This tutorial was written by the amazing Alex Hindle, and appeared in issue 103 of 3D Artist
Over the next few steps, we’ll look at the stages involved in creating this cartoonish character. Taking the familiar figure of an ice cream man, we’ll look at ways we can abstract him through a play on associated shapes and texture. Using an initial loose 2D concept, we will firstly block out and find our character in ZBrush. As he will be clothed we’ll concentrate our efforts in detailing only the main visible parts, such as the head and hands. After that, we’ll hop over to MODO where rigging and posing will take place, readying him for clothing in Marvelous Designer. With detailing being then taken care of in ZBrush, and texturing in Photoshop, we’ll then bring everything together in MODO for final scene building, lighting, shading and rendering.
Step 01 – Block in the head
The low head asset from MODO provides a good base mesh. Let’s export an OBJ and bring it into ZBrush. Having your concept as an Image Plane or in a background app can help in the early stages of a block out. Being able to dial down the canvas opacity or the model directly is really useful, so use it to overlay the model and help determine some proportions. In these initial stages we’ll also stay in Symmetry mode until we’re ready to break it.
Step 02 – Landmarks
Let’s subdivide up a few levels and establish some primary features. Using Clay BuildUp and the Move brush, place the largest facial landmarks first, such as eye sockets, nose, cheek bones, ears and jowls. Add a couple of spheres for eyeballs and sketch in some eyelids. Use Dam_Standard and score in some lip shapes. Nothing needs to look refined because we’re still searching for the right proportions for our character; it might look sketchy but that’s okay. Mask out a hairline and eyebrows and extract SubTools and establish an overall hair shape.
Step 03 – Block in the body
To establish a body shape, append a Sphere3D SubTool and block out a torso. For the rest of the body we’ll append a ZSphere tool, draw (Q) and pull out (W) some arms and legs. We’ll keep the body in a neutral A-pose for rigging later. Once we’re happy with proportions, convert the ZSpheres to a Polymesh. On the torso SubTool add some hands from the IMM Bparts Brush, then go to Subtools>Groups Split to separate them to a new SubTool. Adjust their shape to fit the overall design. Append a Cube3D, DynaMesh and block in some teeth as a placeholder.
Step 04 – Retopology
With our blocked out SubTools in place, let’s create workable models from them. ZRemesher can work, since this model won’t be animated, but for the face we’ll retopologise in MODO. Bring in a decimated copy of the head and torso and switch to the Topology tab. Animation-ready topology isn’t necessary here, but an edge flow that holds detail nicely will benefit us later on. With the decimated mesh in the backround, draw out an initial polygon using Pen, then Shift+drag edges out with the Topology pen. Retopologise the face and torso as a single mesh.
Step 05 – Break symmetry
This is where we can really find our character. One of the ideas for Mr Swirls is that his head resembles a melting whipped ice cream. To introduce this characteristic, his facial features will need to slope. Transpose Master is great for the task of breaking symmetry on all your visible SubTools at once, while the Move tool is ideal for shifting stuff around. Let’s make him lopsided, but while skewing features also try to maintain a balanced relationship between them. Transfer TposeMesh to SubTools and continue to develop the character sculpt.
Step 06 – Pose for Marvelous Designer
Export OBJs of all SubTools at their lowest resolution and bring them into MODO for rigging and posing. Draw out a skeleton and heat bind each mesh individually. It may help to also block in part of your scene that you want the character to interact with. We will bring the posed model into Marvelous Designer so we’ll need to animate from a neutral pose to an end pose. Keyframe all joints on the first frame, move the timeline on and set the character’s pose. The Pose tool is great for this. Export an OBJ of the neutral pose, freeze the end and export that too.
Step 07 – Make clothes in Marvelous Designer
Import the neutral pose and arrange patterns for the coat. The thinking for the coat was that it also had melting ice cream characteristics. For this purpose we’ll make it oversized, especially in the sleeves, as this will simulate some nice, big draping folds when posed. Once we have the coat arranged and simulated, we can switch from Simulation to the Animation editor. Import the OBJ pose from earlier, and load it as Morph Target, with a Morphing Frame Count of 50 or higher. The resulting posed clothing can be exported as an OBJ with UVs and imported into ZBrush.
Step 08 – Start UV mapping
Before any further detailing, now is a good time to get UV maps in place. ZBrush’s UV Master will do the trick in some cases, but MODO in combination with UV Master works just as well. For the head and hands, MODO was used to first select the seam edges and UV Unwrap. The resulting mesh would be imported back to ZBrush where going to UV Master>Use Existing UV Seams would organise the UVs nicely. The coat already has generated UVs, so they can be further organised in MODO.
