Sunday, August 4, 2013

Official Website!

Hey everyone - I have launched my official site. It has my artwork and blog posts on it. I'm not sure if I will continue using this site or not anymore. On saying that however, it has been a great few years updating this blog.

The new site contains articles on everything I am interested in, ranging from movies, video games, fitness and of course, art (3d and 2d). It now has more articles than ever and is updating daily. If you're interested, by all means check it out! Thanks for everyone's continued support in my projects.

The site is here, by the way.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Character Creation Series

Hey guys,

I just published a first attempt at a full tutorial series on my own website,
This is a tutorial series where you learn the basics of character creation using Blender 3D and Pixologic's Zbrush. So if you are interested check out the new site!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Creation Process

There are a lot of things that factor into the creation process of making an awesome new piece of artwork, a video, or whatever you are trying to make. To help explain this process I’m going to take you through the thought process behind my latest project (that is currently incomplete).

And just a note: I hate showing incomplete work, because it’s subject to change, but it also helps me keep track of my progress. It also helps with my creation process, because I can sort of back track, see where I began, where I am now, and what issues I face, which will help me proceed into the future of this project.
Inspiration is really important. I pull inspiration from a variety of place, such as movies, images, books, music, things people say, places I go,  and sometimes ideas really just come out of nowhere. I try to visualize what I’m trying to make first, as it makes for smoother development.

For example, my latest project which I haven’t really shown much of to anyone at the moment is a kind of mixture between Avatar, God of War, Dragon Age and various other fantasy elements. For my senior project in the Graphic Design program at Longwood University I decided to make a tutorial series (which is being made now) that would walk an intermediate level artist through creating a fantasy character. The idea of a fantasy character came to me because then the person learning could kind of detail it the way he or she wanted to, and not just copy my work in the name of “learning.” I kind of wanted the learning process to be free.

So I had to design a character. I first decided I wanted it to look sort of human, because I already know some human anatomy, and making up something crazy different that still looks good and proportional isn’t always easy. I decided to go with something alien, with human features. In fact, it’s only mildly different than a human.

So I went to google images, and started looking at characters. Here’s some of what I decided to reference in the creation process.
Qunari, Dragon Age II

I haven’t played this, nor do I plan to, but I think this character just looks cool! So I download this picture and put it in a folder. I really like the fact this character has a lot of human features in the face, but he’s just a bit different. Also, this character really features a strong face, which is something I’ve always wanted in one of my characters, so this is something I will use to reference facial anatomy. I also like the color scheme, pale white skin, red clothes.

Since I’m going with an alien that’s “almost” human theme, avatar is a great thing to turn to. I directly referenced this female’s face from the movie when modelling the character for my latest project.


So here I’ll show an early shot of my model. Keep in mind, this a really early stage of development.

Early shot of my model
Ben Shukrallah

Of course, this doesn’t look like much, but it’s at an early stage. It really needs some detail. So I looked at characters like Marvel Comic’s Wolverine, as a reference for muscle anatomy. Specifically, I looked at a 3D sculpt of the character by an artist who goes by the name of slor.  I like the level of detail in the muscles that this artist achieved, and would like a similar effect. I also looked at an anatomy book by Scott Spencer, which I always keep by my side when doing work like this called Zbrush Digital Sculpting Human Anatomy. This book has been a GREAT help to me in sculpting anatomy.

Wolverine Sculpt
Slor, 2012

So now I’m going to show where I’m at now:

Work in Progress
2013 Ben Shukrallah

Work in Progress
2013 Ben Shukrallah

So as you can see, elements of a lot of different things are presented here. It’s crazy how I have built up from the initial images shown above, which weren’t much of anything, to this. And there’s a lot more work to do. I still need to make some awesome clothing and some weaponry for this guy!

