketch of the character completely.
(C) When I have all the parts merged, I make adjustments in the proportions and define the musculature with more detail. Here, I chose to guide myself a little with the human anatomy.
(D) After this step, I do a retopology and final UVs. I make a projection of the dynamesh on the new typology to recover the previous sculpt and make polygroups in the mesh to work in a more comfortable way.
(E) The final step is polishing the anatomy. In this phase, my go-to brushes are "Move", "ClayBuildup", "Orb_Cracks", and "DamStandard".
Once this phase is finished I start working with layers to add small details like folds, wrinkles, veins, and pores on the skin. I can adjust the intensity or make changes to the model without losing the previous work.
Until this moment, the model is totally symmetrical. Now that we have the final model, we create a new layer and add a little bit of asymmetry to the face to make it more realistic. In this case, I modified the shape of the ears, position of the eyebrows, opening of the eyelid, shape of the mouth, and nose.
Once the modeling was finished, I exported the displacement map from ZBrush to use it in the final render.
(F) Finally, we have to add the clothes and accessories. In this phase, I usually use several techniques and programs. In the case of the clothes, I used Marvelous Designer and had to learn the basics of this program. As mentioned before, one of the reasons I do personal projects is to learn or practice software that I either want to learn or need to adopt in my professional work. In this case, it was the latter.
I started with a very basic pants base and then refined the pattern with all the details I needed. When the simulation fitted the desired result as much as possible, I increased the detail (lowering the particle size, usually to 5) and made another simulation before exporting.
I export the triangulated model with UVs. Later, I import it to ZBrush, duplicate it and make polygroups by UVs. The next step is to obtain a mesh formed by quads with ZRemesher in order to work in a comfortable way. Once I have the new mesh, I subdivide it and project on the triangulated mesh from Marvelous to have all the detail of the simulation.
Once this is done, we can finish the model by adding the layers of modifications and details we want: new folds, seams, details of the fabric, and "memory folds" (typical small wrinkles that stay visible when the clothes are unfolded). This time, I only used alphas for the "memory folds" but lately, I've been using scanned clothes alphas to increase the detail.
For other objects, I used polygonal modeling for subdivision, nothing special. The cables are renderable splines that I have converted to geometry, making sure to generate mapping coordinates before activating the parameter so that I don't have to display the UVs by hand.
Texturing & Posing
In this project, I used Substance Painter. I divided the model into different files to work more smoothly. Also, due to the performance problems on my computer, I had to work almost all the time at 2k, although the final textures are exported at 4k.
The first step is to bake the maps that we will use during the painting process in Substance. In this case, I exported the model at level 1 of subdivision which is the one I will use in 3ds Max and at level 6 which was the highest to capture all the little details from the sculpting phase.
For the skin, I started by creating a solid color base on which I superimpose layers to create color tone variation and detail through masks, using the map of curvature, cavity, and environmental occlusion. I also use hand-painted masks to define certain areas. I try not to paint anything by hand except for the masks - if everything is procedural, you can export it without any loss of detail, it is just recalculated to the resolution you need.
Once I have a solid base, I proceed by adding details such as moles, veins, and scars. It's important to create folders to separate areas or details, such as nails, lips, eye rims, etc.
Finally, I add dirt/wear and finish adjusting the properties of the material, especially the roughness.
When the textures are almost ready, I usually check how it looks in the render using some HDRI to see how it reacts to different types of lighting and I make adjustments both in Substance and in the VRay material editor until I get close to the final result I'm looking for.
Since the character was not going to be animated, I decided not to rig it and used Transpose Master in ZBrush instead. In this case, I posed the character without clothes and exported the model to Max, then used the Morpher modifier to go from the model in neutral pose to the final pose.
Then, I used the Skin Wrap modifier to adjust all the pieces of the model to the new pose. Finally, I created a layer with the volume adjustments and changes in the ape's musculature and another one with the facial expression in case I wanted to make any modification later on.
For the materials, I used VRayMtl for almost all the objects in the scene. There are only two exceptions - the ape's skin (for it, I used a VRayALSurfaceMtl to be able to add Subsurface Scattering to the skin and give it more realism), and the hair (here, I used VRayHairMtl).
Hair is one of the things I always try to avoid and I still haven't found a program I feel comfortable working with. Lately, I've been exploring XGen and I think it's the "simplest" software I've seen so far and the one that gives more visual feedback in terms of results during the process.
In this project, I first worked in Max and tried to use the Hair and Fur modifiers that come with it, but the results were not at the level of what I had in mind.
In the end, I decided to use Ornatrix, so after a few days of learning how to use it and checking all the new features that were recently added, I was ready to go.
I used 4 different hair meshes which allowed me to set up different hair types. I had one mesh for the body in general, one for the head hair, one for adding a little longer hairs on the upper body, and the last one for the shorter hairs on the face (Peach Fuzz).
Apart from all that, I also painted a couple of grayscale maps to control hair parameters in the modifiers. The first map allowed me to define the areas where I wanted to have hair and the second map was used to control the hair length.
To control the direction of the hair, I only had to use the "Ox Surface Comb" modifier. In this modifier, you can define the direction of different hair parts using "sinks". Then, I used different modifiers for other properties - for example, if I wanted the hair to form locks, be curly, have a random length within a defined range and different thickness on the roots and the tips, etc.
Once the character was posed, I wanted to leave it like that but then decided to take it a little further and create a scene that would tell a story. In the end, I decided that the Ape was going to be locked up in a prison laboratory where they had been experimenting on him; at the moment, he grabbed a gun from one of the guards and was running away.
Since I wanted to keep it simple and develop it quickly, I chose to use modular pieces so that with little effort, I could assemble the scene in a short time. I also reused some of the objects from the previous works - the boxes along the corridor, the guard's arm, and the watch. The models have the medium resolution and work well without having to be subdivided. I did the UV unfolding and the texture painting before assembling everything, although, at the end of the project, when everything was assembled, I adjusted the textures a little bit once I had the lighting almost finished.
At first, the corridor was straight but I didn't like it at all, so I tried to curve it with a Bend modifier and the result was more interesting. The corridor is symmetrical but when you curve it, you lose some of that symmetry. Besides, I filled the scene with other objects like ventilation tubes, boxes, a laptop, the cell door, etc. - and the character right in the middle divides the image, - so the final image seems to have more detail than it actually has. Since the Ape covers most of the doors on the left side of the corridor, the repetition there is also less visible.
Final Rendering & Composition
Normally, I use an HDRI but in this case, as I had a complete environment, I chose to use only V-Ray lights. I started by placing flat lights on the ceiling. For the lights that are on the sides of the doors, I converted the bulb meshes into Vray Mesh Light. I placed another light in the cell, this time with a reddish tone to make a little contrast and highlight the texts written on the walls.
Then, I placed the main light on the character and a rimlight to simulate the light coming from the cell. Finally, I placed a few lights for the smaller details like the gun screen and the foot bracelet.
After testing the lighting, I only had to do a few additional passes like the reflection pass, the specular, ambient occlusion, depth, and atmosphere.
I composed them in After Effects and added details of particles like sparks, smoke escaping from the tubes, a few dust particles. Then, I went on to adjust the levels, contrast, and saturation until I was happy with the result. Finally, I added a depth blur and a little bit of vignette to focus the attention on the character.