Previs Artist at The Third Floor

Article / 06 December 2018

Hey there!

I just wanted to share with you something, after one year working as Previs Artist-Asset Builder (which is 3D Modeller mostly), I finally can share some of the films that I had the opportunity to participate in while working at The Third Floor.

Previsualization is a different type of job and I would say that is really challenging, simply because you have a short amount of time to do some tasks, so you have to be fast and efficient to be able to deliver a low poly asset with high quality result. The type of assets that you usually do are closer to the game type of workflow, in which you have to optimize and be able to texture efficiently to make everything look pretty. So yeah, I would say if you´re interested in working in previsualization you need to know game creation workflow, and it´s amazing because you will have the opportunity to work in those shows and films first, a couple of years before its premiere.

I must thank all the people from The Third Floor London, that gave me the the chance to work with them and shared with me their knowledge, thank you very much!! :)

These are some of the films which I worked in creating assets, there are some of them that I´m not sure that I can post, so I will update this blog as soon as I´ll be able to share with all of you :)

The Leader Personal Project Breakdown

Making Of / 04 October 2018


This is my first post, and I wanted to do something different than adding some work in progress. So I would like to share with you the process of creation of this project that took me some of my spare time to do, it consist of an environment and a character and I´m gonna guide you through the process that I followed as my personal workflow.

Hope you like it, and learn something from it!

So, what do I start with?

As you can see in the main illustration that I took as a reference, the environment was not really the main focus, so that´s why it´s really blurry, but you can see some overall shapes spreading vertically.

1.- Gather some references... well, not some, a lot of them!
To not to fill this post with thousands of pictures of just references, I will post just a few of them, following references from environments from films and pieces of industrial design and futuristic factories. Find real objects and environments if you can, trying to be consistent about the style. You already have the illustration to guide you!

2.- Start planning yourself and creating a first blocking pass.
To start doing the environment I usually create my project folder and I try to be organised as much as possible, if not, you loose track of something and the project starts to be a completely mess. Here you can find a good post written by Paul H. Paulino about organization in vfx, I totally recommend to read it and have a look to all his blog posts, they´re really helpful.
After organizing my folders, I start in Maya, the first thing to have in mind is the scale, in this case I used a real scale so the character is about 185 cm - 190 cm tall and the environment is about 400 cm height more or less.
After setting up the scale, let´s start keeping everything really simple, with really low poly assets, doing a first pass with just a few assets to be able to move them around and play with their placement in the scene.

As you can see, this pass is really simple, this is because I wanted to match the environment from the illustration as accurate as possible.

3.- Continue refining shapes and objects from the environment.
When you keep working in the environment, a nice trick is to separate the scene in different objects, model them independently and add them to the scene. If you do this, just try to keep all the objects from the scene at the same level of detail. A good example of this is this Laboratory Timelapse from Jose Manuel Linares Lopez.
You can have a look at my own process of creation in the following picture.

4.- Uvs and textures.
After being happy with the scene, you can start updating those objects with the ones that you worked in separately and make the uvs of them. In this case I didn't make the Uvs of every single object and I took advantage of some tileable textures that I previously created in Substance Painter.
You can open Substance Painter and in File>Open Sample... choose the TilingMaterial file that exist by default in the lasts versions of it.

When you open the file you can start applying materials, masks and playing around with the Material tab and change its parameters.

This are just some of the tileable textures that I exported out from Substance to use in Maya.

As I said before, I worked in some of the objects that were going to be closer to the camera to increase the quality of them just a bit. So I textured them separately and extracted those textures from Substance Painter.

5.- Setting up the camera, materials, lighting and rendering.
When I had all the textures that I was going to use I continued creating my own materials, in this project I used Arnold for Maya 2018 so it was really simple to set all the maps and connect the nodes to the standard material from MayatoArnold (aIStandardSurface). In this post From Substance to Arnold, The Ultimate Guide, by Olivier Couston, you can find some issues to expect with color management from Substance and he writes about some interesting workflow to trespass all your work from substance to Arnold.

When you create your materials, you need to test them with a proper lighting, and this is the one that I did, this one my final test before refining and adding my character into the scene.

This next version is the one with some fx, particles, depth of field, and some simple compo in nuke to test the colors before referencing my character to the scene.

This is all from the environment.