Of course, there is more to think about when you’re designing  a piece. This stuff is kind of worthless if no one can see it. If you are trying to get your name out there you may want to consider creating something that’s actually going to get searched online. I doubt anyone will be searching for this character I’m working on at the moment, but it suites my needs for my tutorial series. If you are really trying to get your name out there however, you may want to consider making a project involving current events, like fan art for a new movie, for example.

I created an image of Marvel Comic’s Venom, and it gets seen constantly by people, just because they are searching for Venom.

Marvel Comic’s Venom
Ben Shukrallah 2012

Marvel Comic’s Venom Sculpt
Ben Shukrallah 2012

Getting a Job in the 3D Art Industry

A lot of people create artwork just to share it with the world, after all, art is worth nothing if it isn’t seen. Some people are satisfied with just that, showing off their work. That’s great, there is nothing wrong with that.

Other people want to make a career out of their work however. With the growing demand for digital artists in movies, video games, and advertising there is a lot of money to be made. That is, if you are good enough.
So how do you get a job in this increasingly competitive field? Can you just go to school and get a degree? Then an internship? Probably not. Knowing theory doesn’t mean you can make good work. Although, good art theory, knowledge, and inspiration can enhance good work.

I personally value higher education. I think it’s great, it exposes you to a lot of different things that can be applied to many different aspects of life, especially artwork. Also, nothing beats proper instruction. So yes, I highly recommend going to school even if you want an art job. A degree alone will not get you a spot in a prestigious company though. As an artist you need to be able to show your skill, and the only way to do this is to show your work.

A company will turn down a college graduate with a bad portfolio in favor of a high school graduate with an amazing portfolio. In fact, many companies that need artists just prefer a college education to weed out bad applicants and keep people from applying who probably don’t cut it anyway. What they don’t usually tell you however, is that it’s really the portfolio that gets you the job in this field.

Another thing that will help you out is building an identity. Get your work out there, build a reputation. Let people know who you are and look professional. That’s why I publish my work on several websites, such as the prestigious CgSociety, the rapidly growing CGHub, and many others. I’m scattered around on several websites. This is to ensure a wide variety of people see my work. And trust me, they do contact me. I get youtube messages and comments constantly from my channel, which features several CG videos created by me.

This is a highly competitive field, and employers want to know they are hiring the best artists possible to make their products. I once read that Weta Digital, the guys who made the visual effects for Lord of the Rings, only hire maybe 2 people per year. The company is based in New Zealand also, so chances of them hiring people out the country are slim, but not impossible of course.

Your portfolio should cater to the company you are applying to. For example if you are applying to Pixar, you should try to create works in their style. If you are applying to Ubisoft, perhaps you should study Assassin’s Creed, or Prince of Persia, and base works off of those series. Do not copy them, but get inspiration from them. Companies want to see creativity in your work.

On saying this however, your work has to be good to get a job. Employers get thousands of portfolios sent to them each year. Generally in video form, they mute the video and start playing. If the first few seconds don’t grab their attention it’s scrapped. Sorry. You’re an artist, your job is to captivate people, so do it!
When making a portfolio, your best piece should be first. If something sucks, just don’t include it. If none of your work is up to par, keep working on it. Make your stuff better.

Pre-Render Vs. Real Time Graphics

There’s a lot of different types of digital art. In terms of 3d, you’ll see two main types, pre-rendered and real time.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Real-time is when a computer can render the graphics on the fly.

Pre-rendered is the opposite. The computer cannot just render the graphics quickly and easily, it usually takes time, so it is render “previously” by another really powerful computer/computers.

And a side not: Rendering is like drawing, except the computer does it.

So what’s the big difference? Pre-rendered takes a lot more resources, so the payout is much better yielding better visuals. Pre-rendered graphics have always been more advanced for years. For example let’s look at Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life.” This was from 1998! Compare that to the graphics of a critically acclaimed video game from 1998, Konami’s Metal Gear Solid. Huge difference!

Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, 1998 pre-rendered material

Konami’s Metal Gear Solid, 1998, real-time visuals.

