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Don Quijote - Stories on a bike

Don Quijote - Stories on a bike

Tomas Sackmann
by tomassackmann on 25 May 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

Here is my complete workflow for my Foundations term final project at Think Tank Training Centre Online. The project was inspired by my cousin Santi, who has autistic spectrum syndrome and the best connection with his father is through the bike.

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Details hidden in the depth of field

Complete 3D workflow from the 2D Concept Art

Concept selection: The importance of the story

One of the fundamental pillars of a project is the story behind it. After searching for a few weeks, I found this concept and I fell in love with it straight forward.

From the beginning, I wanted to find a concept with meaning for me.

The selection of this concept was inspired by my cousin Santi who has autistic spectrum syndrome and the best way how Juan, his father, found to connect better with him is the bike. The original 2D concept was made for a charity auction for kids with an autism spectrum disorder in 2016.

A fundamental part of my work was to deeply observe and represent in the best way all these details to tell the story efficiently.


The process took a total of 5 weeks, divided into 5 main categories.
Blockout, camera and rough lighting, Modelling, Sculpting, clothing and hair, UV and texturing, Lighting, look dev and post-processing

The software I used:

References: PureRef
Modelling: Autodesk Maya
Sculpting: Autodesk Mudbox
Grooming: Xgen
Clothing: Marvelous Designer
Texturing: Substance Painter and Foundry Mari
Lighting and rendering: Chaos Group Vray
Post-production: Adobe Photoshop


Before starting working in any of the 5 categories mentioned above, a really important part of my process was to collect as many references as I could for every object of your scene.

From the beginning, I tried to find references in the real world, things that I could touch, feel and explore in detail before and during the creation process.

Blockout, camera placement and basic CGI lighting

I started with the block out, keeping the shapes really simple just to place the objects on the right position and scale.

After this, a really challenging task was the camera placing. In this case, the concept artist did a great job on the perspective but as 3D artists, we will always have some discrepancies between the 2D drawing and the real perspective in the 3D software. This was a coming and going process until I found the right camera angle and focal length.

Even if the lighting was scheduled for the last week of the process, in this concept it was a key element. So from the first week, I started blocking out the sun position and the shadows but it was not until the last week that I figured it out properly.

Polished 3D modelling

During this part of the process, I focused on modelling the floor, walls and the character with a simple and even topology to be able to export and work on it in Autodesk Mudbox.

For the elements that didn't need sculpting, this was the moment to go more in detail with them. The bike and the helmet were the elements that took more time and attention.

Sculpting and clothing

I can say that the third week was the most intense. Not only I had to do all the sculpting, but also explore 2 completely new tools for me. Marvelous Designer and Xgen. 

In Mudbox I had to work in 2 different files. One for flooring and walls and one for the character.  

One of the highlights of the sculpting process for me was the sculpt of the stone tiles. This was a manual process, and for this, I used a brush trying to mimic the trim adaptive brush in ZBrush. See below the brush settings I used.

Scrape brush:

Stamp: Square
Random: Rotation and scale 100%, position 30%
Distance: 5
Build up: 100
Falloff: 5
Update plane: On
Direction: Camera
The brush strength and size will depend on the scale of your model

After having all the sculpt done I exported 2 different OBJ for each element. A high and a medium resolution mesh, planning to use displacement maps for the sculpted details but I ended using directly the high-resolution mesh in Maya as my computer could handle it properly and I knew that it was going to be only a still image. For production, you would need to export a low res and apply a displacement map.

In Maya I used render layers in the Channel Box to allow me to hide the high res meshes while navigating in the viewport. In Substance Painter I imported the medium res file and I used the high resolution to bake the normal maps.

During the sculpting phase, I used Marvelous Designer for the shirt and the shorts of the character.

Grooming CGI Pigeon Model

The pigeons were a big challenge. After getting the base mesh ready, my plan was to do the feathers in Xgen but I encountered some problems duplicating them so I ended up doing the main feathers one by one with textures and opacity maps and this speeded up the process a lot getting a similar result. For the body, I used Xgen Interactive Grooming. 

Texturing and shaders

During this project, I got for the first time familiar with Substance Painter. 

The problem with Substance is that beginners usually fall in the temptation to overuse smart materials.  In my case, some of the elements started with smart materials but each of them ended completely modified to match the reference as close as possible. For that I worked every pass separetly to have more control. A lot of hand-painted was involved in that.

To be able to work as many elements of my scene at the same time in Substance I exported several objects in one OBJ with the UDIM workflow. In this way, I could give one material for each UDIM.

As in Substance you cannot paint through UDIMs, I divided the characters head from the rest of the body and kept the seams under the clothing. In case I couldn't manage, it would be better to do the character textures in Mari.

At this stage, I focus a lot my attention in details as scratches, paint peeled or dust, that at the end is something that helped a lot on making the scene more believable. There is nothing in the real world that is 100% clean or polished and especially in an outdoor scene like these details like dust and dirt are essential.

To give the colours to the grooming of the pigeons I used Mari to paint one texture that I reused on each one of them.

Lighting and look dev

As mentioned before the lighting was one of the most important and challenging elements of the scene. It had to look realistic but at the same time, as the shadow of the character changed from the kid to the knight, it was necessary some cheating.

To achieve this after a lot of trial and error, the way I found to do it was to divide the scene into 2 render layers. One with the environment and one with the character and the bike.

For the shadows, I used geometry with VRayMtlWrapper that allows you to project shadows while keeping the object invisible.

The main light source I used was Vray Sun and hidden 3 point lighting for the character.

For the look dev process, almost all the materials I developed in Substance Painter and I only had to do some small adjustments in Vray. For the pigeons’ feathers and the leaves, I used Vray2sidedmtl and opacity maps for the translucency effect.

Final mood: Post-processing

All the post-processing was done in Photoshop. At this point, the render elements were key to adjust more in detail my final image. Changes like adjusting the final colour of the leaves were much easier using render elements like Multimatte to select them straight forward. For this project, I did several different Multi mattes allowing me to work on each element of the scene separately. Another really important render element was the Zdepth used to create the depth of field.

For colour correction, I used the Camera Raw filter constantly comparing with the 2D concept to match it as close as possible.

Final thoughts

This was a great project to solidify all the knowledge learned during the foundation term at Think Tank Training Center Online and to build the base that helped me to create my Intermediate-term final project. 


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