MAKING OF: BURIED IN GRIM BATOL

Software Used

Modelling: Maya / ZBrush / Marvelous Designer
Texturing: Substance Painter / Mari
Hair: Ornatrix
Rendering: V-Ray (3Ds Max)
Simulation: Phoenix FD, RapidFire
Compositing: Nuke

Additional Resources:
TexturingXYZ, Textures.com, RDT Textures

My goal with this project was to push the limits of my knowledge and capabilities in 3D to the absolute maximum. I wanted to break into cinematic pre-rendered CG production from the mobile / console gaming worlds, and that required learning six new programs and even more workflows. Furthermore I wanted to bring this image to life — something I’d had in my head for about 8 years now. As you can probably tell I am a massive fan of Blizzard cinematics and I set out with those works as my guiding star throughout the entire process.

I started out with some concept sketches in Photoshop to at least get down a first pass of the image. I didn’t want to spend too much time here because locking anything down at this phase while constantly discovering new possibilities in 3D seemed too restrictive, so the concept was kept loose and largely unsolved to encourage my imagination to fill the gaps in later. A rough layout built to correct scale was then created in 3ds Max so I could start to play with camera position to re-create a similar shot. My main criteria for the image were 1) make it feel dangerous, 2) make sure the hero isn’t too small in the frame, 3) make everything have weight.

 
 

 
 Original concept sketches. I’d had had this image in my head for about 8 years and was finally able to do it justice.

Original concept sketches. I’d had had this image in my head for about 8 years and was finally able to do it justice.

I purposely wanted to make the scene violent. As a fan who grew up on Starcraft cutscenes with space marines getting their heads blown apart by hydralisks, I wanted to re-introduce some of that gore because for me it adds a vulnerability and darkness to the work. The hero in this case was modeled after my old Night Elf warrior from Cataclysm days - historically accurate with the exact same gear and all (hence why there are no matching tier shoulders, RIP).

I decided to start with the Trogg as my workflow guinea pig. I figured that since they were not the focus of the piece it would be much more forgiving to make mistakes there first, and apply lessons learned to the hero and the dragon. I started with zpsheres in Zbrush for the basemesh, then went through the regular stages of sculpture progression with dynamesh until I was ready for finer detail. When it was time to start adding more resolution, I switched to subdivision to refine areas like the fingers, toes, and mouth area. A rough blockout of the hair on the arms and face served as a placeholder for what I would later create with Ornatrix for 3ds Max. I used Max for my preliminary modelling because that is where my V-Ray license is - more complex modelling would later be done in Maya which I prefer. Around this time I started running various render tests in V-Ray with a three-point light scene to see how my sculpt was coming along with proper ray-traced lighting.

To break up the monotony of doing ‘human’ anatomy everyday, I simultaneously started modelling the environment assets such as the eagle statue, and props such as the daggers and rifle. These served as nice mini-projects that offered me the satisfaction of seeing something textured and fully realized way before the characters would be. The first asset to make it all the way through the pipe was the brazier seen in the mid-ground. I made a deliberate effort not to share work in progress screenshots anywhere because I wanted keep my artistic improvement a complete surprise. There’s also just something tiring about seeing a piece of work go through all the incremental changes as they happen — that weakens it for me. I prefer the idea of hitting people on all senses in one big first impression.

 
 

While the modelling had just started, I was already thinking about final output and how I wanted to tie everything together in the end. Traditionally I would have just sent my final renders to Photoshop for post and call it a day, but that wasn’t good enough for me this time. There was this gnawing feeling that I still wasn’t doing it legit. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but a little voice told me the answer was Nuke. I’d heard about Nuke here and there and to me it was ‘that program with the AB slider’ you always see on monitors in making of feature films or game cinematics, but I had never considered learning it myself. As a self confessed learnaholic, I became obsessed with the idea that I had to learn to composite in Nuke because that was end game. That was where pretty V-Ray renders went next. I would say this was a turning point for me and I started to feel like I was on the right path to VFX CG. A whole new world was opened up to me as I learned about deep-compositing techniques, HDR images, and the power of OpenEXR. Content that I now had all the right pots cooking, I pushed on with the most elaborate artistic undertaking I had ever attempted.