Studios like Pixar have huge rooms devoted just to rendering, filled with several computers. A company like Pixar can have hundreds of computers running. Smaller companies, like the Blender Foundation, when rendering Sintel, had maybe 30 computers running. The AC was cranked, and the room was still really hot, with all the heat being generated from the computers.

What about today though?

In Bioware’s latest installment in the Mass Effect trilogy (part 3) they released some pre-rendered material to help advertise the game.

Here we compare Commander Shepard, pre-rendered from the trailer, and rendered in real time from the game. It’s a huge difference compared to the 1998 example of Konami‘s Metal Gear Solid vs A Bug’s Life. However, you can still clearly see which is the visual king.

On the left, a pre-rendered version of Mass Effect 3′s main character Commander Shepard, on the right a real-time version.

Generally real-time graphics aren’t as good. They feature low poly models without all the bells and whistles that pre-rendered visuals can achieve. That’s because a computer has to be able to render the graphics on the fly. Pre-rendered visuals feature better lighting, shading effects and high poly models. The computer has to do a lot of advanced math and calculus to determine proper light paths that simulate real life. The end output is a video file, that can be played anytime, but took hours (usually hundreds) to render out.

The each serve a difference purpose. Generally real-time graphics are reserved for interactive media, such as video games. Pre-rendered graphics are used in the movie industry and game industry. Most movies include some level of pre-rendered visuals, whether it be a backdrop or added effects.

Character Creation

Characters don’t come out of nowhere!
Creating a digital character in CG is an involving task. It takes a lot of planning and hard work. A good character is well thought out, and has an interesting appearance that speaks personality. You can should be able to tell some character traits about a character by looking at it.
So how does this happen?
The first step is planning. Traits can be written down describing the characters, such as good, evil, noble, strong, weak, etc. The more in depth the character’s personality is planned out the better.
Next it’s time to visualize the character. It’s time to sketch out ideas. The character’s traits effect things like posture, or the size of the character. Several ideas can be sketched out, mixed and matched while bad ones get tossed away.
Solid Snake concept by Yoji Shinkawa for Metal Gear Solid 2

Above and below we see sketches of Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid 2 by character artist Yoji Shinkawa.

Solid Snake Concept Art (Metal Gear Solid 2) by Yoji Shinkawa

In a professional setting after concepts are done and approved a team will begin making the character. This is done through the means of various software packages, such as Zbrush, 3DS Max, or even something free like Blender3D. This is the actual process of building the character piece by piece. There is usually a modelling team which is responsible for building the character correctly, and a smaller texturing team for texturing the character.
The modelling process is extensive, lots of reiterations of the character may emerge from here. The best is chosen of course
Final Version of Solid Snake

The next part of the process is setting the character up for animation. This is usually handled by an animation team. They will build a rig (controls that move the character) for the specific character. In Blender3D, for example, a rig is made up of armatures. Each armature will control one part of the body. Think of a rig as a skeleton, and an armature as a bone.

Zora Rig (2012 Ben Shukrallah)

The image above is a view port render of an image I made in 2012 featuring a Zora from Nintendo‘s Legend of Zelda series. You can see the Zora’s rig inside it’s body. Each armature corresponds to a body part and controls it. They can get pretty advanced, assigning multiple armatures to the same areas for example, or using armatures to manipulate other armatures.

Final Image “Zora” (2012 Ben Shukrallah) Original concept by Nintendo.

As you can see above, the Zora is posed because of the armatures. Another note is that armatures do not show up in real-time or pre-rendered graphics, they are tools that stay in the background and are never seen.
Some things to consider:
No character is perfect. Perfect is bad. Reality has flaws. A flawed character is more realistic and interesting.
Many people will mirror characters, so what is on one side appears on the other. This okay when initially making a character just to keep proportions correct, but for smaller details it is far better to add variation to different sides. This keeps things interesting. Nothing in nature is symmetrical.
One of the most important features of a character is their eyes. Make believable eyes and the character will look like it’s alive.