This character was challenging, he looks like a human, because indeed, he´s a human, but he was exposed to some gamma radiation, which converted him in this supervillain.
I needed to be sure that all the proportions were in place and having the illustration as reference I did my best.
Let´s go with the steps I followed to create it.

1.- Gather some references... yeah, again.
References are everything in your piece of art, and if it´s something that looks like a human, what is better than knowing some human anatomy?
This books helped me and still help me to study, improve and learn human anatomy. There are so many out there, you just need to practice a bit every day.

And well, of course, you need to find some real human to have as a reference for the main character. In this case I found the actor Jimmy Jean-Louis the perfect candidate to have as my main reference for the character.

As you can see, some of the shapes match, obviously not the gigantic head and the hair, but I managed to find some hair styles for this purpose.

2.- Base mesh and start to have fun.
Even if you will have to do a retopo of the character later on, I always start with a simple base mesh in Zbrush, starting from the overall shapes to the more specific ones, from the big shapes to the small ones, no rush, just make sure you´re enjoying the process and that you like what you see. And if you´re not sure, you can always ask for some feedback if that helps!

Ok, so the head is the same mesh, changed the proportions and shapes following the references, the clothes are a simple import from Marvelous Designer and the armor or the chest piece was extracted using Panel Loops tool from Zbrush.
I did the same to get the shoulder pads.

3.- High poly model to low poly model.
After working in the high poly model and when I was comfortable with the sculpt, I decided to work in the topology of the low poly mesh to be able to project details and extract maps later on.
First export the high poly model from Zbrush and bring it into Maya. With the Modelling Toolkit > Quad Draw I made the low poly version.

When you´re done with the topology and the uvs, we need to project the details into the low poly version. For that import the low poly geometry into Zbrush and project the details. Make sure when you click the Project Tool that both tools are visible. The process is project while subdividing the low poly tool, having the high poly tool in its higher subdivision level.

I did the same with all the geometries of the character.

4.- Texturing.
Now it´s time to add some texture to this character. In this project I used both Mari and Substance Painter.
In one hand I had the face, that was textured in Mari, using some cavity maps exported from Zbrush to add some details, as well as using displacement textures from Texturing xyz. Tom Newbury has an amazing tutorial in his Gumroad for Texturing Realistic Skin for Characters that I followed a while ago to create my own workflow for this.
On the other hand the clothes, armor and shoulder pads were textured in Substance Painter.

The eyes were something which I decide to take my time in, I really wanted them to be unique and that´s why I sculpted them and textured them all by hand. Obviously with some references for the anatomy and color.

5.- Materials and LookDev.
Once I had all the textures, it was time to add them to the scene in Maya where all the low poly was located. So I started creating new materials, connecting the textures to them and assigning them to each geometry.
I usually start with the displacement, to make it look good in the render with a basic three lights rig in the scene, a key light, a fill light and a rim light.

 The next step is to add the textures to the material, I usually like to add more than just the textures, something like an aiRange and multiplyDivide nodes are an example.
This nodes allow you to modify the parameters of the texture inside Maya and you can see changes in real time while rendering.

  Some of the material with all those purple extra nodes.

So after placing all of them I make my first render with color, and this is when the project starts to be challenging, you need to observe, and change parameters and textures if needed. This means to make a step back in the process, but do it when you always need it and if you think that is going to improve the final result or if it's going to fix some future issues. This can be the difference between a good project and a bad one, because if you're not able to see future problems and fix them, you will have to deal with them in the next step, and in the end the project will become a real problem and will be frustrating to continue with it.
So do changes every time you need. This is the moment before it's too late.

If you would like to learn more about Xgen, this Brief Guide on Grooming Hair with XGen in Maya from Aviral Agarwal will tell you some basics with the new Grooming tool that comes with Maya 2018. The secret is to make description as layers, and having three per amount of hair will be fine to create something realistic enough.

6.- Referencing the character into the environment scene.
We're close to the end of this post, so next step is, when you're happy with your character, reference it to the environment scene and start to split the scene into render layers. This way it will be much easier to manage all the layers into nuke and increase the quality with some changes.

  7.- Render layer to Nuke, creating the final image.
When you have all the render layers into .exr files with all the channels that you consider useful, it´s time to go into nuke and do a bit of compositing.
I basically separated the environment pass and the character pass. I added all the layers and played with the ColorCorrect node a lot. Also I added some Noise, 3D Particles, Chromatic Aberration and added depth of field with the Zdefocus node, using the depth channel from one of the render layers.

And this is the final image.