Apr 21, 2015 ZBrush: Beauty & Anatomical Details

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ZBrush: Beauty & Anatomical Details

Meet Ukrainian ZBrush artist, Alexey Kashpersky. Alexey creates digital visuals of anatomical body parts for Thomas Direct Studios and Radius Digital Science. If you are creeped out by doctors visits, his work may not be your cup of tea. These renders provide a glimpse into the workings of our bones, organs, cells, and appendages. Alexey’s complete body of work depicts usage of many different styles. His styles range from baroque style fantasy artwork, to the aforementioned medical illustrations. Born in 1986 in his native Ukraine, Alexey currently lives in New Jersey.

As a career, he creates CG artwork for the Fantasy field and 3D models for television and 3D printing studios . It was in 2012 that he started working (and researching) in the scientific visualization field. This makes sense as a career move because Alexey has multifaceted interest in the physical health of the human body. In 2013, Alexey won an international competition with his Human Immunodeficiency Virus artwork, and became a member of the Association of Medical Illustrators (USA). Additionally, Alexey is the recipient of numerous major awards in the field of 3D graphics, including two CGSociety 3D Awards. He has been published in books such as: Exotique, Digital Art Masters, Secrets of Zbrush, etc.

Impressively, Alexey has completed numerous grand-scale projects. Check out ARTTalk.ru, ARQUTE.COM (2007-2015), and a printed collection of the best digital artworks ARQUTE Artbook to enjoy more of his work.

cadaver zbrush2 cadaver zbrush3
zbrush cadaver4 zbrush cadaver5

The following interview with Alexey Kashpersky was conducted by Autodesk in May 2010 and contains interesting anecdotes from the artist. Check out the original post here.

Autodesk:

Alexey – greetings from AREA to you at ARTTalk! It is not often that we have this special opportunity to chat with the founder of a CG community – we are happy to have this chance. Asides from maintaining an extensive site, what do you do?

Alexey:

Hello – glad to meet you 🙂 Indeed most of my time is spent on the ARTTalk site, I have a huge number of ideas that I would like to realize in the new version. We are currently working on it, through discussion with the programmers and designers, on the implementation of functional features and also, on the look of the future site. Asides from that, I am working on defending my upcoming thesis, which is focused on “Fine Art and Decorative and Applied Arts”. The preparation for this consumes a large portion of my time. I try to organize my life in a way, such that I have the opportunity to work on myself and on the realization of my own ideas. That is why I have yet to take up freelance or projects of that nature.

Autodesk:

How long have you been working in the CG industry?

Alexey:

I first discovered computer graphics when I was about 14 years of age, in Grade 9, and everything subsequently grew from doing animation. At first, I learned to do keyframe animation, creating 3D animated shorts — but at the same time, I practically didn’t know anything about the settings of renderers and materials, even though I was always good with colours and liked to play with multicoloured light sources. In Grade 10, I finished my first “grandiose” 3D film about a dolphin. The duration of it was about 10 minutes in total. Back then the whole experience was an event for me. I brought it to our <a href=”http://www.itstep.org/”>Computer Academy (ШАГ)</a> and everybody came to see it – the director and the entire faculty… they all had praises for me. I was on 7th heaven from happiness. Of course, when I look back on it now, I do so with a smile. Nowadays, the level of CG has jumped to the sky over the last 8 years and we need to keep up with the times.

Autodesk:

What are the primary applications in your toolbox?

Alexey:

First and foremost is 3ds Max – from 3ds Max 8 to 3ds max 2009, ZBrush, and Photoshop. These are the programs that I work in, practically every day.

Autodesk:

How long have you been using Max?

Alexey:

My first version was 3D Studio Max R3 – this was my birthday gift many years ago..and my introduction to the 3D world began from it.

Autodesk:

Let’s talk about your artwork – a recurring theme seems to be fantasy, women and extra-terrestrial environments. Which artist is the primary influence on your personal style?

Alexey:

Boris Vallejo was and is my favourite artist and painter. With his collection of work “under my pillow”, I was inspired to enroll in an art class. Recently, I received positive feedback from the Master (Boris) and his wife about my work. This was the best stimulus and motivation for me. Now I’m going to work on myself doubly hard and twice more actively :-))

Autodesk:

At first glance, the image ‘Dream’ is beautiful and balanced. Style is very painterly and it is kind of difficult to identify what aspects are 3D and what are painted. Colours and image composition are clearly evident, but in actuality, there is much more behind the image. Let’s start with the concept – what is this image about? Was this a personal project?

