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This page documents the construction of a character for my Creature Look-Development class. The character will be a villain in a short that's in development.

Stylized Shading - Final:

Download Final Turntable

Ta da! Here's final shading of this creature. I spent more time adding dirt, dust, scratches, and metal chipping. The ambient occlusion pass has been fixed so that more detail is visible. The wear on his feet and wings has been increased. Creasing the geometry and raising the sampling rate has help with the quality of the toon pass, but there's still room for improvement - especially with shadow creeping. Glow areas have been added to his eyes, mouth, torso, and legs.
Also I used ZBrush's ZAppLink plugin to project Photoshop painted details onto the chest, wings, and back. This method of applying painted detail is very useful if you want to use Photoshop brushes or filters, and a similar approach is even used by artists at Pixar. As for the projected graphics, I started by selecting a tribal tattoo that flowed well with the geometry and then added more detail from there. I would then wear away parts of the graphic or cover it with a few dirt strokes.

Stylized Shading - Part 2 - Diffuse and Toon Light Testing:

The turntable and compositing chart above display my current shading progress. The most interesting thing I've noticed from my results is that, using this three-pass compositing approach, the process of lighting has become very simplified. The ambient occlusion pass already gives very nice 3D visual cues similar to global illumination but no lighting setup is necessary. The toon pass reacts well to a single default light source, but the ramp shader is what gives the impression of light intensity and shadow gradation. From what I've seen, adjusting light intensity can be done completely in post-production fairly easily. Although the result might benefit from the addition of a three-point lighting pass, it may not be necessary or worth the setup time. Something to test for...
Next up, more texturing work needs to be done on the legs, inner mouth, and wings. Controlled creasing on the geometry will help improve the toon pass quality. Add a glow pass to some areas such as the eyes. Also depth of field and motion blur tests need to be done on the toon pass.
The image above shows the progression of the diffuse pass as I painted it in ZBrush. I used two metal textures and applied dirt using watercolor alpha brushes. I originally experimented with a cooler color scheme but decided on a bolder, malevolent mix of reds and oranges. It should be noted that this image has been brightened for visual clarity. The diffuse pass was painted darker to compensate for the toon and ambient occlusion passes that would brighten the colors in the final result.
After all the geometry was assembled in Maya, I exported them in groups back into ZBrush to paint the diffuse pass. The model is currently divided into seven groups (image above): head, arms, chest, legs, pelvis, wing-joints, and wings. Dividing the model more will allow for more texture detail on individual parts and can be done at a later time according to the needs of a shot. For now, I'm keeping the number small so it's more manageable, but rendering times have not been a problem. Using seven 4k diffuse maps, render times averaged less than 40 seconds per frame at HD resolution.

Stylized Shading - Part 1 - Blending Layer Testing:

The image above shows the model imported into Maya and rendered in Mental Ray. Clicking on the image will display a chart of visual styles that can be reached through various compositing of three channels: diffuse, toon, and ambient occlusion. I still need to render out turntables to see the toon pass consistency, but a few styles are already showing promise.


After the model's individual parts are created in ZBrush, they are exported over to Maya for rigid rigging. A custom quadriped rig is created and the geometry is parented to the appropriate joints. With this rigging approach, every section of the model can be swapped out fairly easily. Also blendshapes are less expensive too since we're dealing with seperate pieces of geometry rather than one large mesh.
At this point, the creature can be posed to make more interesting turntables, but further rigging will be required before it's ready to be animated. However, with basic articulation set up, now I can see how far limbs can rotate before geometry interpenetration occurs and if any modeling fixes are required.

ZBrush Concepting Approach:

Although I have a loose mental image of this character, visual exploration will be through sketching but mostly concept modeling using ZBrush. Conventional production workflow states that concept drawings should always be sketched out before attempting to model a character. This makes perfect sense because topology is extremely important in character modeling and is difficult and time-consuming to change if there are alterations in the character’s design.
However, as technology advances, new avenues of workflow have become available. ZBrush 3 has found a way to separate modeling from topology. With the program’s intuitive sculpting approach, a simple sphere can quickly be sculpting into a face and then transformed into a multitude of different faces with little effort. Once the desired look is reached, the re-topology tool is used to clean up the mesh as desired. This approach is what I will be using to explore my character’s potential forms.

The image to the left depicts the retopology feature I will be using on most of the model. This particular model will be used for the character's neck, waist, and tail. I begin modeling a part of the character using a sphere. While sculpting, I raise the subdivision levels so that the sphere becomes like virtual clay. Once I am satisfied with the form I've made, I draw mesh lines; areas with greater detail receive more lines. Finally I use ZBrush's retopology tool to create a new, cleaner mesh that resembles the shape of the original, virtual clay model.

Final Dragon Body Concept:

The animated gif to the left shows the model's development in ZBrush. I initially block out the character using scaled spheres to establish posture & proportion. Next, I begin experimenting with different forms a section of the body may take. I use Maya to help me figure out how sections of the model will link together in joint areas. The image to the right shows my Maya construction scene where I import ZBrush sections (white) and model additional geometry (grey) to connect body parts and to add more detail. The Maya modeled parts are eventually imported into ZBrush so that I can snuggly fit all the pieces together and adjust as necessary.

Final Head Concepts:

The two images above are preliminary sculpts that appealed to me. I will make a few more changes to each, but I'm satisfied enough to continue moving forward and begin concept sculpting their bodies.

Character Traits:

No matter what the final form, there are certain traits and attributes this character needs to have. Here is a list of what I will be trying to incorporate into this villainous creature:

    Completely made out of metal(s)
    A dragon-like creature with a knight-like rider
    Both look evil & intimidating to a hero
    Both should look powerful but sleek enough to imply agility & surprising speed
    Knight’s helmet covers entire head and hides the face completely
    Knight is at least 6’
    Dragon & rider have glowing “orbs” that can detach and float around
    Knight has small glowing orbs embedded in its hands


© Richard Sun / Rich Sun Productions 2007.