Work: Amore materno
Software: ZBrush, Keyshot. Photoshop
Concept e referencing
To start the making of, i wanna give further informations about the reason i created this image deciding to tell a story that, judging from the many comments received (and of course also for my humble opinion) has as one of his main traits the fact of being DISGUSTING
This work is my submission for the badking's monster brush challenge. basically, it is a competition requiring people to create some kind of monster design using at least one mesh coming from the mega monster pack, a set of insert mesh brushes created by various artists and given for free by the badking's owner.
The basic idea of this work comes from passion in juxtaposing antithetical concepts, a thing that in my opinion can create highly dynamism in story telling, and sometimes results in images that are twisted, disturbing or, as in this case.....repugnant . Joking apart, speaking in terms of synopsis this work wanted to couple the monster theme with nativity. this become the creation of new life is psychologically perceived as one of the purest and most lovable acts in life, a concept that is so binded with emostions diametrically opposite to the ones usually associated with monsters and horrible creatures. to tell the truth, from a biological point of view, pregnancy is probably one of the more disturbing and disgusting things in the biological cycle. if you think about it, one of the most harmless forms of maternity (like in mammals) involves a creature coming out from a body hole usually not suitable for the transition of bodies of such size (sounds funny said in this way, but it's how it is). in one word: PAIN. in other life forms (like in insects) it ends up with more extreme situations, with sometimes the mother becoming at the same time the incubator and the nourishment for the newborns (spiders anybody?). not to mention the poor dads, that in some species (mantis anyone?) don't even survive to see their children's birth, serving as main dish for the mother after the coupling (a mechanism aimed to, again, ensure that the babies will receive enough nourishment and will grow strong enough....in my next life i hope not to be a male mantis).
Showing a monster in the act of giving life to his children would so be a good way to play with those highly contrasting concepts, creating a strong storytelling (that is the first thing i always try to achieve in my personal works)
From a technical point of view, the first stage of this work has been the selecion of the monster part to use. As i really wanted to have fun in the design stage, testing solutions and creating my own concept, i tried to avoid those type of pieces that strongly define the mood of the character. so this led me to not take into account torsos and heads. i am not a huge fan of winged creatures (as a former biologist i cannot accept the idea of a huge and heavy creature able to fly, a dragon for example should have a wing of several hundreds square meters in order to have the power to lift himself from the ground), so i decided to go with arms, that are a part that define in some way the look but also leaves enough space to play with the design. being a huge fan of mr Kurt Papstein monster designs, i went with his mesh (some sort of tribute to one of my inspirational artists). so i created a quick zspheres skeleton and used the zbrush replacement feature to have the mesh arms topology fused together with my base mesh.
From here, i started some sort of backwards process to make a design consistent with the look of the arms, very thin, long and membranous. when it comes to design choices, i really agree with the famous Zack Petroc's mantra "the smaller to the greater, the part to the whole", meaning that in a design you have to find some sort of common foundation that allows for the different parts to relate well together in terms of details, lines, siluettes and rhythms.
Couple of stages in the creation of the character
At this stage i really don't feel the need to add lot of subdivisions, just play with some move, standard inflate and traspose tools to change proportions on the fly. eventually after this stage i proceed to sketch some rough secondary forms with the clay tubes, nothing so fancy but just to have the possibility to explore some smaller details.
The problem of approaching the character creation using insert meshes on zspheres skeleton is that the most of times it ends up with a mesh not having a uniform polygon distribution, or at least with parts that are somewhat too dense. when it comes to defining the block out instead, i really consider a benefit the fact of having a very low poly mesh, cause i can really focus only on the main shapes and lines not being disturbed or distracted by additional details and mesh distortions due to the high polycount.
The zbrush 4r6 have filled this gap introducing the missing link between zsferes, dynamesh and insert meshes, with the autoretopo algorithm called zremesher. this, though being far from being perfect (so if you plan to use zremeshed meshes for productions the most of times you will need to fix them a lot, due to star points, spiral edges topologies and so on) allows to create low polygons meshes that mimic tremendously well the shape of the surface. i use this creating a copy of my original mesh, zremeshing the copy and using the original to reproject the details on the new mesh. the cool fact of this is that i can zremesh everytime i feel the need due to extreme changes, and it's incredibly fast (autoretopo in seconds, ranging from few to tens in relation to the complexity of the surface). also, the clean edge flows works really well with features that rely on nice topologies (the most important one being the topological masking and the traspose features)
From a design point of view, when i have to invent a creature i like to speculate a lot not only on the look, but also at a biological and ecological level. seems like some sort of overwork, but really it's not, cause the base for a good character design relies in the ability to create details that are there for some logical reason. in nature nothing happens by accident, if an animal has a particular structure, shaped in a particular way, it's because of a particular reason.
So i decided to create a humanoid character with some traits fetched from anphibians. long and thin, to make it consistent with the arms i choose. from a physiological standpoint, i thought about this sort of embryonic sac that comes out from the body of the mother. some sort of appendage developing only during pregnancy that sticks to the mother body, from which it draws nourishment for the developing babies. this lead to a problem in terms of character phisiology, because an adaptation like this would make this creature really vulnerable, but i opted to go with this because it played very well with the concept of maternal love: the mother sacrifice herself to the children, and as she is really exposed to dangers in this stage she would fight to death, using her long reaching arms, to protect her pregnancy.