Alexey:

Yes, this is as they say, creative work “for the soul”. I worked full-heartedly on it, when I was in the right mood (you cannot force it). There were no deadlines or other limitations. And what is it about? Here, the name of it says it all. Dream — not from the word ‘idea’ or ‘hope’, but from the word ‘sleep’.

Autodesk:

After posing and preparing the meshes for both girls, the work of creating realistic textures for the skin awaits… Can you share with us a bit about the textures and shader(s) used?

Alexey:

I was going to render the skin in mental ray because I needed 3 different layers of skin, not counting the surface and reflection maps… so I began with drawing the uppermost layer. I’m not going to go too much into the technical details of this process, there is sufficient documentation of it online. I will pause on a few particular points about it though. The colour of the body on all of its various parts are not exactly the same. Legs are always more blue or greener, depending on the light. The closer you are to the toes, the redder it gets. In general, where the skin is thinner, the colour of it becomes more red (like your fingers, knees, and elbows). In areas of fat accumulation, skin will always appear more yellow. For example – on a stomach or on the buttocks. Female breasts almost always consists of special fatty tissue, with interveinal veins and capillaries. The skin on it is thinner, and that is why this is the lightest part of the body. If you can capture all of these nuances, they will give your work that undetectable charm… that liveness that is common for creatures of flesh and blood. If you were to observe the work by Boris Vallejo, you will for sure notice these nuances in his work. Although it is possible that you wouldn’t have paid attention to this before.

This is the upper sphere “shaderball” of the model’s skin. I tried to calculate them with mental ray and 3ds max and this was the result.

At this point, I moved on to drawing the second layer. This is the subdermal one, which has lots of veins, blood and meat, but don’t let that scare you. It’s going to be very useful.

The result is scary, but if you combine everything together, it will look quite good using the basic render settings.

Furthermore, using the method of trial and error over a span of several days, I was on a search to recreate the “ideal skin” ;-)) There are plenty of different versions, i’ll show you only a small selection of them.

Even up till the very end, I didn’t make the decision on which was going to be the final version.

Here are the settings for the skin shader mr sss – fast skin material. They were slightly different for each of the models, but that’s not so relevant…

I should warn you against the blind copying of shader parameters. This is not going to bring you any legible results. I’m saying this based on my own experience. No matter how many times I’ve tried to copy the settings of one artist or another, in the end, it all turned out as nonsense. Until I began to understand which slider is responsible for what, it was hard to make sense of it.
I didn’t even know what things were related to…maybe they were related to the size of the object with respect to the world scene, or maybe something else…I had no idea. In any case, this shader scenario is just to help you understand the general sense of working with the sss material. Also, I would like to make a point about the insert of the texture map – because I don’t have a copy saved of the file with exact settings, I recreated it from memory. The number values in it might not be exactly accurate, but I just want to convey the general sense of it.

Autodesk:

The hair is quite stylized..what did you use to create it with – 3D or post work?

Alexey:

For creation of the hair, I used a plugin called Ornatrix. It’s a very flexible plugin and I’m very happy about it. Everything would be really good if it wasn’t for renderers… because this plugin is not a friend of VRay or mental ray… so I had to recalculate it in scanline render and then connect it through the alpha channel.

And here we have a paint-over in Photoshop.

The same process repeated with the hair of the lower girl.

Autodesk:

What about the fluidy shape – did you use RealFlow to generate the water splashes?

Alexey:

I didn’t use any plugins to create the water. Everything was modeled by hand using polygons and spheres. This way, I could recreate that wave form more precisely, exactly the way I imagined it. With plugins, I don’t think that would have worked.

Here is a very pretty tree structure I got, as a result of all my work. The main part of work is done, now we needed to turn this all into water. For this, I exported everything into the .obj file format and loaded it into ZBrush. Then I used the Unified Skin modificator with maximum detail stylizations and minimal smoothing. Afterwards, I went over the entire surface with the smoothing brush. I could not use smoothing at the beginning, because I would have lost a lot of small details. But if you work by hand, it’s 10x longer — however — all the useful details are preserved. So you get almost full control over the process and at the end, I had generated this wave which you see below.

Autodesk:

Can you tell us about the lighting setup you used?

Alexey:

For lighting setup, I spent quite a bit of time. Initially, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to make the FArea light sources I needed to work. Those FArea lights give very pleasant shadows and I tried to do it with the regular sun daylight system, but nothing good came of it.

It wasn’t until I figured out what the trick was, when I raised the intensity of the FArea light sources much higher, that I received the desired result. In addition, I installed multicoloured light reflectors for beautiful artsy scenic reflections.

