skull and antlers and the Fantasy Fairy Tree Trunk  by Katharina Thösen

skull and antlers and the Fantasy Fairy Tree Trunk by Katharina Thösen

by KThoesen on 4 May 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Welcome to my The Rookies Award 2021 Entry.

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The idea:

I really like the anatomy and especially the little details like the cranial suture. Above all the different textures like roughness parts of the antler where you can clearly see that the deer has some notches. And also very interesting where the areas with the finishing varnish. Some parts had a thick coat and others just a subtle one

The references:

The use of reference material was for this project mandatory, especially for the anatomy studies. I learned how to approach certain goals, but the important part was to split the different areas and focus on them separately. It was a process of planning to organize what I concentrate on in a certain amount of time.

The Process:

• I started in ZBrush by creating a ZSphere Blockout from this point I used pictures that I took to create the base model.

• After that, I put it into Maya and did the Retopology and UVs. The ZRemesher in ZBrush was not the best and I had to do some areas manually.

• Back to Zbrush creating all the details! One big step was to create the displacement map. 

• Two main parts of this project were texturing in Mari and LookDev in Maya. I layered Procedurals, did some breakups with masks, handpainted some details, and did breakups again. 

• The lookdev parts were not so easy, because I had to change my first interior idea (skull hun on the wall of a cabin in the woods) and managed to get this done for a better look.

• Then I started rendering in Arnold and also did light selection for relighting in comp.

• In Nuke I did the Relighting, adjusted the sss and coat/spec, did a volume ray and atmosphere, dust particles, and added color grading.

The challenges:

At some point, I struggled and tried to solve problems. One minor problem was in lookdev to adjust the displacement map and the subsurface scattering map, but in the end, I found the right settings to show up my details.

Even though I had fireflies, I managed to fix them by creating a new Scene:

I searched again for lighting references and presentation options.

The new and final idea was a room with a simple cloth on a table and onto it my asset. It was more pleasing and all my maps like the coat, subsurface scattering, or displacement are looking better.

My challenge for myself was to accept that the initial idea didn't work out that great and to look up new ideas and inspirations, and to keep going and be more flexible with my ideas.

Breakdown Slider:

Beauty - Wireframe - Clay

Texturing Breakdown:

BaseColor - Roughness - SSS

Lighting Breakdown:
Spotlight_skull - BG - Keylight - Rimlight_skull


I used for sculpting ZBrush, for creating textures Mari, I did Compositing in Nuke. For creating the dust texture for the Nuke simulation I used Affinity Photo. Cutting was in Davinci Resolve and I used Arnold for rendering.


I used for sculpting ZBrush, for creating textures Mari, I did Compositing in Nuke. For creating the dust texture for the Nuke simulation I used Affinity Photo. Cutting was in Davinci Resolve and I used Arnold for rendering.


responsible for all aspects.

The idea:

I wanted to go with my second project in a fantasy direction. I searched online for references of fantasy houses in the woods and I saw one ref that I really liked. The fairy house was a tree trunk and I found more fairy houses that were all handcrafted with only things from nature. Little real-life model houses. And all of the houses were crafted only with things from the forest like tinder sponges lichen etc. I used my main reference a treetrunk with windows and used that as a base. Then I collected more Ideas about what kind of mushrooms I could use for stars or canopy.

The references:

Very important was the collecting reference part! Even if I was outside, in the forest I took pictures from moss or bark to see how the texture is and to compare this once. Also what kind of mushrooms I could use for certain areas to break up the cylindrical shape. I had to search for stylized lighting references for deciding which light set up would suit my scene.

The planning:

• First, of all, I created the main model in ZBrush and did a rough Block out from my environment in Maya, as well as where I want to place moss, liches, etc.

• sculpting the tree using some paid alphas or sculpting brushes
• I did the retopology and UVs in Maya and brought it into ZBrush again for creating the minor details. I checked the displacement map in Maya and decided to carry on with the environment.

• In the beginning, I thought about layering the environment in compositing and working with Quixel Bridge to download my vegetation.

• I decided to use Redshift for this project so I could be more flexible with the render engine and change every project render engine.

• After the environment was finished I finished the textures of the tree trunk. I did this part parallel.

• Then I did different things with lighting. For the lighting part, I created stylized fantasy lighting. This time I created a lot of render layers for comp, because I wanted to get more possibility for re-lighting, fog creating, getting the mushrooms to glow, and so on. After the first frames were finished with rendering, I did the compositing

Breakdown Slider:

Wireframe - Beauty - Comp

The challenges

• First of all, I had some tree trunk texturing struggle, because it was complicated to get the structure of the bark and the different color variations. I decided to also use textures/assets of Quixel and bring them into Mari and layer them and do some breakups. It also helped to break up some maps in Maya in the Hypershade with the nodes of the new render engine.

• Within texturing, I adjusted from time to time the already into redshift material converted textures/assets. It took not a lot of time to get into redshift and the workflow itself.

• The stylized lighting took a bit longer, but in the and it was easier as I thought.

• The next challenge was the light selection because I had to render the lights in extra layers and that increases my render time.

In Compositing it was important to highlight the tree trunk so that it isn't camouflaging with the background.

The AOVs:

Beauty - Diffuse - GI - Reflections - Refractions

Lighting Breakdown:

GOBO_Keylight - GOBO_BG_trees - GOBO_Sidelight - Grouplight


I used this project ZBrush for sculpting the main model, the tree trunk. Mari was for creating the textures of the tree trunk. I used Quixel Bridge with its Plugin for Maya 2019 to connect the textures to redshift materials. I used the Redshift Renderer for showing more flexibility. I used Nuke for Compositing.

What did I learn?

I learned from this project that I cannot sculpt a whole environment by myself.

I have to focus on specific points like look dev and lighting. Also, I learned how to use Redshift and also the nodes for the Hypershade which were mandatory for lookdev. I used the first time render layer and it was easier as I thought. I even rendered out important maps for Compositing for the glowy mushrooms and of course.

It was very important to plan the learning part. Learning a new render engine takes a bit of time. But it is ok to take time for learning new things to prevent problems.


vegetation from Quixel

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