Step 09 – Detail in ZBrush
Now we can sculpt in some tertiary details into the head and hands. The Clay Buildup brush with a soft, round Alpha is good for building up fatty tissue. Use it in combination with Dam_Standard to establish wrinkle direction and folds. Alpha brushes for the skin details were extracted from photography of melted ice cream. The coat will need a degree of detailing in order to enhance and stylise what’s there and add some extra folds and wrinkles.
Step 10 – Bring it together in MODO
We don’t have to rely on Displacements to capture the detail for this character. Instead, let’s use Decimation Master in ZBrush to generate and preserve detailed lower-resolution meshes – around 1 to 2 million polys for the head and hands will do. Import them into MODO. We’ll generate a Displacement map for the coat. Over in MODO use Convert To Multiresoltion to bake the Displacement details into a multi-resolution mesh. Bypassing Displacement maps in this way will reduce preview and render time but will maintain sculptural detailing.
Step 11 – Texture skin
We’ll take our Polypaint from earlier as a base for our skin textures. Also generate a Displacement map in ZBrush and export both images. In Photoshop, open the base texture and overlay the Displacement, as this will give us a skin-creasing effect, which will need adjustments in some areas. Using Overlay and Soft Light modes, begin to layer up your textures. We’ll need four skin texture maps: Epidermis Diffuse, Subsurface Color, Upper and Lower Dermal Subsurface Color. MODO’s Skin material has default colour settings for each, which is helpful as a colouration guide.
Step 12 – Make it hairy
We’ll create a hair cap from our lowest subdivision head mesh. Then, in the Topology tab, use the earlier hair block as a base to draw B-Spline curves onto it. These will be the guides for the hair. Copy and paste the guides to the hair cap and turn Snapping on to snap the guide ends to the cap. Assign a new material to the base and add a fur material. In the Guide Options Properties, change Guides to Range. Uncheck Use Guides From Base Surface. Open a preview window and adjust the guide options until the hairs follow the guides.
Step 13 – Add eyeballs and teeth
Similarly to the hair, create caps for the eyebrows, chest hair and stubble. This time use the Hair Tools>Create Guides and sculpt them into shape. For the eyeballs we’ll adapt MODO’s Eyeball-Realistic preset, adding our own iris texture and yellowing the Sclera to add a bit of age. Replace the earlier teeth placeholder with some box-modelled versions, UV and paint some yellowish and brown decayed textures. Duplicate the texture and set to Subsurface Color and dial up the Subsurface amount to emulate an enamel material.
Step 14 – Texture the coat
It’s a white coat, so we’ll want to add a bit of grubbiness to take some of the CG sheen off. Let’s export the UVs as an EPS and open in Photoshop. Layer in an off-white colour, followed by some yellow-ish grease splodges. A rust texture, inverted and desaturated, adds a nice overall grubby texture. Think about where his hands might rub at his coat after serving, and then add in some smeared and dripped raspberry sauce for good measure.
Step 15 – Make a string vest
We’ll first model a guide for the vest. In Topology mode, model in where the vest will be visible under the coat. Unwrap some UVs and take them into Photoshop and draw in a criss-cross pattern for the vest. We’ll now use this as a guide to model the vest’s strings. Again, in Topology mode, draw out the angled segments of the vest. Select all the polys and bevel with Group Polygons unchecked. Delete the remaining selected polys and run the Thicken tool. Auto Retopo for a more organic mesh to work with.
Step 16 – Build the ice cream van
Now we’ll model and texture the van chassis, replacing any earlier scene placeholders. Bear in mind to model only what will be visible in the shot. Beginning with a cube primitive, subdivide and cut window shapes and model the window frames and dividers. Once in place we can unwrap UVs and then look at reshaping the van with MODO’s Sculpt tools to better fit the character’s cartoon style. Create texture maps in Photoshop. Paint in dirt accumulation and some tatty old sign writing. In MODO, add a limescale texture to the windows and set as Transparency Amount and Transparency Color.
Step 17 – Compose and light
As 3D isn’t always a linear process, these last steps could begin as soon as we have all the elements in MODO. Compose the shot, choose a camera angle and lens and lock it off. Lighting for this character and scene will be quite simple. Let’s go into the Environment presets and add Ditch River, as this adds a nice outdoor HDRI setup and a directional sun light. Rotate it if needs be. The only other two lights will be area lights, acting as back and rim lights. You can exclude all but the character from these lights.
Step 18 – Render
Adding an additional camera to your scene is handy for test renders. MODO’s fast preview render capabilities allow for a lot of freedom in quickly developing the final look of your piece. Use this additional camera to pick out areas of focus as the character develops. Setting up a Surface ID Render Output can help us if we want to colour correct specific parts individually afterwards. Finally, let’s render our scene, set the Indirect Bounces to 2 to add some extra light within the van and hit Render.