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Gentle Giant & The Aviator - Jessica Wicher

Gentle Giant & The Aviator - Jessica Wicher

Jessica Wicher
by jessicawicher on 31 May 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Hey everyone, and welcome to my entry for the Rookie awards. I am currently a student at PIXL VISN media arts academy and want to present my Midterm 300 and Endterm 300 projects.

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Term Projects

The first project was created after studying at PIXL VISN for 7,5 months and the second after 9 months.
The themes were announced the night before the project started, and it had to be finished within one week. First, we had to choose three skills that we wanted to be mainly graded in. I decided to be graded for modeling, texturing, and lighting both times. At the end of the week, we had to hand in a video of our rendered project, including our breakdowns. 

Gentle Giant - Midterm 300

Theme: "Deep Sea"

As soon as the theme was announced, I already knew what I wanted to work on as I had manta rays already on my list for possible personal projects.

So I started to gather references right away. It helped me a lot to decide how I wanted to present my project as well as getting the right shape and look for modelling and texturing. 


I started with blocking out the manta and camera in Maya for the main shot. Once I had a rough idea for the shot, I took a screenshot of the blockout and drew on it to figure out how to place the cliffs. As soon as I had the composition ready, I continued with modeling the manta in Maya.

Then I brought it to zBrush and refined the model. Next up was retopology in Maya and then I brought it back again to zBrush to work on skin details, imperfections and details which I rendered out as a displacement map.

Afterwards, I worked on the cliffs. I created the shape in Maya and sculpted the details in zBrush. I also rendered displacement maps and exported more high poly versions so it would work better as I did some bigger changes compared to the original shape.

I textured everything in Substance Painter. I used different materials for the cliffs and worked with masks while the manta texture is completely hand painted and not 100% symmetrical to give it a more natural look. As soon as I had the textures ready, I brought everything back to Maya and started building up and lighting the scene.

You can see the different steps in the scene breakdown. I used different lights: a key light, a fill light and a spotlight with caustics. When I had the first shot rendered out, I brought it into Nuke and added particles, corrected the lights with light select and did some colour correction.

Once the main shot was done, I worked on the turntable, modelled the pedestal and created a backdrop. After that, I rendered it and worked on other shots for the breakdown; I only colour corrected them. The last step was cutting the video in DaVinci Resolve.

Here's the final result:

The Aviator - Endterm 300

Theme: "Explorer"

Before the theme was announced, I already decided that I would like to create a stylized character. Once I knew that it was "Explorer" I tried to figure out who an explorer was. I came up with ideas like captains, researchers, and also pilots. I liked the idea of an old-school pilot, an aviator, who's exploring lands from his plane.

I gathered references and figured out that the helmet/hat with the glasses and a characteristic leather jacket with fur are essential parts of the project so people can recognize him as an aviator. 


Once I had the idea, I started thinking about how I could present my project. I came up with the idea of a studio setting with a plane in the background. I created the camera and found a plane online which I could put in the background as I wouldn’t show more than just the silhouette.

Then I went to zBrush and started with the character. As soon as I had the rough shapes I took it to Maya, cleaned it up a bit and modelled the eyes there. Next, I brought everything back into zBrush and finished the low poly model. I retopologized the bust in Maya and duplicated faces from my model for the turtleneck and the jacket. I finished the model for the turtleneck first, then I worked on the jacket.

I went back to zBrush to work on the hair, the moustache, and his eyebrows so I would know how to place the helmet. I created the base for the helmet from duplicated faces of my retopologized head and modelled it from there. I added some details and then I modelled the glasses. I unwrapped everything before bringing it back to zBrush to work on the details for the displacement. I added wrinkles to the head. The jacket, helmet and strap of the glasses got wrinkles and stitches which were placed by hand and the patch got a logo. I exported the displacement maps and checked if they’re working in Maya.

Then I brought my high poly meshes from zBrush to Substance Painter to start texturing. The skin colour is hand painted where I combined different skin tones (red, yellow, blue, pink). I combined different materials for the other assets, painted some layers, and saved them as a custom smart material so everything will match up. Finally, I hand-painted all the stitches and created different masks to break everything up. As soon as the whole process was done, I brought everything to Maya.

I groomed the collar of the jacket with xGen and tried to achieve a fake fur look. I also placed some thin red hairs on the turtleneck.

Next, I went to lighting and building the main scene. I did some look-dev on the textures with different nodes in the Hypershade, so it’ll look good in the light setup.

 Then I built the base for my turntable, unwrapped it, and textured it.I created four different light setups: one for the main shot, the turntable, the jacket detail shot and the head detail shot. Then I rendered everything with Vray and brought it to Nuke, where I did some CC (with Lightselects and Cryptomatte). I added some grain and merged my video overlay in there with keys to fade out.

Here's my final result for the one week project: 

The term projects were an excellent opportunity to work on my time management as we had to create a whole project within a week. In addition, I was able to try out new things like grooming, caustics, or working with particles.

I am really happy with my results and looking forward to start working on my demo reel. 

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