Creating hyperreal illustrations

By Léandre Hounnaké


Léandre Hounnaké shares how he makes awesome hyperreal illustrations…

Before starting on any modeling, it’s a good idea to gather all your photo and video references. For this project, I searched online for photos and videos of water droplets and splashes, captured with high-speed flash photography. When I saw some reference photographs of water drops, I had a specific workflow in mind to get the best results in 3D using 3ds Max, Sculptris, Mudbox, and KeyShot. I’ll show you the techniques I used to create my liquid sculpture image series.

Step 01: Modeling

I create the base mesh for the splash in 3ds Max. I start with polygonal modeling, and stay on low-poly as long as possible to get the basic shape of the splash. This first step is quick and enjoyable. It’s good to work with simple box modeling at this stage, as it is easy to manipulate and will provide more freedom to make changes.

When I’m satisfied with the general form of the splash, I jump to the unwrapping step in 3ds Max. Many artists don’t like to spend much time on UVs, as it usually seems like a boring job; nevertheless, spending a little more time on unwrapping may save a lot of time later on in the texturing stage.

Preparing the model in 3ds Max

Step 02: Details

I export the splash as an .obj and import it into Mudbox. I use Mudbox to add some details to the splash. For other drops, I use Sculptris, which is very useful for sculpting drops, turbulence and splashes. In case you don’t know what Sculptris is, it’s a very great and free 3D sculpting software that works like Mudbox and ZBrush. Sculptris is highly intuitive to use and allows a newcomer to easily create complex organic models without much training.

Adding detail with Mudbox (left) or Sculptris (right)

Step 03: Color

Next I use Mudbox to create the texture of the splash. I create multiple layers to work with Diffuse layer colors. First I create a layer containing the orange color, and then in the layer just above, I paint the grey color. Using the Paint Erase tool, I erase some areas to reveal the orange background. The trick is to create multiple color layers on top, with different blending modes to simulate convincing mixing. This is the most time-consuming because it requires time and patience to achieve an interesting result. When you are finished, merge the Diffuse layers and save the texture as a .JPG. It’s time to export our model.

It’s time to give the splash some colors

Step 04: Composition

After importing our model in 3ds Max, you have to chose Default Scanline Renderer in the render set up. Then put some basic Standard material on the model, and assign your bitmap in the Diffuse slot, as shown in the screenshot. I create a Standard camera focusing on the splash area. Now it’s time to use the free plug-in in 3ds Max that exports our scene straight to KeyShot as a .BIP file.

Scene set up in 3ds Max

Step 05: Texture

KeyShot offers a large photorealistic material library. The bitmap we assigned to the splash in 3ds Max is automatically assigned in the Color slot. To create a more convincing ink surface, I put the “rusted_normal.jpg” default bitmap in the Bump slot. With this scene I mainly use Translucent material types.

It’s time to map and texture our model to bring the splash to life

Step 06: Lighting

One of the most important stages of this work is setting the lighting. The lighting plays a great role throughout the whole piece. In my opinion, the correct usage of light is the key to creating successful work. The HDR Light Studio plug-in allows me to create light sources in a few clicks, all in real time, directly onto my KeyShot model. When I’m satisfied with the scene, I just need to click Render, change the samples to around 16, and set the Anti-aliasing to 2.

Lighting is the key

Step 07: Post-production

After the render is done, I begin the post-production in Photoshop, which is pretty simple. Adjusting the colors and contrast of the scene is the main work at this stage. The background is applied with a subtle depth-of-field blur to create more perspective and realism.

Photoshop post-production



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