Romain Chauliac showed how the Face of Bitcoin project was made, explained how he created realistic face details, and shared a tutorial on how to make Satoshi Nakamoto.
Hello there! My name is Romain Chauliac but I'm most known as Wizix. I’m a French CG Artist. I started doing CG at 15 years old in 2005 on the Carrara software and Hexagon trying to find resources and learn by myself, then I switched to Cinema 4D.
In 2009, I sold my first tutorial and earned my first money thanks to 3D. It made me realize that I can turn this hobby into a real job. After I graduated from ArtFX in 2013, I decided to not go to a studio and keep developing my independent work, selling tutorials and scripts. People often ask me which studio I work at or if I’m a freelancer. I am neither as I have worked hard for 17 years to live from my passion.
I always try to push my skill further and never keep in my “comfort zone”. I also define myself as more of a technical artist than a concept artist because I always use references. But that doesn’t mean I just copy/paste a reference, you know, what I like the most is to take a strong concept art from a crazy artist that has put a story, a character, framing, etc., and turn it into CG, in a way of giving this image even more life and realism! It’s what I did with the Dr. Wayne project, which is based on Johnson Ting's concept art. I love what he did with only one image, it took me about 1 year to recreate it, taking time on each aspect, doing a lot of research, R&D, etc. It took me 1 month just to find the right placement for each area light.
The Face of Bitcoin Project
The idea for the Nakamoto project came after I sold some of my previous art as NFT. I always like to do personal stuff in CG but as a freelancer, it’s always difficult to dedicate months of work to a non-paid project. It's the main reason why I like NFT.
After my first sales earning, I said to myself, let's try to do a dedicated NFT art that will be personal work and a tutorial! Just before that, I did a survey asking all my customers which subject they would like to see the most in my next tutorial, and the answer was "how to create a realistic character". So I created an image that supports all those points.
I’m a CG generalist but more specialized in hard surface stuff, and it’s been a while since my last organic project, so I tried to get all the chances on my side by carefully choosing the right character. There is a well-known fact that it’s “easier” to do an aged character because of wrinkle details. Also, I wanted to replicate a photo. This way, I’d have all the information in the reference. It’s what I also did for the previous Automata project, and for me, it’s the key to realism: follow the reference as closely as possible.
This way, even without strong anatomy skills you can expect a great result because you just have to do it and refine it until you match the reference.
When it comes to Satoshi Nakamoto's story, I know there are a lot of people that will tell me that he's not the real Bitcoin creator, but it’s not the point here, and it’s why I called the project the Face of Bitcoin. For me, even if we found the real person or group that created Bitcoin, Dorian Nakamoto will keep being the portrait associated with Bitcoin because he's been chosen, he matches the imaginary vision that we have.
As I’m more of a technical guy than an artistic one, what I like the most about a project is the R&D phase. I like to say, "Okay, I’ve found my idea, it is great, now I should test and find the best technical solution to do it."
You should do it before starting anything, before opening Maya or ZBrush. Just take time to think and plan how you’ll handle your project, what tools you want to test, etc. Generally, I have an idea for a project weeks or months before starting it (because I already have a project I should finish). This way, I have time to think about it, take notes, and add quotes every day when I think about it while I’m walking, driving, or doing anything out of CG. Then, the day I start the project, I already have a strong vision of how I’ll handle it.
It’s also important to divide the entire project into more specific and little steps because it’s easier to handle. For this one, for example, I just said, "Okay, my first goal is to make a great sculpt, with the right likeness and feeling." The feeling is always my first and most important goal. I always try to just do a sample of the project for 2-3 days to see if that will work or not. It’s also security because as an independent artist you can’t lose 3 months on a project that will not succeed, you don’t have the right to make a mistake, so you need to be smart.
The ZBrush part was technically pretty simple, just a sphere, 4-5 basic brushes, then I tried to quickly sketch it. I don’t have strong anatomy knowledge but thanks to Kris Costa's awesome course and experience, I got all these little tips that helped me to get it right.
At the beginning of each day, I first looked at my previous works in Photoshop with a fresh eye and took notes of what I should fix and work on today.
At this stage, don’t go too hard on subdivision, your sculpt should work without “fancy detail”, only focus on primary shape and overall mood.
Once I was happy with my raw sculpt, it was time to create the main scene in Maya. It’s important to place a camera, to fit a size scale, block some first lights, etc.
