Join Chris Korn for an in-depth discussion in this video Modeling the alien, part of Chris Korn's Digital Character Design: Start to Finish.
I'd taken pictures of cicada like in 2006 that I found at a park by my apartment. I looked at it, and you know, thought to myself that would be really cool creature or alien someday. And, I was preparing for my C graph presentation. For this year. And somebody posted a video about the life cycle of the cicada, and you know, how it comes about, its whole life cycle process. And that idea came back to me for creating an alien based off of this insect.
So, that was kind of the springboard for this project. I use reference every project. Whether it's checking a human anatomy to make sure I have my muscles, you know, attached to the right spot or that I have the right muscles. You know, to begin with. Memories is never 100%. You think you're correct on where you're remembering stuff but you know, having that reference there makes it solid and it speeds things up.
because, you're able to just look, oh okay yeah, this is where this goes, or oh, this is what this animal looks like, you know, this is how it's eye is shaped. Reference is always a big un, big thing. You don't have to lock into it. Just going through and knowing what to kind of take from and embel and what to embellish and you know, where to go. Once I have all my reference collected for kind of, where I want to go, I open up cinema 4D.
For this guy I just opened up you know, my basic clean mesh, no topology no human shapes in there. When I start blocking stuff out it's broad strokes just like with clay. I'll just kind of be pushing and pulling, until I start getting the shapes I like, and keeping it at a lower resolution to start with, makes that process easier. because as soon as you start subdividing the model, you've got more form, more mass to kind of deal with, more points and more cleanup that you have to do.
Just like with clay. You start with the main forms, break it down. Go into the secondary, then tertiary. Once the initial blocking out stage is done I'll start playing around with facial forms because knowing where the mouth is going to be, knowing where certain bones, facial features, ridges. Getting those planes in the face blocked in. It just helps you see kind of, how this creature could look.
Grabbing from the cicada reference, I'd thought about having it be an exoskeleton, like an insect. And even in an earlier sculpt I had the mouth. Embedded inside and was almost like a separate piece of anatomy. And it works for the cicada because there's a shell. There's actual pieces that combine to make the skull which you see on the outisde. But for this I had, it wasn't working, so I had to change. The design to fit more of what I was going for, a fleshy creature, no exoskeleton, no ridges, no bony plates.
As soon as I did that, to be more of a fleshy part of his anatomy, made it more believable. The final stages for detailing characters is getting all the wrinkles, all the pores. All these little things on the surface did, again we relate to as humans. You see how their eyes would move and you add the compression zone there, the wrinkles that would build up over time from the eye going up and down or the mouth, just snarling, or doing whatever sniffing.
For wrinkles, and this translates to traditional clay sculpting as well, is texture stamps. ZBrush has been around for a, you know, a while, so there's a huge collection of texture stamps on the forum, from the community, which help, you know, speed up the process. I'm sure a lot of these things were created for time-sensitive projects. You know, they needed to get this stuff out fast. But it also helps, again, with the believability. They can be a crutch, so, I like to use them sparingly. I'll use them to kind of lay out basic shapes and then, I'll go in and smooth them out.
And then, refine them and accintuate stuff, dig in, and kind of just make it a little more organic. But more importantly, they won't save a bad design. Forms are way more important, having things laid out in a way that are correct. In an anatomical way, and in a design way, are way more important than the wrinkles and all the fine detail stuff.
Once the sculpture's all done, it's all detailed, he's got all of his you know, wrinkles and stuff sculpted in then I'll do the painting part. Looking at all the different cicadas. There's kind of a wide gamut of different colors. Some are browns, blacks, oranges. I kind of went for green, partially because there is a green cicada and then, I wanted to kind of do a Martian, I mean, Martians are green. For this guy I chose zBrush just because poly painting is fast.
And I have, I have my brushes how I want them in zbrush. So I can quickly setup my air brush and it's basically just based off an air brush. So I can go in there and I can you know, create a spray using the brush preset and then also using an alpha to really break it up being the more. Messing some of the other stroke settings and I'm able to basically reproduce what I get with my traditional air brush. Once I have the green base color laid out, I'll go in with a blue and it's a bright blue.
It's going to be overpowering, it's going to be strong, and I go in to all the kind of recessed areas and paint those in. It mimics you know, deeper areas in the skin. It helps for shadowing too. You know for making stuff pop, and then once all those areas are painted in, I'll switch to a red. Again, a bright red overpowering and going over kind of the raised areas, muscular areas, areas where you know, there would be ridges of, you know muscular going through a fleshy areas. And then, one final step is yellow. Again, pretty bright.
Sparingly over areas where there would be bone, or tendon. So, very thin skin layer over just, you know, the boney areas. When you're done with all of those different colors. It ends up looking like, you know, horrific clown makeup. You've just got these blotchy reds and blues and yellows. And then a little bit of your original color underneath. And it just looks like a mess, but there is a reason. In zbrush, you, you turn of those, all the airbrush stuff, and just go back to your standard no alpha.
And you make the tip really fine and you go in and you do what's called modelling. You, basically are just painting all of these little squiggly lines around the entire sculpture. And what it does is, it breaks up all the colors and kind of, it tones them down a bit and ties them together. It gives that allusion of almost like blood vessels. Underneath the skin. It's a good pass because it just kind of ties all the colors together. and adds another layer of kind of believability to that.
And once all the modeling is done, you, then take your original base color and do kind of like a wash. Basically what you're trying to do, is you're trying to blend everything back together and make it a little more subtle. It gives the allusion of translucency and really makes it look like skin. Once I have the colors done. Once I'm happy with that I'll go in and I'll make the spectacular maps. In z Brush I create, either like a black and white depending on how much I want or gray.
You then paint in using white the areas that you want to be shinier or more reflective. So the nostrils, the mouth, ears, sometimes around the eyes. So just going in and just kind of just painting those areas so that when you create your specular map, again it just adds another level of believability. Because I mean, we're not just all one shininess. So color maps painted, specular maps painted, then bring it back into Cinema 4D, and start setting up the lights.
Similar to how you would do a studio lighting setup, you know, you've got your key light, you've got your rim light, and a fill, if, if you want it. You just kind of set those up how you would in the real world. get your camera. You set your F stop and your depth of field and all that kind of stuff. For most of my creatures, you know, including this one, I'll, I like to have a, a pretty narrow depth of field. It gives it a little more of a portrait feel because in the computer everything is crisp. Everything is in focus.
You know, everything can be perfect. If it doesn't look like it was actually photographed, it just, it starts looking too digital. And you know, people are like familiar.