Saturday, July 2, 2011

The road is paved with polygons: Creating Frog


In hindsight becoming a 3D Artist shouldn’t have been a career choice, it was something I was interested in – not entirely committed to. I’ve moved on. And I do have some thoughts on the matter; I won’t bring them up here (I hate when someone tells me their life story when I didn’t ask). Instead I felt like sharing the work I’d done in the passed.

Akira Toriyama has always had an influence on me. I grew up with Dragon Ball. So I can’t help loving the artistry of Chrono Trigger and Dragon Quest, the former being one of my favorite games. Frog is the valiant knight, a stalwart hero. But really he’s just a Frog with an awesome sword. He’s a fan favorite, and I really wanted to try a highly detailed model. Having an interest before you start working is always a good thing, so the choice to create Frog was an easy one. 



Reference wasn’t hard to come by. The main conceptual reference is from the now discontinued Chrono Trigger remake Chrono Trigger Resurrection. It’s always unfortunate when a fan project gets shut down. The art left behind was exceptionally helpful, so all credit where credit is due. In 3ds Max (not sure which version I was using at the time) I went for a very “chunky” starting point; I just formed Frog’s core anatomy from basic shapes. His head, torso, arms, armor were all separate objects. Which makes exporting them to another program easier overall.

After the basic structure was set I popped the model over to ZBrush. For those who are unfamiliar 3ds Max (the program I start almost all my models in) is great for making hard geometry and objects. While not impossible, it’s a tougher task to create high detail organic models with 3ds Max alone. It’s just not built for that. That’s where ZBrush shines, it’s essentially a sculpting tool. Basically your model is like 3D clay in ZBrush. You can push and pull and cut into it as much as you like without your PC melting from the excessive processor usage.

Sculpting Frog in ZBrush went better then expected. It took only a few hours to get most of large facial and body characteristics in. That’s one of the beauties of ZBrush, you're more free to create the model while 3ds Max can get more technical – looking at wireframes and pulling vertices into place with 3ds Max becomes nauseating sometimes (obviously I’m speaking to a small crowd…just know that sometimes working with 3ds Max is not fun, like walking through fart-gas, unless you like that sort of thing?)



Here’s where things get tricky. I feel much more comfortable rendering my models outside of ZBrush. But taking Frog back into Max was a no go. It was way too large of a model. 3dso Max works well when creating environments, things that don’t have a lot of polygonal information. 3ds moves turtle slow when there’s too much going on in a scene. ZBrush doesn’t, so I usually go way overboard and sculpt the crap outta a model at around 10 million polygons – I’ve gone to half a billion in some cases. I realize this all sounds boring, but if I were to import Frog as he was into 3ds Max, my neighborhood would have exploded!

Luckily ZBrush has a unique add-on for just such an occurrence, called the Decimation Modifier, which breaks the model down bit, by bit. It was actually used in Gears of War to keep insane levels of detail. I used it to similar affect. And it worked wonders, there’s virtually know visible difference between the high detail model and Decimated version of Frog I imported in Max. 

I imported the Decimated detail of Frog into 3ds Max as a Normal Map (Normal Maps are like a jacket of detail thrown onto a model, geometry is being rendered through complex lighting algorithms), and it looked something like this…



Then it was the matter of some simple texture work. A diffuse/ color map was added (that means I just painted on the model with Photoshop), and a specular lighting texture, and bump mapping for some touch-ups.

Once textured I just posed him for a simple render. I’ve never invested too much stake in rendering out a model, as it would look different in a video game engine anyways. Still I thought it turned out relatively fine all things considered.

If there’s one thing I miss about modeling, it’s the creative process. You never really know how things are going to work out; you just have to experiment. Frog turned out beautifully, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better result. 


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