Narrative tutorial: making of “Anubis”

By Bruce Conners


Bruce Conners creates his “Anubis” concept from a piece of flash fiction, using ZBrush, KeyShot, and Photoshop…

What are the important elements from the text to focus on?
The element in the writing that jump out at me most is Anubis basically sucking the life (or death) out of this man and replacing it with himself (embalming fluid). Since I’m just creating a bust of this writing and not a full illustration, I have to find a way to represent the idea that the writing is conveying into my concept. So I’m going to need to find a way to merge the two characters into one bust and show the embalming connection between them.

What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?
As stated in my aforementioned answer, to find some way to portray the idea of the writing in a character bust. I would also like to show the embalming process in progress, so not to have a dried up old mummy but more so a guy with one foot in the sarcophagus.

Step 1: Reference

Well maybe not reference so much as mood board. I only have references up on my monitor if I’m modeling something specific i.e. from a painting or real world objects. Mostly I compile images of the mood I want or just some inspiration which I’ll look at then put away. Otherwise I find myself relying on those images too much, instead of exploring different ideas and letting my imagination work.

Mummy mood board

Step 2: Sculpting the man

Starting with a simple dynameshed base mesh I begin to sculpt the man. In the early stages of the sculpt the Masking, Move, Dam_standard, and Clay_buildup brushes are the go-to brushes. Actually for the majority of the sculpt that’s all I use. The Move brush to get silhouette, Dam_standard to “draw” in where I want my forms to go, and Clay_buildup to make those forms. Then rinse and repeat.

Mummy man sculpt steps

Step 3: Sculpting Anubis

Using the dog ztool that comes with ZBrush as a jumping off point for Anubis, I use the same brushes/process on the mummy. The teeth are created by using the insert sphere brush along with Move and Snake Hook. Turning on the “AccuCurve” feature on the Move brush (or Snake Hook) helps pull the mesh to a point for making sharp teeth. The collar is an inserted cube, dynameshed and used with the Move brush. To create the bands I masked off where I wanted them and did an “extract.”

Anubis hood steps

Step 4: Polypainting

Next I polypaint the model. Starting with a skin tone fill I next start to the color zones of the face: red around the eyes, mouth, nose, ears. Yellowing areas where the bone is closer to the surface. Add some blue around eyes and on the veins. It looks cartoonish at first but adding back skin tone pushes it back and creates a believable flesh look. And like with the sculpting it’s a rinse and repeat process.

The brush I use for painting is just the standard brush in color spray mode, sometimes using the stock alphas. For Anubis a slightly different approach, same brush though. Using mask cavity, with smoothness, and peaks and valleys at different subdivision levels, I am able to get some interesting patterns to paint. And as one last sculptural detail I create an alpha out of hieroglyphics and apply it to the collar.

Wrapping up the model

Step 5: Set up in KeyShot

Before using the KeyShot bridge in ZBrush, I do a couple things. First I create three plane ztools that will be used as lights; second I switch my material to Skinshade4. Then using the ZBrush/KeyShot bridge I send the model into KeyShot. I then choose a HDRI and set it to about half brightness. The three plane ztools then get the area light diffuse material applied to them at different intensities (in watts). The Anubis, mummy, and gums all receive the Transparent (advanced) material, while the teeth and eyes receive the advanced material. The collar is a combination of a gold and plastic material. The render settings are nothing fancy, just a transparent PSD with a clown pass turned on.

Keyshot settings

Step 6: KeyShot Passes

After I get my beauty and clown pass, I grab a couple more. I apply a white diffuse material to the entire model for an AO type pass. Next I apply an advanced material in black with a smooth specular; sometimes I’ll adjust the lighting here to make sure the spec is hitting the areas I want. Then I bring all these passes into Photoshop.

KeyShot passes

Step 7: Wrapping up in Photoshop

In Photoshop I combine the passes, the AO (ish) pass is set to multiply and the Specular is set to Lighten blend modes. I put a layer mask on the Spec pass and paint in the areas I want to be wetter around the mouth and eye. Then I add some textures. On the mummy and the fleshy parts of Anubis, I use a photo of the inside of someone’s mouth, set to soft light with a layer mask and paint where I want it to show. The same goes for the rest of Anubis but using a blue grunge texture. Using a simple round brush I paint some vein looking connections between the two heads. I use a free Google plugin for Photoshop called “The Nik Collection” for post effects. It’s an awesome free tool that has all sorts of filters and camera effects. Once I find some effects I like, I apply them to the image and add a slight vignette, then call it done!

Photoshop steps

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