By Zlwen Zhang
One of my colleagues suggested for me to make a portrait. I then set my target on Liu Yifei, a young Chinese actress. She is now quite famous in China, which makes it very easy to find tonnes of reference images on the Internet. I eventually found one image of her from a TV show. The level of details of her costume totally amazed me, and so I decided to take that as my final reference.
Although the details are focused on her hair accessory and dress, you can’t call it a good character without having a good facial mesh. I started the head in Softimage XSI, using around ten photographs to check the resemblance from different angles. When I had about 80% resemblance, I used the final reference for adjusting mainly small areas that helped to form her facial expression (Fig.01-02).
I didn’t know much about ZBrush and didn’t have time to learn it for this project. So, I used my old technique and modelled all of the folds on her dress (Fig.03-04).
The hair accessories was not hard to make. I modelled two objects: a round shape and a sharp shape. After duplicating those a couple of times, I located their final position by rotoscoping (Fig.05).
The character is almost totally camera based; most of the elements are modelled and rigged for that camera, and that camera only. Therefore, objects like her hands were modelled in natural pose, then rigged afterwards to match the reference image. I ignored every spot where the camera could not see, to save time and trouble (Fig.06-07).
Many people like her dress. Personally, I also believe that the quality of the dress pushes the image to a certain level. The making of the dress texture was in fact quite simple. The difficult part was finding out how to make it. Due to the limited resolution of the reference images, I couldn’t identify most of the shapes of those details on her dress. After weeks of attempting, from different approaches, I still couldn’t get the correct resemblance, which is where the idea of “flower messenger” took place. Since her hair accessories are formed from dozens of flowers, why not make her dress the same? By doing that, her identity is clearer and more visible. Perhaps I should name her the “Goddess of Flowers”? So, I found several flower patterns, and used them as alpha map in Photoshop. Instead of creating a bump map, normal map or displacement map, I simply used layer effects in Photoshop to simulate the bump effect (Fig.08-09). The result was surprisingly good (Fig.10).
Making of the hair
Making hair is always, comparatively, very long and hard. To reduce the amount of work and rendering time, I created partial hair to cover those areas visible to the camera only. For example, I used two ellipses as a base to generate the hair, and then placed them at the two ends of her hair bun. The centre of her hair bun gets covered by the hair accessories, so I didn’t have to worry about it (Fig.11-12).
The lighting set was formed by several spot lights and two point lights; one key light for the character, one key light for dress, a couple of supporting rim lights, and two point lights for the reflection on her eyeballs (Fig.13). I used Mental Ray for rendering. The advantage of using Softimage XSI is that I could render multiple passes; character pass, background pass, ambient occlusion pass, Z-depth pass, and couple of mask passes that helped me later on when retouching (Fig.14).
The final compositing was done in Photoshop. I added bloom on her dress and face, hand-painted some more hair, corrected a few areas of her face and hands to cover the bad spots, and after a day of retouching, I achieved my final image, “Flower Messenger” (Fig.15-16).