Thanks go out to Warner McGee for this tutorial using his image, SHEro. See more of his work at www.warnermcgee.com
When I started this project, I knew that I only wanted a single view of the character. She wasn’t going to be animated or viewed from any other angle. I knew that I was going to mix 3D with 2D for areas like her hair, clothes and shading where I wanted and needed more control over the illustrated look I was after. The art style is more illustrated than CG by design. Knowing that I was using just one view for the illustration enabled me to cheat by adding 2D elements and enhancements to the 3D.
I always use front- and side-view drawings when modelling a head. These are dropped first into MODO’s modelling viewport and set to Front and Left view. This ensures that I get the most accurate results. There are usually some discrepancies between the 2D drawings and the 3D model, but having a solid base drawing is invaluable for 3D modelling. The more accurate your drawings the easier your modelling will be. I like to look through my model to check the drawings for accuracy, so I’ll use a transparent, luminous material for this stage of modelling.
I typically start by building the eye first. Usually I’ll build the eye completely but occasionally use a placeholder sphere if I want to work on the eye after the model is done, or while it’s developing. Because eyes are focal points of a portrait, it’s important to consider them first and build your model around them. Areas around the eyes always take the longest to develop, but the payoff is great if you put in the time to get them just right.
My favourite building method for heads is to extrude edges when in MODO’s Quad view. This method, while possibly slower than, say, box-modelling, gives me the most control and accuracy over poly flow and the overall geometry weight of the subject. It’s technical and requires a lot of attention to detail, but for me is completely satisfying when I get the intended results. This is well worth the extra time.
With the eyeball in place and using the turn drawings as background reference, I began working on just half of the face. In the Quad view, I started by extruding edges and, with the Transform tools, I began forming rows of polygons at the nose tip, around the eye, mouth and jaw to forehead. Paying attention to keeping the polygons fairly uniform in size and shape, I establish these important landmarks first. I use the Top and Perspective views to help establish the curvature and volume of her head.
After establishing these landmark poly strips, it’s time to connect everything and fill in the middle areas. I employ MODO’s Bridge, Pen and Drag Snap tools for most of this step. The hard part here is establishing and maintaining the proper volume of the face and head. This is where the Perspective and Top view get used a lot. Once half of the head is completely filled in, I align the centre points on the X axis and do a simple Mirror of the geometry, merging the points together. Working in Symmetry on the X axis, I then massage the points by pushing, pulling and smoothing. I will toggle On and Off Sub-Ds to check for smoothing and deformation errors.
Because this character has cartoon proportions, building her glasses can be tricky. They have to be custom fit to her face. They need to read as being from her world in terms of proportion and to fit comfortably on her face without obscuring her eyes or her expression. This was a little tricky at first because of her proportions. Again, working with a single vantage point makes this process much easier as it enables me to cheat a bit when setting up the final render because I can tweak the glasses’ position as needed to accommodate the shot.
Establishing an expressive pose can really bring your hard work to life and is one of my favourite and most satisfying parts of the process. This is the point in which the character’s personality or expression is truly revealed. Take your time at this stage because all of the remaining steps build on top of this pose – so it’s got to be just right. I will typically have several different Morph maps so I can switch between them, or in some cases combine them together for added interest.
The importance of locking the camera once you’ve found that perfect pose cannot be overstated. It’s good practise to create more cameras for other viewing alternatives and options while never disturbing the main camera. I will typically have two to three additional cameras in the scene enabling me to zoom in to check a texture in MODO’s Preview, or simply explore other viewing angles again without the risk of losing the perfect shot.
There was no need for UVs in this model. All of the materials used were procedural. The most complex and noteworthy material is of course the skin material. The skin is a series of combined noise and cellular layer sets. The noise layers are set to Subsurface Color and there’s a subtle Bump and Diffuse Color set to the cellular layers. The layering is very specific, and fall outside of the scope of this tutorial, but the general idea is to have cooler layers of colour on top with warmer tones underneath. This temperature layering of colours creates a rich depth to the skin
I used four different render outputs: Alpha, Ambient Occlusion, Surface ID and Final Color. I used these in different ways in postproduction to help me with the final composition. The head render took about four hours to render on my MacPro at 3,200 x 3,200 at 300dpi. I love using the Surface ID render output. It makes isolating sections of the model a snap in post-production.
Bald is indeed beautiful, but a lot of SHEro’s attitude comes from her smart hairdo so it’s time to add the hair. I needed more control of her hair than I could get with 3D, so I painted it. Blocking in her hair with the Pen tool and paying close attention to the silhouette is the first step. From there, to get the subtle sheen and highlights. it’s a matter of working in layers with blue-grey broad strokes for highlights and then easing out the individual strands. Adding a few rogue hairs here and there adds a nice random touch.
The addition of shadows on her face serves to really connect her hair to her face and head. I used a series of Multiply and Color Burn blending modes to achieve the dark richness to the shadows without muddying the colour. I turned on the Ambient Occlusion layer set to 15% Multiply now. I carefully defined her lips, eyelids and painted her eyebrows. I was careful not to be too bold with these details. I focused more on value than colour at this point.
Next I added her warm skin tones, to mostly her cheeks, nose and ear areas. You begin to see this push and pull of warm and cool colours in her face emerge. I added subtle yet crisp reflections in her lenses and introduced a new and very warm yellow to her left side, again pushing the warm and cool creating visual interest and variety. This section is now basically finished.
Because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted her outfit to be in the end, I chose to paint her body in post, rather than build it in 3D – consider it a last minute costume change, if you will. Using the PS Pen tool, I blocked in her basic dress silhouette, shoulders and arms, each on its own layer. I sampled her face skin material to continue surface continuity into her chest and arms. Then through basic airbrushing, I shaded her arms paying close attention to the warm and cool areas.
Her Little Black Dress is a retro throwback that speaks to her appreciation for cool things. First I created some volume to her chest with subtle shading. Next, I added in the polka dot pattern and, using the Liquify filter, I distort and bend the pattern around the dress. Then I added shadowing to the dots. Lastly, I created a layer on top set to Overlay blending with a subtle fabric pattern that serves to tie together the dots and black material.
I added the 3D cherry earrings for a subtle bit of interest and blast of colour. To unify the head, body and dress values, I add another Overlay layer filled with grey on the very top of the layer stack (clipping out the background). Then using lights and darks I airbrushed (with Dodge and Burn tools) subtle details within the subject to help define certain areas.