Creature Creation

The Creature Creation project started as a simple zbrush school assignment. The project parameters were to create a creature, put it in a stationary environment, create a camera movement that displayed the creature and add some type of dynamics to the scene. My idea was to model a fire breathing dragon that was cornered by 19th century soldiers. So that is what I made.

I later re-shaded the model and rendered a turntable in keyshot for a better representation of the model


It all started with the first idea. And to visualize an idea you have to make moodboards and styleframes. So that is what I did. I knew the parameters of the project well before it started so I brainstormed a whole lot beforehand to be able to kick off the project as efficiently as possible. I made 4 moodboards. All about the creature itself.


After knowing what I wanted to make. I started in Zbrush. The idea was to create a dragon inspired by a tiger. Especially Scar from the Lion King. Along the way I got inspired by all kinds concept art. The modeling process of the creature didn’t take more than a day. But the extra parts, like the wings and spikes made it take a little longer. After that it took some time to uv the model and all its subtools, but when that was done I decided to view it in Houdini, to check the displacement. And took the time to try different ways to get the detail I modeled in Zbrush because I had the feeling not all detail from Zbrush was visible in Houdini using just a displacement map. I tried to use more udims, 8k maps instead of 4k and even tried to view the highest subdivision model in Houdini.

After the creature itself I started concepting the soldiers and the pyro. Specifically the lighting the pyro produces. And after that I started with the pyro in Houdini, which took a lot less time than I thought. Within a day I got pretty much the pyro I wanted. But when I tested it in a test scene I did not get the look I wanted. But it wasn’t the pyro that I wasn’t satisfied with. It was the environment I disliked. The concept came from the Mines of Moria from Lord of the Rings. Getting the pillars in the scene didn’t give me the desired effect I wanted. So I began concepting for the environment again. And landed on Pride Rock from the Lion King. But before I modeled the new environment I modeled the soldiers. The Idea for the soldiers was to model one and just repose it in different positions. which took a lot longer than I thought.


The first conclusion I’d like to point out is that I learned a lot from this project. Some things went wrong but I’m not that disappointed with the results. My problem is the scale of my ideas and the planning of a project of such scale. If I had kept the idea a little smaller and planned better. The results could have been much better. The problem with not planning ahead is that I couldn’t oversee how much time I could spend on a particular element of the project. I eventually made a planning to see where all the time went and to see where I made mistakes and could improve in the future.


You can see that the problem of not planning properly caused some problems, especially at the end of the project. In the last two weeks I decided to change my environment design. Looking back at the project, that is one of the biggest mistakes I made.

The other big mistake I made was not making a previs/animatic or a camera movement for that matter. I now know this is one of the most important things to to before you start building everything. It is also one of the things I am most unsatisfied with in the video. The camera movement looked very cool in my head but on screen it did not have the desirable effect I had in mind.

The last mistake I made was not testing as much as I should have. One of the first things most people notice is the low texture quality on the environment textures. That is something I did try to fix at the end but couldn’t figger out before the deadline. And not testing also made made it much harder to meet the deadline. The render times per frame were so long I almost didn’t make it.

But there were a lot of things that went very well. I got a lot better at modeling in Zbrush and discovered I really like Zbrush and wanted to do more with it.

I rendered with just Houdini and didn’t use compositing to setup the final render. Not because I couldn’t but because I wanted to get to know Houdini better. And that worked. I got a lot better in Houdini.

My Mari skills also got a boost during this project. I used a plugin to get a curvature map of my model and combined that with my displacement maps and a lot of procedural maps to create the desired effect.

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