Making of ‘Tow Mater Tribute’

By Daniele Martinello

Self-taught 3D artist Daniele Martinello shares how he made his tribute to a beloved Pixar character using 3ds Max

The idea for this project came to me from thinking about how to combine organic modelling with designing a car. I want to use a reference that already existed so I chose to do Pixar’s Tow Mater. He is a dusty, rusty and fun character, perfect for my project.

I will share with you how I went from an initial rough sketch to a finished piece.

Let’s get started!

Preparation reference and start model

In 3ds Max I started with sculpting the front of the body and more specifically the headlights, I used the Symmetry modifier to keep an eye on the proportions. I tried to keep the number of polys as low as possible; I used TurboSmooth with the “show end result” toggled ON, this is useful when shifting points, with simple extrusions and inserting connections to shape my character.

Rough sketch to work out the proportions
Beginning to sculpt the front of the body
To obtain sharp and controlled edges efficiently it is necessary to keep the edges of polygons in an orderly manner; having continuous streams of faces simplifies selections to add or remove Edge Loops

Shaping and refine model

At this point, I stopped to see how the model looked; it seemed OK, however, there were some things that need to be finished: for example, there didn’t seem to be enough room in the interior of the cab and also the curvature of the eyes (windscreen) was unsatisfactory to me.

Take time to check over your model

To fix the whole thing I found using the Lattice modifier very useful; just define the areas of influence by selecting the points concerned to fix any issues.

Comparing before and after

Complete model and rig

Although, I had not planned on doing any animation I still found it useful to rig the character to have more freedom when using the camera at a later stage. I made a rig and cables connected to a hierarchically wheels overall control. I also created one morph for the smile including the teeth and tongue. Obviously this is a very simple rig.

Rigging the model

Unwrap and texturing

With the model finished it was now time to generate a UV map so I could add texture, to do this I used 3ds Max’s Unwrap modifier. After much hard work I had my map and used it as a template in Photoshop to paint the texture, color, specular and bump. I used a rusty metal texture for the base and painted over it to add dirt, wear and tear. It is amazing what a little paint can add to a character.

Texture maps


To have a good shader, as well as to apply the texture to each channel and to mix up the texture effect dust and dirt, I used the 3ds Max’s Composite map. To gain control of the dust and dirt maps, I found it very helpful to generate textures with the 3ds Max Render Surface map; with it I created dusty and occlusion maps. The dusty map for dust control, or where it can deposit, the occlusion certainly for dirt.

The different texture maps


I didn’t just want to create the model, but give him a home to live in so I went about creating a scene for him. Tow Mater lives in a kind of workshop which is shabby, chaotic and in disrepair. I modeled the fence, worn tires, cans, etc., each item has been textured with dust and dirt to give it that extra something. As a special touch I found an HDR image for the environment ready rendering to get shadows and reflection etc. I chose a desert environment with rocks, scrub, and a few trees in the background.

Setting the scene

Camera and light

The composition of the scene is very important because as good composition can give proper emphasis to the character. I used a simple sun for the lighting as well as a Mental Ray skylight, to which I connected the HDR image environment by controlling exposure of the virtual camera got a good balance.

For more control of the render I created several levels, the first with only the background and trees, the second with the workshop and the third with the model. I also used a blue light that illuminates the outline of the character, to give it more prominence.

As a finishing touch to the character I also includes a thin bending

Post Production

Post production in Photoshop is an important step. In the first layer of Photoshop I placed the background image to which I added a slight haze to give an idea of depth. In other layers I did a bit of color correction ? trying to get warmer tones. I used a blue light screen mode on top of all layers. The most important thing however, was the application of the “golden ratio”, placing the origin of the spiral in the center of the mouth and following the spiral out to the edge of the rectangle, this gave me the perfect size for the final image.

The golden ratio
The final image

Special thanks to my teachers Mauro Baldissera and Georgia for their suggestions and encouragement. Of course I also thank my wife Roberta and my sons Thomas and Chiara for their patience.

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