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Creating a 3D Portrait of Kamal Haasan in Maya, ZBrush & Arnold

Udaya Kumar has told us about the workflow behind the Ulaganayagan Kamal Haasan project, explained how the character's face was sculpted, and discussed the advantages of using XGen Interactive Groom.


Hello! My name is P. Udayakumar. I'm from India, Tamil Nadu. I am currently a Sr. Texturing Artist at DNEG, India. I have been working with DNEG for the past 5 years and it's been going well so far.

I have loved to draw characters from a young age. My mother recognized my artistic talent and encouraged me a lot. She has always been my backbone. I got my degree in BFA at Viscom from Kumbakonam College of Fine Arts. I started my career as a matte painter and now I am a Sr. Texturing Artist at DNEG. My professional experience spans over 15 years and more than 115 films, including 2.0, Bullet Train, Tenet, Pacific Rim, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, Venom, Avengers: Endgame, The Eight Hundred, and Bohemian Rhapsody.

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The Ulaganayagan Kamal Haasan Project

I was inspired to create a 3D portrait of Kamal Haasan after watching Nayakan, the film starring the actor. I was intrigued by his life story and impact on the Indian film industry. I wanted to create something unique that would capture his essence and pay tribute to his legacy. I used 3D modeling software to create a 3D portrait and added realistic textures and lighting to bring it to life. I also wanted to challenge myself and improve my skills as an artist.


I started sculpting with a base mesh head in ZBrush Dynamesh. After establishing the basic anatomy, I added likeness features such as the square jaw, pronounced cheekbones, and deep-set eyes.

It's always good to start with a caricature first. I used ZWarp in ZBrush to transfer the basic shapes to a proper wireflow mesh and gradually reduced the exaggeration. I think this method is effective in quickly capturing personality. Another important thing is to not go into detail too fast and focus on big shapes, proportions, and the character's personality first.

XGen Hair

Although Maya's XGen Interactive Groom is a relatively new tool, it is easy to learn and use. One of its advantages is that it is able to display each brush stroke in real-time and allows you to control each hair individually.

During the sculpting phase, I created the hair in XGen prior to texturing. When creating hair for Kamal Haasan's head, I imported a lower-subdivided version of his head mesh from ZBrush and used only the scalp mesh as the XGen hair base. It's not necessary to use a highly subdivided mesh for hair as you can adjust hair density in XGen, and a lower poly mesh will be easier for XGen to handle.

Skin Details in ZBrush/Arnold Shading

I decided to keep things simple and used only ZBrush and Maya for this project. I modeled all details by hand in ZBrush and painted all textures in ZBrush as well. Micro skin pores were added with displacement maps from manual brushes and an alpha noise maker.

Creating realistic skin shaders in Arnold can be a complex process, involving a variety of parameters and techniques. I started by setting up an Arnold Standard Surface that includes an albedo, subsurface scattering amount, subsurface color, and specular color. Then I adjusted the SSS parameters, such as scale, color, and weight, to achieve the desired look. Finally, I added a Fresnel layer to the Standard Surface to create a realistic, gradual transition from a glossy specular highlight to a diffuse subsurface scattering. Following these steps can help you create a believable skin shader in Arnold.

Lighting Setup 

For the final portrait, I used a three-point lighting setup with a main light at the camera right, a fill light at the camera left, and a backlight slightly higher than the subject's head. In post-production, I adjusted the exposure, white balance, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, and saturation to create the desired look and give the portrait a more stylized appearance.

Main Challenges When Working on the Portrait

The main challenge when working on a realistic portrait is to create a likeness of a subject without losing the character of an individual. This requires a lot of attention to details, such as the eyes, nose, and mouth, and the overall shape of the face. Understanding color and light are also crucial. Portraits can take from a few hours to several days to complete, depending on size and complexity.

The best advice for artists working on realistic portraits is to take your time and focus on details. Observe the subject closely and pay attention to the nuances and subtle differences in the features. Use references such as photos – they will help you understand face structure and anatomy. When painting, consider value, color, and light to create a believable image.

Udaya Kumar, Sr. Texture Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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