Out of curiosity, the idea of the sac with "pockets" come from the suriname toad, an amphibian that develops the newborns inside some pockets located on his back, as shown in this video
Now, even though in this case the process is not dangerous for the parent (he is not killed or eaten by the children), it's indeed the proof that nature can be way more disgusting then the twisted mind of a 3d geek
Once defined the general look, all is left is spending the right amount of time in refining the major forms and the pose with some non symmetrical sculpt, that takes into account the presence of the additional elements (sac and children). the babies have been modeled starting from a zsphere mesh to which i attached the head via a newly created insert mesh. for those i went with proportions hinting to babies (small appendices and bigger head.
For the detailing i started making some research and referencing, searching for different animals pictures to get inspiration on the type of surface look i wanted to achieve. To make details i use 3d layers, so that i can make different tests, mix details and go back and forth in a non destructive way. after some testing i opted for a skin resembling reptilians scales on the more exposed parts, while for the belly area i went with some sort of chicken skin. before creating those details i put in a layer some skin effects (compression, wrinkles etc). splitting these details in different layers allow me to go back and forth and get rid of a common problem with high frequency detail: putting a lot of small details tend to wash out major forms, so when it happens i can simply turn off the visibility of the scales layer, make some skin details and wrinkles effects stronger by further sculpting/inflating them, and in this way i am sure that no matter which brush i use i will not destroy or smooth out the finer details.
When it comes to create scale patterns or similar, i suggest to use a standard brush in drag rectangle mode, backface maskin active, and avoid using alphas with radial fading effects. even though at the junctions of different stamps it sometimes would require some work to fix possible distortions, it avoids some sort of wavy effect for the intensity of the details (that is imho more annoying then having to fix areas in which you end up seeing seams between the stamped alphas)
For the babies, i went with a different detailing, as i knew that even in the texturing and shading stage i would have tried to achieve a different look (this to suggest the idea of some sort of different developing stage, like insects' larvae).
Texturing has been done by hand painting the colors and using reference images to copy an interesting color scheme and patterns. for the color patterns on the back/arms of the characters i used largely the surface noise feature applied as a mask. this because, the parametric noises can be used to create masks that work with an additive effect (if you have a mask already applied, the mask will be added on top of the other) creating interesting random patterns.
Last, to make details come out more, i always make a coloring pass using the mask by cavity option. this pass has to be done with very low color opacities and blurred masks to avoid a common effect that i spot in lot of models, that i call the "real miniature colouring" in which the cavities have strong and sharp darker color tones, making the character appear not natural.
the polypaint was used to create textures after quickly creating uvs with the uvmaste plugin. this, even though not suitable to create clean uvs to be used in productions, comes really handy when you need a nice uv layout, well flattened and with no overlaps for a still image, also thanks to the possibility to control via color paiting the areas in which you want the seams to happen. last, i decimated the different pieces before exporting checking the keep uvs option, to be sure that the texture would work also in the decimated version.
For the render i decided to give a try to keyshot, this software is used worldwide by character artists that, we all know, usually suck at lighting and setting render options. i am one of those, and really was curious to see if this software is so nice as everybody says. i decided not to use my usual approach to extract passes from zbrush due to the limited amount of time i had to work on this piece, and also because my opinion is that using zbrush can create good results when the character stands in a somewhat empty background. in this case, with the creature sitting in the environment, i really felt that it would have led to lot of headaches to create a convincing look and a good light setup. needless to say that after testing it i purchased on the fly a keyshot license, this software is really amazing and in the last version it also has the possibility to extract additional passes really useful for the post process stage (namely the depth pass and the clown pass, that is a flat pass with the different pieces receiving different colors, useful for quick selections)
From a shading point of view, i used translucent materials for the organic pieces, with the mother having a less specular/wet/translucent material. the environment received a glossy dark material, as i already knew i would have heavily photoshopped it.
The render was brought into photoshop for the last stage of paintingover and using real pictures put on top of the render in overlay softlight mode to enhance the look of the different parts. thanks to the masks from the clown pass i could isolate the different elements and give to them unique effects, using images of rocks and grunge/rust (background) or skin details (organic parts).
I also used pictures of spider webs taken here in my studio (not because i don't clean, i work in a garage! ) to add this look of a underground/cave shelter, in which the mother seals herself during her pregnancy to protect the babies
Last, i use simple gradients put in multiply to add additional shading effects and overlay modes with colored gradients at a very low opacity to add some additional ambient color effect in different parts of the image. the depth pass is used to create the lens blur effect (for the depth of field), and last some lens correction to add chromatic aberrations that makes the image look very photographic.
Final Submission, and please, if you like it, take a second to register to the site and vote for it
(but please, make it ONLY IF YOU LIKE IT, if you find another image more worthy give your vote to it, i hate when popular voting led to people who has more friends/connections to win a contest )