I always try to use the simplest and most basic tools. I don’t like complex and automatic things. For example, I don’t like to work fully in EXR with 10 input connections on a shader imported from Substance 3D Painter. I prefer to work with simple .jpeg with only 2-3 necessary maps to keep the flexibility and prevent the project from becoming heavy. Flexibility is really important to avoid the uncanny valley effect at the point where you did everything right but your image doesn't work at all! Overall, import/export in .obj is the best way to work between Maya and ZBrush for me, you don’t need anything more.
So at this point, I have my head sculpt but I don’t go into detail, I first need to verify and refine the primary shapes. For that, I create glasses and clothes in Maya in traditional polygon modeling (no Marvelous Designer or fancy things here) because the goal is to match as much as possible to the reference.
For the skin detail, I first tried Kris Costa's technique, which is to place pores and wrinkles one by one, so I did that for hours and in the end, I was not happy with the result. I think it’s great and should work when you are a sculptor and have strong experience and knowledge about that, but it’s not my case.
So I looked at another technique, the one using Texturing XYZ and Wrap3D: the result was way better in less time, plus it also did the texturing at the same time! I absolutely don’t care about "cheating techniques" or people complaining when you don’t do everything from scratch and use Megascans, Texuring XYZ, or MetaHuman. For me, only the result is important, doesn't matter if you have NGons or which renderer you use.
So thanks to this, I have my raw Displacement and Color maps that I then just clean in Mari.
For hair, I don’t have anything special to say. Always the same: do your own research and test to know which of the XGen engines is the best for your project. Here, I use XGen Interactive, which allows hand-sculpting hairs one by one. I like it: the simplest tools are just needed to do things!
For rendering, I used Arnold because why use any other renderer than the default one, which is perfectly integrated with Maya and well-known for its SSS quality?
I absolutely don’t care about the speed of a renderer. When you spend 3 months on a project, it’s not a problem for me to take 1 night to render one image. I use the GPU for all the development and in the end, I rendered using the CPU to have more control over sampling.
As for compositing, there isn't any! Always the same: I like things simple, I'm not interested in exporting all AOVs to recomp them in Nuke for nothing. A good render doesn't need compositing.
I just put my final render in Photoshop for some extra final touch post-process effects.
Motivation is a key point. When we talked about long projects, there was always the motivation side. First, you need to be passionate! If you prefer to play video games or do anything other than CG, you’re not passionate! Also, it’s why organization, planning, and R&D are so important. If you plan your project well at the beginning, then you know why you are doing it and that you’ll be able to finish it.
Or if like almost 90% of people you just say, "Hey, this is so great, I’ll do that in CG" and then you open Maya and start modeling, you’ll never finish your project because it’s only an emotional instant project and not a really well-thought one (remember that I mostly think weeks before starting a project).
Of course, there is always this moment in the middle of the project when you don’t know if it’s good, if you’re heading in the right direction, etc., so just share it as a WIP! It's 2022, but I have never seen artists be shy to post their WIP. Everyone seems to work in the shadows and only posts the final work. I remember before Discord, there were forums like CGArena, Polycount, and ZBrushCentral, where everyone posted WIPs every day to get feedback.
Today, I have Discord to help, but no one posts WIPs, they're just interested in the final image and getting likes.
Besides, in each of my projects, there is help from someone that gives me great advice that helps me to reach better quality.
This project took me about 3 months, I recorded almost everything in this 40-hour tutorial.
It's impossible and not useful for you to watch 40 hours of footage, so there is also a 4-hour video divided into chapters with audio commentary and video editing where I explain all the necessary things to know. Then, you will be able to refer to the full Raw record video without editing to look more in-depth at how I apply the techniques. This way, it will be easier for you to follow and apply the techniques and it will also give you access to any subtle parts you would like to see.
Everything is done with Maya, ZBrush, Arnold, XGen, and Wrap3D. I won't teach you the software or anatomy but you'll learn how to make an image. I don’t like school techniques where everything should follow rules, be done in order, etc. With this tutorial, I will try to explain to you how to do a CG portrait your own way, to be confident in what you do, and not try to find the infused knowledge or the perfect way but just do it! Be smart, be pro, be passionate, close everything, and just do CG.
Thank you for reading this interview, I hope that will help you with your projects.