This tutorial was written by the amazing Tony Camehl and appeared in issue 109 of 3D Artist. Subscribe today and never miss an issue!
The aim of this tutorial is to design a creature for a fictitious client. We are going to simulate an official assignment in which the basis for our 3D model is a fictional description of the creature. With the aid of this description, we can create a visual concept. For this we are going to use a combination of 3D software (ZBrush, KeyShot) and 2D software (Photoshop).
During this tutorial you are going to learn how fast and easy it is to create architecture and creatures in 3D with ZBrush. Moreover, you can reproduce every single step that leads to the final concept. This includes drafts of various ideas, working in 3D, rendering and photobashing as well as drawing and painting with Photoshop.
Step 01 – Analyse creature description
Before starting with the actual concept art, we have to analyse the description first. The brief reads as follows: ‘The creature is set in the mythology/fantasy genre. The story deals with flying monkeys in a fictive world. It is your task to design a flying ape that looks evil and cunning, but also has a good side hidden within.’ While reading this an image came to mind: a black monkey with bat-like wings and bright, red eyes.
Step 02 – Learn monkey anatomy
The next step is to learn more about monkeys and to understand how they move and behave. For this task we are studying langurs as a reference for the evil monkey. It is a good idea to study the skeleton, skull and muscles of this species beforehand in order to get a better understanding of its anatomy, as this will help a lot when designing the creature. It is also important to look into the monkey’s environment. To come back to the mythology genre, we can set the monkey in a sunken temple.
Step 03 – Create the pillar in 3D
After we have given thought to the creature and its environment and drawn a few sketches, we can now begin the actual work on modelling the surroundings. Once we have looked into our reference pictures, we are going to put the flying monkey on a column. As for the background, we will keep it simple and just add a temple wall. We are going to start with simple shapes such as the 3D cube in ZBrush from which we will create the column. Not only will we use the Alpha and Transform tools but also the Masking tool for several parts, as you can see in the image.
Step 04 – Add details to the pillar
Once the base is done we can think about the ornaments and the decoration of the column. For this step it is helpful to look at reference images, like the columns of temples in India. It can be burdensome for you to model every single detail manually, so you can use the alphas as an aid again. In Photoshop, create a document that measures 1,024 x 1,014px and a black background. With a round brush, create white shapes that we can duplicate until a finished alpha is formed.
Step 05 – Create the monkey base
In the next step we will deal with the designing of the creature. It is advisable to invest time and effort in making a 3D version of the monkey in a T-pose in advance. With this we can pose the monkey with the Transform tools. Now that the monkey is done for now, we can work on the wings. Oversized wings appear more threatening and powerful and also form a natural oval that encloses the monkey. For the wings we are going to use a combination of 3D primitives, DynaMesh and CurveTriFill.
Step 06 – Polypaint basic fur in ZBrush
Now that the monkey and its pose are finished, we can think about the colours of the fur and wings. For the monkey to appear threatening but at the same time likeable, you can make the fur black and brown and add a white edging to the face. You can search for the purple-faced langur on the internet for reference. In order to get an idea of how the creature will look in the final product, we are going to work with Polypaint in ZBrush.
Step 07 – Polypaint basic fur in ZBrush continued
Polypainting enables you to add colour and texture directly onto your model. Import the selected textures in the Texture menu. The button furthest to the right underneath the menu adds the selected picture (in our case the texture) to the Spotlight plug-in. After that we will work only with Opacity, Scale and Rotate. Now put the texture directly above your model and press Z to deactivate the Spotlight tool. You cannot move the picture anymore. With the activated Standard brush and the MRGB channel we can draw directly onto the model.
Step 08 – Work with light and shadow
Adding colour to your figure will take some time, but when you are finished you will have a much better idea of your creature. The next step is rendering the monkey. By using the KeyShot Bridge tool you can easily upload your figure in KeyShot. Now you can try out different light and shadow versions and see which HDRI images provide the best result. Keep in mind that the head of the monkey is still the centre of the picture, so it should be illuminated and have high contrast. By placing a sphere with light material on it behind a cube lets you add shadows to
Step 09 – Photobash in Photoshop
When you are satisfied with the light and shadow and the rendering is complete, you can start post-processing in Photoshop. For this we are not only using rendered pictures but also photographs of real monkeys (high quality). Cut out the important parts of the photos and you’ll have a realistic-looking monkey in no time. It would take too long to model the fur in ZBrush with FiberMesh and then render it, which is why we use the photobash technique to enable us to create fur quickly and easily.
Step 10 – Paint fur
This step deals with painting. For this, we need certain brushes that enable us to merge the cutouts from the photographs together seamlessly. Here we are still working without light and shadow, as this will be created later with the curve and levels modifier as well as the layer mask.
Step 11 – Use the Smudge Tool
If you have problems with drawing fur there are different techniques to help you in Photoshop. One of these techniques is to use the Smudge tool; this enables you to manipulate pixels and with the correct brush we can create fur.
Step 12 – Work on the pillar
Now we will be working on the column because its details are still not visible enough. The texture that we added to the column is too chaotic and swallows most of the ornaments. It will take some time to work out the most important ornaments, but the end result will help the monkey appear more realistic.
Step 13 – Solve problems
You may have noticed that the final image has a simple background. The original background (the wall or entrance of the temple) was discarded during the process because the wings could not be seen clearly. As soon as the main focus of your image is no longer as visible and is at risk of vanishing in the background, it is definitely a good idea to change or replace your background. The focus (in this case the flying monkey) has to always be clearly visible when you want to convey your concept.
Step 14 – Tips to sell your concept
As a concept artist it is your job to visualise the best idea for your client. Therefore, it is important to take into account certain visual rules. The long and curved wings, for example, serve to not only look powerful and threatening but to also frame the actual character, our monkey. Since the viewer looks at a picture from left to right, the curved wings lead the eye of the viewer directly to the focus of the picture, the head. This trick helps you to present your concept ideas better.
Step 15 – Nothing is carved in stone
As you may have noticed, the design and pose of the flying monkey has changed during the formation process. Keep in mind that you aren’t bound to your rendered image and that you don’t have to follow the original design. You can change the wings of the monkey, the background and the pose as many times as needed. Nothing is set in stone.
Step 16 – The Camera Raw filter
The ornaments of the column can now be seen and the monkey has character. It looks evil, but also conveys the impression that he has a good side. Now it is time to enhance the picture by using the Camera Raw filter. But before we do that, we have to click on the last visible layer and press Ctrl+Alt+Shift in order to merge the visible layers into a new copy. You can try different functions in the Camera Raw plugin until you are satisfied with the effects that have been added.
Step 17 – Final concept ideas
In this tutorial we have learned how to create architecture and creatures in 3D in ZBrush, how to work with alphas, how to model the monkey and how to work with Polypaint. Furthermore, we learned how to render in an upright format in KeyShot and the benefits of photobashing. All these techniques and tricks help you to create concept art on a professional level. Keep in mind that you will have to create several versions of the evil, flying monkey and that the client chooses the one they like best. It is helpful to study the anatomy beforehand and to get a feeling for the character.