So now all the light reflections and spotlights are in their own positions. Altogether in the scene, there are 3 main multicoloured FArea lights, one additional Omni helper and 4 big multicoloured plane reflectors.

Autodesk:

Which rendering package(s) did you use for ‘Dream’?

Alexey:

For the calculation of the end of the final scene, I used mental ray for the body and water (first layer) and VRay for calculations of water (second layer). The thing is that in mental ray, I couldn’t manage to get the desired look of water, so I used VRay for this. Later, I just combined them both in Photoshop.

After I achieved the desired aesthetic by combining both versions, I started to draw the background. It is all drawn by hand – at the top, I layered my composition via the alpha channel and after I completed the background, I finished it by integrating the hair component which was talked about earlier.

Autodesk:

Beyond a doubt that there is even more effort beyond what we covered — for example, studying water splash structures, specific human skin tones, colour studies… but what was the most painful part in making ‘Dream’ — and more importantly, what kept you motivated to complete it despite all the frustrations?

Alexey:

Without a doubt, it was the process of making the wave. It was a special process of work – one thing after another and another. I remembered this as the most boring work I’ve ever done on the computer in my entire life. I had to place 3000 spheres, each on its unique position in three dimension. But on top of that, I didn’t want to copy, so as to not destroy the naturalness of the movement. I didn’t want repetitions. I was grinding away at this process several times a day, several hours at a time, over a duration of a week. Beyond 2 continuous hours of placing the spheres, I was not able to take any more ;-)))) I had to get destructive with something; or change the colour of the spheres, colour of the models, colour of the work windows, just not to get crazy. By the end of the week, I almost decided to change my mind and do the water by hand, but I remained on task and finished it. Motivation? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a habit of finishing what you began to the end. It outweighed the desire to just drop everything :-)))

Autodesk:

How long did you spend on making ‘Dream’?

Alexey:

It has been worked on for quite a long time — more exactly, for 10 months. There was a break I had after succesfully completing my thesis and there were other issues that came up as well, but nevertheless, it always lived in my head – it was ceaselessly forming.

Autodesk:

Given the aesthetic quality of your work, did you have formal arts training?

Alexey:

In Grade 7 when I was 13 years old, I enrolled in a Technical Lyceum (a sort of elite high-school), in the group with arts specialization and that was where I took the pencil for the first time in my hand, with a serious thought-out determination to learn art techniques and the ABC’s of drawing, colour and composition. When I finished the school, I had acquired distinct knowledge in certain specialized subjects, and decided to submit my documents to the Yuri Kondratyuk Poltava National Technical University for the specialization in “Fine Art and Decorative and Applied Arts”. I passed the exams (drawing, painting and composition) after one attempt and was admitted into the program under full government scholarship. I would like to note that the knowledge acquired on these specialized subjects during my studies were very useful. I’m sure that there would not be professional CG work without the basic knowledge of such subjects like drawing, anatomy, painting and composition. I fully share the idea that while every artist could paint a door, not every painter can draw the painting. The same is here — to become a CG artist, it’s not enough to have knowledge of the programs, it’s not enough to have technical skills, you also have to be an artist. You have to learn to feel the plasticity and melody of every line of every curve because there does not exist such a button on the computer “make beautiful”. This would be described as amateurism, where a person really likes to do it but doesn’t know how to do it correctly. But if you acquire fundamental skills in tactile materials, plus have a willingness to get to a new level of artistry — then you will have to spend some time with text books and this will not be done in one day. In general, ideally everything has to go in parallel because the principle of life drawing and digital drawing are very similar between each other. The same is with the principle of creating digital sculpture or sculpture in analogue material.

Autodesk:

Atlantida is another stunning work – what’s the story behind the girl and sea creature…and her green leaves ;-)?

Alexey:

There is a Biblical story where Noah releases a dove from the Ark, and it comes back to him with an olive branch — I started from this 🙂 Everyone knows that there was supposedly once a civilization of Atlanteans who superseded in the development of their contemporaries but in one tragic moment, they just disappeared. Some people think that these are fairytales before bedtime, but I wanted to show with my image that we might still possibly have to discover each other. In the image, there is a depiction of a princess of Atlantis, who carries the news to her people that they’re not alone in this planet.

Autodesk:

The sea creature design is really cool – were you influenced by any comics or films when designing it?

