Breaking down his hyperrealistic 3D carnivorous plant, Léandre Hounnake describes his techniques and tips for making 3D art in 3ds Max that blurs the line between CG and reality.
Step 1: Start with research
Before starting on any modeling, it’s a good idea to gather all the photo and video references you’ll need.
For this project, I searched for photos and videos of carnivorous plants, insects and arachnids.
When I found some reference photographs of plants and insects, I kept a specific workflow in mind to get the best results in 3D using 3ds Max, Mudbox, V-Ray and Photoshop.
Step 2: Using spline
I created the base mesh of the lobe of the leaf in 3ds Max using Spline Modeling.
Next, I added a Surface Modifier to generate a patch surface based on the contours of the spline network.
I added an Edit Poly Modifier and moved some vertex so it would look as close as possible to the anatomy of the plant trap and its main proportions.
I modeled the cilia (marginal teeth) by adding an additional Edit Poly Modifier.
I then added a Shell Modifier to create the thickness and another Edit Poly modifier on top to keep the mesh clean. Next, I started to adjust the shape of the base of the lower part of the plant.
Step 3: Using multiple UV tiles
When I felt satisfied with the general form of the plant, I jumped to the Unwrapping step in 3ds Max. Many artists don’t like to spend much time on UVs as it usually feels like a boring job. However, spending a little more time on Unwrapping can save you a lot of time later during the texturing stage. Using Multi-Tile UV mapping rather than the standard UV mapping is the best way to achieve higher texture resolution.
Step 4: Poly modeling
Here, I used poly modeling to work on the lower part of the plant and then unwrapped it.
Step 5: Block the basic shapes
I started modeling the arachnid by creating a plane converted to Edit Poly and then extruded some of the edges to form the body of the model. A Shell Modifier, an additional Edit Poly and Mesh Smooth Modifiers helped to create volume and an approximative shape.
The legs were created through Spline Modeling. Afterwards, I added another Edit Poly Modifier to create some details. The Unwrapping steps I took were essential for the texturing stage.
Step 6: Adding details and painting the model in Mudbox
I exported the leaf as an .obj file and imported it into Mudbox. Then, I subdivided the leaf model twice to create more subdivisions. I then sculpted some detail into the leaf and adjusted its shape by using some useful sculpt tools provided by Mudbox.
Step 7: It's time to give the model some colors
Next, I used Mudbox to create the texture of the leaf. I created multiple layers to work with Diffuse layer colors. First, I created a layer containing the green color. On the layer just above, I painted the orange and imperfection color. Then, using the Paint Erase tool, I erased several areas to reveal the green background. The trick is to create multiple color layers on top to simulate a convincing mixing of colors and realistic details. This is the most time-consuming step since it requires a lot of time and patience to achieve an interesting result. Once finished, I merged the Diffuse layers and saved the texture as a .jpg file. Finally, it’s time to export our model.
Step 8: Handling materials
After importing our model in 3ds Max, I’ll show you how I setup Multi-Tile UVs so that all the leaf maps work properly. You’ll need to create a composite material and add the number of layers according to your number of UV tiles. For this section, I have two. To get the maps working properly, I adjusted some coordinate settings:
1. Uncheck the U and V tile on all the maps.
2. Adjust the Offset
The plant and arachnid’s skin are the focal point here and V-Ray has a great solution for subsurface scattering. VRayFastSSS2, which is a more general subsurface scattering shader, has some great presets for milk, marble, potato and even skin, and this is ideal for getting set up quickly and efficiently.
Step 9: Add some details for realism
It’s time to think about small details. Details will help to increase the believability of the model. These can be small and deformed. For the hair on the arachnid’s legs, I used the powerful Hair & Fur Modifier in 3ds Max. I put VRayHairMtl inside Hair & Fur Parameters.
Step 10: Lighting is key
One of the most important stages of this work was setting the lighting. The lighting plays a large role throughout the whole work, and in my opinion, the correct usage of this is key to creating a successful artwork. Almost every lighting setup can have a simple solution. Adding an area light behind the scene produces an interesting and dramatic result, such as a rim light. Lighting can even help you cut out your model from the scene.
Step 11: Work on depth of field
To create a sense of drama and focus on our model, I decided to have a subtle depth of field, which throws the background out of focus. The depth of field is one of the most important factors in any macro scene. It makes the scene look much more beautiful and artistic, adding more focus to the model and giving a level of blur to the backdrop.
Here, I created two Z-Depth passes, and I used Photoshop to achieve a nice depth of field.
Step 12: Post-production
After rendering SSS, Translucency, Reflexion, and Z-Depth passes, most of the rendering was done in-package, and now we have a nice-looking result. We may need to do a little color correction, but no significant changes are required in post-production.
Finally, I exported all my passes and brought them into Photoshop to start playing with the blend modes. It’s usually Screen, Multiply or Overlay that work best. Adjusting colors and contrast of the scene was the main work at this stage.
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