Zbrush: The Revolution

As a  “digital artist” I’m fairly confident that I can provide some valuable information to anyone interest in, or looking to brush up on digital art. And by digital art I mean computer generated (CG) 3d models, Photoshop, etc. I’ll discuss a variety of topics in this 10 part series.
And for those interested in my credibility on the subject, my portfolio. Judge for yourself.
I can’t kick it off however without giving credit to a fairly recent revolution in the medium. Pixolgic‘s Zbrush. While CG art has been pretty much a requirement for movies, artwork, and is the back bone of video games, it hasn’t always been what it is today.

Gollum from New Line Cinema‘s Lord Of The Rings. This is a detailed character rendered by a computer.

Clearly anyone who has watched older movies has noticed the lack luster graphics and special effects that don’t compare to today’s visuals. A few years ago dealing CG visuals was a serious pain. Artists did the best they could, but technical details frequently got in the way of creativity.
I don’t want to bog you down with the details, especially if you are unfamiliar with the process of creating a 3d model, so I’ll give a quick overview. Basically (just to break it down into basic english) you’ll create a model’s wireframe with points, lines, planes, etc. A texture, usually a .jpg file is then “wrapped” around the wireframe, which gives the wireframe it’s “color.” In order to make this texture first you have to “unwrap” a model. As you can tell, this is technical, and can be a bit difficult to follow. As a result, artists did their best, but they were limited by technical limitations at the time.
This is a model I created. On the left you can see the model with it’s wireframe. On the right you can see it’s “unwrapped texture.” On the right, it is essentially the wireframe flattened out. You can see where I’ve highlighted parts of the model on the left, and the selection correlates on the right. That part of the texture on the right, covers the part of the wireframe on the left.

Every once a while someone comes along with something that is described as a “revolution.” Zbrush was a new innovative way to detail 3d models. Developed by Pixologic, Zbrush not only allowed for more detailed models, it cut work time in half. It automated a lot of the technical things I was talking about above.
Let me explain…
Instead of unwrapped a model, you paint right on it. But it doesn’t stop there. You can sculpt a model in zbrush. Rather than building from a wireframe, you can sculpt like clay. This allows for uninterrupted creativity from the artist, without having to worry about technical details, like basic geometry, topology, or unwrapping. Painting on a flat texture is a pain, and can be hard to visualize, and not only that, inaccurate.  Painting on a 3d model however, well.. what you see is what you get.
Still not convinced? The movie Avatar was one of the first to add Zbrush to their workflow. Amazing visuals right?
A character from the movie Avatar, which broadly boasts its use of Pixologic‘s Zbrush. This character was detailed freely in Zbrush.

Still not convinced? In June 2012 I uploaded a video of myself doing a speed sculpt of Marvel Comics‘ popular character, Venom, in Zbrush. In the video I go from start to finish sculpting the character from literally NOTHING. The video is quite popular, I might add, just shy of 20,000 views, and scoring over 100 likes.
Venom Zbrush Sculpt (2012, Ben Shukrallah)
You can easily see Zbrush in action here, with no help from any other software. Nothing but creative sculpting going on here.
It’s pushed the video game industry to new heights as well. Let’s take a look at a popular franchise, God of War, and see how Zbrush (along with better hardware) has helped push visuals.
Kratos from God of War 2. This game predates the popularity of Zbrush. While good for it’s time, it’s sequel benefited greatly from the software package.

Kratos in God of War 3. This model was sculpted and detailed using Zbrush. Granted, the game is running on more powerful hardware, it’s no joke that benefited from Zbrush.
“Making of God of War 3″ Here we see Kratos being sculpted in Zbrush.

So I hope you can clearly see how and why Zbrush has revolutionized the digital art medium. It’s great. You can pick it up for $700 at Pixologic‘s website. Alternatively there is a trial version, and a free sculpting program called Sculptris, which is worth looking at, also made by Pixologic.