Alexey:

The look of that animal, if you are talking about the anatomy and form, came to my head and I actualized it. I really like fantasy. However, I don’t have time to read, which is why I listen to audio books. During the creation of this work, I was very inspired by the books of ‘Hyperion’ by Dan Simmons, and also “The Old Man and the Sea” by Hemingway. Within these books, the atmosphere of the sea and also their relationship between nature, sea, inhabitants, and man are described very beautifully — all of which are facets I wanted to portray in my work.

Autodesk:

The caustics effect adds an aspect of realism in this underwater scene – can you share with us how you generated this effect?

Alexey:

There was nothing complex in the creation of this effect. In Photoshop, I drew the opacity map, overlaid it on a plane, and created light from the top. This was the resulting effect.

Autodesk:

There are lots of great and varying details on the skin of the sea creature – what kind of shader setup did you use?

Alexey:

I only used a displacement map to create the skin texture. Everything that’s related to the settings of the render is the same as in the work called “Dream”. I didn’t come up with something new for it.

Autodesk:

For your environment images – do you use any plugins/external apps to generate the greenery?

Alexey:

For creation of the climbing plants, I used a plugin for 3ds Max called “Ivy Generator”. It’s a great tool, it helps to reach impressive results.

Autodesk:

I see that you have the image titled ‘Furya’, is this your interpretation of the homeworld of the Furyans, from the sci-fi “Riddick” series? 😉 I also noticed that you have also chosen Riddick as your public avatar and handle…

Alexey:

Yes, this was my first serious work in 3D, and indeed it is a depiction of the world of Furya, the way how I had imagined it in my mind. “Pitch Black” is one of my favourite films. It inspired me to create a series of works in watercolour, depicting the cosmic space. I was signing the series off, under the name “Riddick”. Later, I placed a few of these watercolours on Render.ru and they were received very positively. Since then, the nickname became very strongly attached to me, and simultaneously, this was also my introduction into the realm of professional CG.

Autodesk:

Asides from CG and fantasy girls, what are your other hobbies

Alexey:

I have lots of hobbies, but I have less and less time for them. The main one is sport. I think that sport and exercise should be a compulsory component of the work today for a person who sits behind the computer a lot. The prospect of turning into a skinny geek who eats burgers, and smokes and drinks coffee, and then spends time in the hospital where he’s not needed by anybody but himself — with ulcers and hypertension…it does not make me happy, to say the least. I plan to do a lot in life and for this, I need to be healthy. I also play the guitar. Currently, I’m working on Vivaldi’s piece called “Storm”. I have an aqua-terrarium at home and in general, I think that you cannot limit yourself to just one thing and look at things in life only through your own professional prism 😉 and even then, it’s not guaranteed that it has the correct reflection. A normal person feels the fullness of life only when he is multitudinously curious. Also, I don’t like to work and travel…so perhaps one day, I will decide to go diving on coral reefs or explore thousand year-old caves at the ends of the Earth 🙂 But most of all, I value time that I spend amongst my tight circle of friends.

Autodesk:

What type of music do you listen to when you are working on the computer?

Alexey:

Normally, I can very calmly relate to music and generally accept almost anything if it is nicely done. ‘Popsa’ (this genre is reserved for the trashiest of Russian pop music) or lack of talent in its business simply irritates my ears. Actually, this is also applicable even to other art forms as well. In fine art for example, there is “smearing”* too 🙂 I like classic and neoclassic music in combination with hard rock the most, especially when they are performed by masters such as Yngwei Malmsteen. *very uglily painted

Autodesk:

What is your setup?

Alexey:

I have.. 2 monitors; 19″ & 27″ Wacom A5 tablet Videocard: GeForce GTX295 Processor: Core i7-920 Memory: DDR3 (1866MHz) OCZ Platinum Edition 4х3 
Motherboard: Rampage II Extreme And here is a picture of my workspace 🙂

Autodesk:

The biggest moment of realization that you will be doing CG for the rest of your life is __________ ?

Alexey:

Maybe it’s for the best that I cannot say “I gonna do CG forever!!”. The same way in which I love to do CG, I also love moulding clay and drawing on paper. I simply cannot divide or separate these activities and choose one over the other. That’s why I would say that it was at the age of 15, when I decided that I was going to ‘do creativity’.

Autodesk:

If you had one wish for a feature to be in 3ds Max, what would it be?

Alexey:

I do have one wish. This would for sure be the recommendation to build into 3ds Max a module for 3D sculpting and also the tool for convenient retopology. I constantly have to do a lot of extra work for transferring models from 3ds Max into other editors and back.

Autodesk:

Well – thanks for your time, Alexey 🙂 We look forward to seeing more of you in the future!

Alexey:

And thank you to you too, I was glad to talk to you.

Quoted from interview for Autodesk.

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