Making of the Ent
The challenge was this time to develop a character and a 3D sculpture from a 2D concept. My subject is Gail, the wicked forest creature of Forestdelic records. Follow me and Gail into the procedure of creating this psychedelic and mystic creature of the woods, where musicians "cook their stuff"... and now a 3D Artist joins the cooking too. This seemed to result as pure fun in creativity and it really did.
As said the aim was to create Gail the Ent from a 2D sketch, which is c
urrently also the logo of Forestdelic records. Obviously the 3D version of the creature would feature a lot more details than the original logo, with many details, colors and accessories, which meant a great deal of character design included in this challenge. Gail has a distinguished personality, quite some experience in special ingredients needed to create something extraordinary and continuously roams the trails of the musicians. Much of this comes through the logo already.
For this type of detailed digital sculpting I used Zbrush. In the beginning I did not know which way to go regarding texture painting and rendering, but I thought that could be figured out on the way, when the guys from Forestdelic also come up with some more specifications after seeing the possibilities in 3D. They did and it turned out, that I would use Zbrush also for texture painting and rendering. Final composition was done with Photoshop. Most photos for textures were made by me. As in previous articles I will try to explain the process of creation as much software independent as possible, so that tips and hints are more generally usable.
Creation started with the posing of Zspheres based on the rough dimensions of the logo, but also considering the nature of trees as far as applicable. After all, this is partly a tree, but also some kind of humanoid. I decided to shift the face a bit forward and to create the basis for main trunks and roots already in this rough base. This base could also be used to rig the character if necessary for animation or to adjust the pose.
I splitted the body into main sections like roots, trunk and head, while splitting the root and trunk again into left and right side. This resulted in the 5 main parts, which determined the further way of work. Idea behind was to maintain the flexibility of work and not to kill my computer when trying to scroll 20 million polygons on the screen. This turned out to be a good idea later on.
Trunk right side
Based on the concept the right side would be composed of some wood and stone pieces stuck together with mud. To achieve this I needed some separate groups of polygons in a single mesh, where the separator should be a common piece. With
|Zsketch right side trunk|
|Right side skin|
ZSketch I was able to draw these groups on the base and convert it to an own random like skin, To make the separation I created edge loops around the separate groups of polygons. By inflating (or extruding) the groups out of the separator group, the impression was created, that the pieces are embedded somehow. In low poly state also a re-topology was needed to organize the chaos created with creating additional edges and shifting them around. With finishing that in about 10k polys, I attended the left side, because I wanted to have all pieces roughly in place before going into deep detailing, else some of the work would may have to be redone. Now having it all behind me, I can say, that this procedure actually worked very good. Throughout the whole process only minor rework had to be done on pieces, which were already created.
Trunk left side
|Left side skin|
Going over to the left trunk side, I used a more simple. I wanted that side to be purely bark, with some features, like moss, a broken branch and some mushrooms. It came that simply detaching that part from the main skin was perfect for this job. The previous method, which I used for the right side was not able to produce a simple wood-like edge flow. Rough details were added already by sculpting, but on a very low poly count. I made the flow of bark with peaks and valleys running along the surface following random curved lines. The broken or better said cut off branch I added as a simple cylinder, from which I cut out a second, smaller cylinder to create the hole. I adjusted the flow of bark a bit with smaller sculpting radius, once the cylinder was in place and smoothed into the geometry. Finishing this part after re-topology it had only 6k polys, for which my computer was very thankful (yet).
|Head main features|
Maybe the next obvious step would not be the head, because the 2 side of the roots would be a similar workflow like the other two above. However I was so excited to start with the character development, that I could not help myself. So I went on with the head. Until this stage not much reference was needed. I mean, everybody knows more or less how a tree trunk looks like or how some stones stuck in mud look like. Not so for the head. I wanted the impression of an old man meditating, who is generally satisfied with his life and draws his happiness from the mystic journey he is on. Why not she? Well the Ent does not really have a gender, so it was no consideration at all, so we can say also "her", if we want. The reference pictures I will not add here, to avoid copyright issues, however many good references can be found by simply searching on the internet for old meditating people.
|Head features placed|
The method I followed, was, that I overlay the chosen picture of reference over the bare mesh detached from the main skin and sculpted the rough main features based on this. After the humanoid features were roughly in place, I used the logo as a reference picture to shift the features into place, so that proportions are remain intact. The same way like on the trunk body I added some peaks and valleys flowing along the face features to block out the later bark structure. These I chose to create more organised and face-like, as this part of the model will show the difference between tree and ent mainly... and the arms of course.
