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Weekly Update #4: Flying Creatures - Scaled and Singing

This week was the end of my contribution to the Android commercial project, the model has been fully designed and textured, and now the animator begins their work. This however leaves me with 2 weeks spare from this 7 week project. I have nothing left to contribute towards my original group, and so I was assigned to a different group in a different class. In the University of South Wales collaboration between the computer animators and VFX artists is encouraged, but it's not something that happens too often. If our courses deadlines were more coherent with one another it may help, but sadly this is not the case. Regardless, I have 2 weeks spare and someone in VFX needs the quick attention of an artist. Specifically to texture a dragon model they have from a previous project of theirs.
Admittedly, I'm not a fan of the model itself. I feel like the anatomy is wrong and with no clear reference to existing creatures I'm unsure as to what the VFX student is looking for. I look up references in classical dragon influences such as lizards and iguanas, and also look up some texture patterns from crocodiles and alligators. After speaking with the student they seem happy with the direction I'm going, and after some experimentation with the top half of the skull I produce this:
This seems to fit the Iguana feel I was going for, and I try my hand at throwing the texture file into Photoshop to add some colour:
But it doesn't feel right, I'm worried the colours are flat and even more worried about how to go about sculpting the detail into these scales. After speaking with my tutor he suggests I restart the texturing process, begin sculpting the scales into the model itself, and then using the depressions made by the scales, mask off areas and begin texturing that way. It's a method I've not tried before, but after some quick experimentation it's clear it's the most efficient way of both texturing and sculpting into the model.
I use Zbrush' spotlight feature and a various collection of scale references to create the scales on the dragon. Paying particular attention to the areas that have defined texture patterns, such as the lips, the ridges on the back, and the soft underside.
I masked off areas such as the wings, but did so with particularly soft edges. so that the transition between hard scale and leather would be a smoother one. Once the student was happy with the level of detail within the model I began 'masking by cavity' which allows me to cut off colours within the ridges between scales and colour only in certain areas. I chose to use lighter tones in the underside ridges, just like the underside of this Crocodile:
And darker ridges on the back scales such as this:
Before long I had a decent working texture on the dragon model.
Again I started using painted masking for certain areas such as the wings.
With a little more playing I had the majority of the creature textured and sculpted.
There's still a bit of work to be done. Specular maps etc, but this I can play with in Photoshop fairly easily. For now I'm concentrating on (pre)pre-production on my final major project pitch. the script is still being written and it feels like my work partner Hollie and I have a pretty solid idea for what we're going for, it's just making sure we tell a story about it within a cohesive way. I did however create some sketches for a new creature, a bird. I specifically wanted this bird to symbolise music itself, to have a song that's both serene and powerful. I had originally sketches some designs for a creature before, but was unimpressed with the results.
I felt like this didn't feel 'illustrative' enough. They were trying too hard to fit in a clef design into the bird itself. Luckily, some quick itterative sketches a few months down the line allowed me to have a clear enough head to quickly sketch these:
I really like the one on the right, it seemed elegant, simple and also had elements of the clef design that didn't detract from its cohesiveness, but added to it. I began making a few varations to make sure I had the kind of design I wanted.
I soon worked up a design I really liked and then merged it with our previous character design to see if it fit the style we were going for with our game/animation.
I must admit I'm very happy with the bird monster, it's exactly what I was aiming for with the design aspects in my head. I hope I get to work it into the animation, but that would only be if the script allows for it. I would prefer to have a story that can connect with people as opposed to a pretty bit of fluff with no depth. But we'll see how it goes.

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