Fausto Tejeda, CG Supervisor at Pixomondo, breaks down his eerie Minions render. Check it out below!
Character and creature creation in 3D have been a long-time passion of mine, and these days, there are vast resources available. I like to browse sites like AREA, Artstation and CGMeetup, daily. It helps with inspiration and gets the creativity going.
I stumbled across an original design of Minions from Despicable Me a while back, by Luciano Fleitas. The image really captured my attention and I knew right away that I wanted to translate it into the realm of 3D.
While creating an image from a 2D concept has its benefits, it also comes with challenges. Not all 2D images transfer well to 3D. Things like perspective, lighting and composition are all part of these challenges, which we'll discuss further on.
I always start my concept in ZBrush, a tool that gives me flexibility, freedom, and speed. When starting out, I'm aiming for quickness and simplicity. I’ll later finalize the image in Maya and render it out with Arnold, so my process will be very fluid between the two software packages.
The concept I chose was challenging, in that there were three variations of the character within the same image, and the intended composition didn't translate very well to 3D.
When starting out in ZBrush, the goal is to get basic forms and shapes blocked out to make sure that the assets look good from all angles. I usually start out with a good old sphere, that way I'm not tied down to any pre-existing shape (human base for instance), which might influence my design.
From there, I start to block out the shapes and get an overall feel for the character. My tools here consist of the Move, Standard, and DamStandard brushes.
I then quickly turn my sphere into DynaMesh and continue to sculpt from there, pushing and pulling points as much as possible, and reusing pieces where I can. I’m taking a piece from the mouth and converting it into what will later become my gums while continuing to refine the body.
Then, I continue refining the overall model and add in some teeth, which I simply made from a sphere I was using as an eye.
At this point, I have a general idea of my character, and most of the pieces I’ll need for the final image. I'll export everything I have and take it into Maya to start laying out my composition.
I’m taking one model and duplicating it to simulate the other two characters. As previously mentioned, it took a bit of playing around in the software to get to the final composition. It didn’t really attain its final layout until the last day or two of playing around with the renders.
It’s then time to switch back to ZBrush and continue my sculpt. Once I have a decent amount of primary and secondary detail, I'll re-topo my character using ZRemesher. This asset won't be animated, but I like to keep a clean mesh and tend do things as I would in a production environment.
I’ll do the same for all parts of the character (gums and teeth) and then re-export back into Maya to do my UV's.
I’m aiming for high res renders and want to push the limits of what I can do, so I’m opting for 20 UDIM tiles total, including eyes, teeth, and gums.
Once UV's are done, I’ll export back to ZBrush and re-project all details to the newly re-topo'd mesh. From that point on, I’ll get into the real fun parts, such as detailing and texturing.
Before getting into the fine details, I’ll quickly generate my displacement maps and set up my shading networks in Maya. This way, I can continue to refine my lighting, composition, mood, etc. I’ll keep my geo at level 1, and you can see my Displacement Export setting from ZBrush.
At this point in Maya, I'm simply rendering in greyscale, to make sure that my displacement is looking good, and getting a feel for my light setup. I'm using Maya with Arnold Renderer.
Here, I’ll export out a pretty high res version of my model (around level 3-4) to get the texturing process started in Mari. I love using Mari because it offers great performance, and it's my tool of choice for all my organic texturing. It makes it easy to work with assets that have a decent amount of UDIMS and can handle high res textures with ease.
My general process for texturing is to aim to be as realistic as possible. As a base, I’m using pictures of an old man in his 60's and some procedural and hand-painted elements to take it to final. For the eyes, I’m using textures from TexturingXYZ, as they have some excellent color map options.
After the texturing is 90% completed, I’ll start testing renders in Maya, and begin the back and forth process of adjusting or adding colors in Mari. You can see a progression of the renders out of Maya, below. Once I'm satisfied, I’ll jump back in ZBrush and get back to finalizing details.
For my tertiary details, I generally use a mix of hand sculpting and alphas (where needed to save time), and it's also at this point of my sculpt I get into HD Geometry. Another conscious decision I made was to not dedicate any time to the back of the geo since I know I’ll be rendering from the front only. Overall, it was a lot of careful sculpting to match specific details visible in the concept, but generally, I took a lot of freedom with the details. A fantastic resource was TexturingXYZ, from which I used the alphaSkin Faces #01 pack. I imported all my alphas into ZBrush, set the MidValue to 50 and a RadialFade (Rf) to around 13.
Now, I’m going to go to town and start applying details throughout, using the appropriate alpha for each section of the head. Mind you, as appropriate as can be given the look of these guys. You can see the final version of the model with all details (body, gums/teeth, and eyes).
At this point, I know I have two additional characters to build, which after the first, will be straightforward to build. The second guy is a bit different though, and I’ll need to modify the geo quite a bit to get the major forms down.
I’m keeping most of my textures since my setup in Mari was largely procedural. I only need to fill in some spots where UV's changed. Once the second character is done, I’ll modify the geo (using mainly the Move brush) and proceed to smooth out details that got stretched, and I’ll sculpt them back in.
Textures for both the second and third characters are exactly the same, so that’ll save a lot of time. After all the characters are done, it’s time to tackle the clothing, which is a pair of overalls that each character wears. This is pretty straightforward to do with ZBrush's tools. I simply need to create a mask for the general shape of the overalls, extracted and sculpted based on that new piece of geo. Once the general shape is done, I’ll need to use ZRemesher to get a clean geo.
I’ll then export back to Maya to create my UV's, then back to ZBrush to add final details. For the finer details, I’m using a seamless alpha in combination with Surface/Noise tool and just tiled it across my mesh. To make sure I have enough resolution, I’m applying my alpha between high and low subdiv levels to add various kinds of wrinkle and fold details.
For the buttons, I’m creating the basic geo in Maya with UV's and exporting to ZBrush. I found a reference image I liked on google which had some watermarks on it, so I’m applying it as an alpha onto my geo and sculpting out the watermark detail. I’m going to be using the button 3 times per character, and I know it’ll be fairly small in frame, so I’m opting for the simplest route, decimation.
I’m decimating the buttons to a decent level and then exporting them back to Maya, where I’ll repose them and do all my surfacing.
At this point, I’m ready to lock down composition and lighting. I’m bringing back all my assets into Maya, refining my camera, and continuing with test renders and surfacing. I’m also updating my light setup to include specific blocked geo planes to get specific shadows and some lights for highlights.
At this point, the characters are pretty much dialed in, all that is left is the clothing. For the denim, I’m using a simple denim texture I found online and tiling it across my model. The rest is being done procedurally using AO, Curvature, Noise, and ColorCorrect nodes in Maya.
The same applies to the buttons and metal buckles, I’m not doing any hand painting for the textures, it’s all being done procedurally.
The skin, eyes, and mouth shading are the same for all three characters. You can see all my shader settings in.
I’m also adding some custom modeling for saliva around the teeth, which is just some spheres that were slightly tweaked to fit.
For the volumetric clouds, I’m simply using the VDB clouds that were released a while back by Disney, from Moana. I’m using the high-res version, along with some lights and calling it a day. I know they will only be used as a background element, so I’m not too worried about trying to create something custom. These elements already came with enough details as is.
You can download all the assets and use them yourself from here.
For the peach fuzz on the denim overalls, I’m using XGen Interactive, which is quick and easy to create the look I’m after.
I’m also doing an atmospheric pass for some extra depth in the image.
Now that all my images are rendered, I’m doing an initial comp in Photoshop, taking that into Lightroom, then back to Photoshop to add in the crop bars and save out the final image.
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