Creating the arms could have gone in many directions. I was thinking of longer twigs, but that did not fit really into the idea, because they looked evil. The aim was to have them as branch like as possible, but still with the intended peaceful pose of meditation. The simplest way to achieve this seemed to take that part of the sking and rough it up with peaks and valleys following random snake lines and add some deviations with chopped twigs and stuff. I decided to tweak that structure later, when adding detail in sculpting.
Roots left and right
|Root right skin|
|Root left skin|
Now that I'm looking back on this part, I can not come up with a good explanation why I split it into 2 parts. Anyway, both root sections were created the same way, by using the sketching method on the original skin, like the right trunk part. However I have not created separate poly groups and separated them, because that was not the desired effect. I just wanted to have a random, rough, root-like distribution of tubes. The worked well because I blocked out the roots already in the main skin and during this procedure I basically covered it with tangling tubes. That really made it easy to go in later with detailing. Both had around 30k polys after re-topology.
Finishing the main structure and rough sculpting of the separate skins I could go into detailing the features. Needed quality of details depends always on the visibility. Obviously it is not needed to attend to an are of the surface, which is not visible in the final picture or to overly detail something, which is far away from the camera.
|Test featire applied on 300k polys|
|Test feature applied on 40k polys|
I had a look with some HD test features applied to every part, which level of detail will have the right quality on the surface. This could be anything really. I used a whirl, cloudy stuff... no idea what it is and where it comes from. After applying it to the structure I had a look from the final render view if the resolution is enough or too rugged. It ended up with having 1 to 2,5 million polygons on the parts before going into the detailing.
Being mostly dependent of the material I will explain the detailing not by body parts, more based on material.
|Hole and aged trunk piece on the roots|
|Cracks, mew and knuckle on the arm|
As being mainly composed of wood, most of the surfaces received a similar detailing. The differences were composed by the rough features generated before and some aimed measures, like cracks, chips and... well mushrooms or moss, but to those I'll come later. The wood surfaces had the above test feature applied on knuckles and joints, whereas the connecting features received a more tree bark like detail. This simple approach worked surprisingly well. Both me and the Forestdelic guys were happy with the looks.
Obviously we tweaked some areas with local features like cracks, holes and chipped-off stuff to destruct uniformity. Some further feature I have added later during texture painting to add some further interest locally here and there, but we will come to that later. The top branches of the tree I have elongated by pulling out (extrude) step by step in somewhat random directions, but keeping the idea of a branch or twig going towards the sun. At this point Gail already started to resemble himself on the 2D sketch, but of course there was still a long way to go.
|Stone embedded in mud|
Stones are obviously not a big feature on an Ent, but I had some here and there symbolizing the fusion with natures vibes and the elemental structure of this creature. I added some random level to the stone surfaces and then cut into them with flattening some edges here and there. This created the chipped crystal like look of stones.
A very important feature was the ivy, which represented a mustache and beard like distribution on the Ents face. Adding this feature was the "wow" factor for this asset. I was already making good progress, but the tubes on his face gave the kick. This was also a point of interest for the Forestdelic guys.
We tried quite a few previews, with tubes, fibers or just sculpted detail, but finally we chose a rasta style facial feature. To implement this I used literally tubes, which were tangling off his upper lips and narrowing towards the end. It took a time to create all of them, but it certainly was worth it. After sorting the direction, I added some detail with simple cracks alongside the ivy surface. When all that was done the ivy structure had around 200k polys already. I added also some ivy on the heads branches because I liked the idea of hanging lianes there. It proved to be successful.
To further detail Gail and his Fusion with nature... and all the stuff he picked up during roaming his trails I decided to give him some company. I added some moss, grass and mushrooms on his body. Moss, grass, willow, leaves and sticks were all created with the hair system of Zbrush. To find the proper settings usually studying the real world references was necessary, in some cases experimenting came up with the right solution. The lycan are a randomized distortion and distribution of a simple cup shape
With that the features were mostly finished. As mentioned earlier, some further interesting detail was added later during texturing, but we'll come to that later. Gail was kinda pale, but already very good looking. To improve that state further, I attended to the painting process
|Final model before painting|