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Wandering Turtle by Lara Christin Schmitter

Wandering Turtle by Lara Christin Schmitter

Lara Christin Schmitter
by larachristins on 20 May 2022 for Rookie Awards 2022

I came across a concept art called “Tortle Cleric” by Gi Dela Cruz. It caught my attention because it reminded me of the old Galapagos tortoise “Master Oogway” from Dreamwork’s CGI and Animation movie “Kung Fu Panda” from 2008. This movie is one of the reasons I decided to dive into the 3D world. I had to do a tribute.

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My name is Lara Christin Schmitter, I am 20 years old and I recently graduated at PIXL VISN Media Arts Academy.
This was one of my first bigger projects I created for my student Demo Reel after 18 months of education.


I immediately started to look up references for a Galapagos tortoise as I had to know how these creatures looked like in real life. It was important for me to get to know how their anatomy works and how the materials, colors and structures of their different body parts looked like. 

Looking up references also helped me to decide whether I should go into a more naturalistic or stylized direction regarding sculpting and texturing. 

I concluded to do a mix out of both. Naturalistic colors and shapes, yet some stylized body parts like humanized hands or standing and walking upright. 

Because of that I also looked up references of human hands as well as references of the 3D versions of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, as they were similar to the look that I was planning to go for.


Once I had a rough concept in mind, I began to create the basic forms of the body with the help of ZSpheres in ZBrush. With this base I kept on sculping the shell, the feet, head, upper body, arms and hands which I kept in different sub tools to be more organized.
I took screenshots every 
time I took a break so I could see my progress and determine issues more easily.

When the base sculpt was done, I brought it into Maya to do the retopology and UVs.
As I finished that, I brought the retopoed and UVed model back into ZBrush to project the rougher details back onto the model. From then on, I did the smaller and more detailed sculpting like skin structure, scales, scars and scratches, the references I looked up before always on sight. Working with layers was quite helpful to tweak the different structures easier. 

As soon as I was happy with the sculpt, I projected and baked the smaller details onto the retopoed and UVed model as well.

After that I exported the details as displacement maps out of ZBrush as .exr files and applied them back on the model in Maya for the first time to see how they would look like rendered and if they needed some more touch ups.

I repeated this step three or four more times before I overall liked it.

clay - UV - wireframe


For the texturing I decided to use Mari as I had good experiences with it regarding high poly models and importing displacement maps as masks, as well as a smooth performance. I also like the node-based system.

I started with the base color and went ahead with the roughness, bump and subsurface scattering map. During this time, I learned a lot about the different rate values and used references to find out which would fit my model best. I also used the displacement maps as mask for details.

Once I was overall happy with the textures, I exported them as 4K .tiff and .exr maps and applied them onto the model with the displacements together in Maya to see what they would look like rendered. I did this as well three or four more times and did the perfecting touch ups with shading in Maya itself.

I did all the things above to the walking stick as well.

base color - roughness - sss - bump - displacement


When the final model was done, I thought about how I could present it.
I figured it would be a clever idea to place the turtle into a fitting environment to prove my Shading and LookDev skills in a proper way.

I started looking up in which natural habitats Galapagos tortoises usually live and collected a variety of references as well. These also helped me to shape the overall layout of the environment. 

I used nature assets like trees, grass, bushes, flowers, mushrooms and more from Quixel Megascans. I took the provided textures and adjusted them to my linking and fitting to the concept.
I did some of the textures on my own as well. 

For the lighting I decided on a sunrise/early morning like mood, with the light coming from the back through the trees.

I added a little motion animation, with the help of a quite simple yet helpful rig Isabel Wanner did for me, to the turtle to make it really come to life. 

background image - render layer - color correction - defocus - lightfog - particles - LUTs


I placed the different area parts into different render layers to later have better control over them in the compositing process.

I then rendered a test frame and put it into NukeX to do some first compositing such as blending the layers together, defocusing the background and foreground, color correcting, trying different LUT’s and more. Working with cryptomattes helped me a lot in order to integrate the turtle back into the environment properly. I was also able to tweak colors and other values on the tiniest parts.

I also rendered light fogs out of Maya as I figured it would be easier for them to interact with the scene and more fitting to the path of the camera than to create them in NukeX entirely. They helped bringing more depth into the scene and to make it really seem like the light falls through a tidy forest on a warm sunny morning.

The positioning and adjustment of the light fogs was quite a challenge I did not expect. I had to figure out the perfect balance between fog density and light intensity to not make them too strong or too flat, yet noticeable and rational. They also could not be too high above the trees as it would not make sense with the morning mood, yet not too low as they would shine too brightly into the camera.

Additionally, I created some particles with the help of the 3D scene I combined with my geo in NukeX. I assigned them to the light fog layer, so that the particles would only show up in those spaces.
I used the created 3D scene to assign the background image to the camera path, with the help of a card.

Finally, I took a quick look over everything together, then began rendering all the layers in Arnold and putting everything together in NukeX.

Thank you for reading all the way through! I hope you enjoyed it.

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