Dina Salama

Taking a Rabari woman from photograph to 3D render

By - - Maya

In this technical breakdown, Dina Salama explains the technique behind taking Jimmy Nelson's photograph of a Rabari woman to CG. 

Hi, I am Dina Salama, a student at Think Tank Online. This is a breakdown of my second term’s final project. I had a month and a half to create the project, so the first thing I did was create a schedule and gather references. I was inspired by Indian culture and Jimmy Nelson's photography of the Rabari tribe. I wasn't aiming to create a likeness, I was more interested in capturing the feel of the image and including all the key elements associated with this culture.  

This is the photo I was inspired by:

Jimmy Nelson - Rabari WomanSoftware used: ZBrush, Maya, MarvelousDesigner, Mari, V-Ray, and XGen. 


For the first week, I blocked out all my objects, character base mesh and scale, initial lighting setup, and jewelry, in Maya. Clothing was blocked out in MarvelousDesigner.

Rabari Woman - Torso
Rabari Woman - Clothing
Rabari Woman - Assets

Modeling & Sculpting


Using the base mesh I created earlier with nice topology and UVs, I polished the character in ZBrush with symmetry and then later posed it using Transpose master. Before posing, I added all my skin details; primary, secondary, tertiary, and micro details. I used Texturing.xyz maps for the face, arms, and eyes.
Then, I prepared the scanned maps in Photoshop. I converted each map (Secondary, tertiary and micro) to RGB and pasted them into the red, green, and blue channels respectively. I followed a tutorial by Sefki Ibrahim, which was a great resource for creating the skin. After the map preparation, I painted the displacement in Mari, which I found easier to do this way since you can easily modify it later. 

Rabari Woman - Sculpt

After painting the maps, I imported the final displacement onto the character in ZBrush, using a UDIM importer plugin (it imports the displacement in layers, making it much easier to control).

Rabari Woman - Model


I had a lot of jewelry to create, which involved many repeated shapes. For the beaded necklaces, I created instances of the bead and placed them along a curve. I used bend modifier for some necklaces and bracelets. I wanted to keep everything instanced so my scene would render efficiently. The large bracelets had a lot of details on them, so I retopologized them and then sent them to ZBrush. Next, I projected the details onto the low poly version and re-uploaded it to Maya.

For the coins necklace, I painted out an alpha map in Adobe Illustrator that portrayed some of the graphics on the original Indian coin, and then used this alpha in ZBrush and projected it onto the coin.


After posing the character in ZBrush, I sent it along with the one in A-pose to Maya to create a blend shape of the final pose, making sure they have the same topology. I keyframed the animation, keeping 100 frames for A-pose and another 100 frames for the final pose simulation. I imported it into MarvelousDesigner as an Alembic file, and there's a tab where you can play the animation while simulating the clothes. The clothes cling onto the character for the first 100 frames and then the character begins to animate and the clothes adjust accordingly. Once I had the clothes fitted onto the character, I sent the patterns to ZBrush and used ZRemesher. Afterwards, I imported the ZRemesher version, the patterns exported from MarvelousDesigner, and the fitted clothes, to Maya to retopologize and create UVs. You can follow this tutorial, which elaborates on what I am trying to explain.

Rabari Woman - Clothes

At that point, I sent the clothes to ZBrush for final touches.


I hadn’t used XGen before, so I’m not experienced with it at all. So, for the hair, I decided to use hair cards. I created different hair strands using XGen and Arnold; extracted diffuse and alpha maps and applied these maps to a plane, placing them on my model using a tool called Hair Grabber, which made the process much easier. You can watch this tutorial for reference. I used XGen for the eyebrows and eyelashes, too.

Rabari Woman - Hair

Texturing & Lookdev 


I used the color maps for the skin and eyes from Texturing.xyz and painted the diffuse, spec, gloss, and SSS maps in Mari. I used the V-Ray Alsurface shader for the skin. The majority of tutorials I watched for help with skin creation are by Sefki Ibrahim, the one mentioned above and by Arvid Schneider. They're extremely useful, even though the one by Schneider is about creating skin in Arnold, you can easily transfer that over in V-Ray.


For the clothes, I used a bump map and an alpha map. For the shawl she's wearing, I used chiffon textures by Texturing.xyz, and modified them a little to give it a thicker look. This tutorial was useful for making the cloth shader.


For the coins and large bracelets, I extracted AO and cavity maps from ZBrush and imported them into Mari. I did a lot of lighting tests throughout the project and rendered it out using V-Ray. There are some areas I wish I had tweaked more that I might revisit soon, but overall, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and I had fun making it!

Rabari Woman - Lighting

Rabari Woman - Finished


What will you make in 3D?

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  • Maya
  • Design Visualization
1 Comment
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| 2 months ago
Wow, I wish I could do such great stuff someday. Keep up!
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