Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Black Phoenix" Project

Questions & Answers 

Hey guys, thanks so much everybody who responded to the website update and a “10 days of Mech” Session. I’ll be slowly updating the other sections of, so keep an eye for upcoming updates!
 Now regarding the “Black Phoenix Project” I received several emails asking about similar things, so I just decided to answer all of them here :)

What is “Black Phoenix Project”?
It’s a working title/name of a series of designs that showcases the product line of a fictional military corporation called “Black Phoenix”. As I mentioned on my website it’s a collaboration with Maria Skotnikova, who ‘s responsible for creating high-res hdr-environment maps I use for lighting. The plan is to make eventually an art-book that would be an album filled with such designs.
Right now it’s still early and I only work on it when have free time.

What is “10 days of Mech” ?
A while ago I saw Simon Lee’s 20 days of Monsters –a sculpting session where Simon created  each day a new sculpture for 20 days and then after seeing his presentation with my own eyes I was really impressed and inspired by his speed and sense for character design. I felt like that was an incredible exercise, something like a boot-camp for an artist J, so since then I always wanted to try something similar but with hard-surface designs done in 3d. So I did a 10 days of Mech session as a proof-of-concept for the workflow I want to use for creating the whole art-book. I also prepared myself for this session with some R&D where practiced a work-flow that is different from a traditional production modeling work-flow.

What software did you use?
Softimage XSI, ZBrush, Keyshot, Photoshop

So what went in-to preparation R&D stage?
Before the “10 days of Mechs” session  I did about 3 weeks total of preproduction where I invested my time in collecting/studying references, setting clear expectations for the style, developing and testing the non-subd modeling workflow in xsi,  building the library of 3d kitbash-details(surface details, guts, etc), drawing a library of graphics/decals and assembling a library of physically-based Keyshot materials. The goal was to get everything I needed for the design exercise ahead of time, so I could be more creative and productive and less tech-oriented during the 10 days session.

How much the style of modeling for these concepts was different from the traditional subdivision modeling for production?
The style of modeling was quite different from production modeling. After being a production modeler for almost 10 years I had to re-educate myself in certain aspects of modeling in order to get more illustration-oriented. The goal was not to practice in modeling but to practice in concept art utilizing 3d as just a tool for outputting images rather than creating a nice looking wireframe that fits production needs. The goal was to use 3d the way that would speed up the process of creating concept art rather than slowing it down. So I tried to minimize using such techniques as subdivision modeling since the clean-up of subd topology and edge-loop refinement takes time. Then I also used all kinds of  “dirty modeling” tricks like Booleans, cutting shapes with knife-tool and stuff like this to quickly get the shape I wanted without getting stuck in tweaking individual vertices. I also used ZBrush here and there but I overall tried to keep my mesh light for a faster render so I used mostly poly-modeling by hand.

Did you use a 3d kit-bash library for repetitive pieces and details?
Yes, specifically for this project I have built my own library of surface details and gut parts, that are generic enough so I could re-use them in different designs. Just like with real-world manufacturing, especially with military vehicles  you can see the same type of surface detailing like hooks, tech attachment types and all kinds of hardware on different tanks, helicopters, etc. So I did the same with the  “Black Phoenix Corporation” where the same style and scale and level of detail was applied to the details so I could quickly combine them in-to new more complex designs.

How much hand poly-modeling vs zbrush?
I’d say 75% was hand-modeling. I used ZBrush mostly for the base shape or to create a form that was trickier to build with polys but was very easy with DynaMesh. I’m looking forward to try making some designs using 100% dynamesh and IMM brushes of ZBrush that are available in newer version of ZBrush

Can we see a wireframe screenshot?
Sure! Here is a screenshot of a scoutdog mesh:

How many  working hours a day did you do during the 10 days of mech?
Those were some long-hours days. Some of them were as long as 16 hours of work with only two quick meal breaks. But since the goal was to stay within a one calendar day per design I would follow a long working day with a not so long day( like 12 hours of work) to catch up on sleep and gym :)

What did you use to render?
I used Luxion’s Keyshot.

What about UVs?
Keyshot provides an automatic UV’s solution for the box/cylindric/spherical shapes which worked most of the time. When I had artifacts I would just fix them in final render in Photoshop .

How much Photoshop work was done on top of the Keyshot render when finishing the design?
The finishing in Photoshop included mostly just applying decals and graphics and a subtle dirt/scratch pass. Also, as I mentioned above I used photoshop for quick post-fixes. But overall I didn’t do that much as there wasn’t much time left for post-work.  Ideally I would like to spend another 3-4 hours just to beat the textures up a little more and also refine the integration of the model with environment. That part definitely could use more work!

Did you use a photo-bash approach to add photographic details of real-world tech on top of the rendered models in the post?
No I didn’t. I usually use this approach when it’s a purely 2d piece or if a 3d base is very simple and doesn’t have much detail. But in case of this exercise the need to use photo-details was eliminated by the fact that I had a full-res model done in 3d and it didn’t require additional details.

When is the book coming out?
I don’t know. Maria continues to find and shoot interesting locations with cool environment and lighting that we can use later for the book. But on my side things move much slower at the moment because I’m very busy with the film work right now. I hope to get more free time in about 4-5 months from here and start adding 2-3 days in my weekly schedule back to “Black Phoenix”.