3D Tutorials & Courses Online

Making of Say Cheese

In this image, artist make the dirty flooded water bathroom and fish tries to survive there in between of leaked pipes.


I was so inspired with water tanks in childhood. Whenever I’ve visit fisheries and aquariums, I always found some attraction towards one tank which was dirtier and poor a fish try to accommodate in that. I’ve always spend time to observe water movement and its whirl effects. So I approached to make cool dirty flooded water bathroom, and fish tries to survive there in between of leaked water pipes.  Even leaked pipe blows air into water which makes sweetie bubbles. The idea clicked me once and started scribbles for making ahead.

I had very much decided to make it like ‘Portrait photograph’ kind of wall mounting image, so I was sure at all concept visualization and idea making from first.
I had used Maya, zbrush, mental ray, photoshop and headus uv-layout.

Setting Foundation first: before any further move, I always prefer to make little production scratch chart for my guideline, which can help me to focus in between my personal work and office work’s deadly deadline as shown in fig. below

Usually I’m spending 2-3 hrs for my personal work daily. That’s why I assumed to spend almost 2 weeks for ‘Say cheese!!’ artwork, then I started to make rough list of production stages which I’ve thought to make out whole artwork in estimated time and with most perfection. After rough calculation, I’d started to make concept drawings and thought to add lots of stuffs into it.

I was about to add more than two fishes at a time but, it was giving scene much complexity and unbalance ness. I wanted to spend little more time for concept design to make it clean clear idea. Concept gives me very bright appealing for composition and POV. Every photographer’s most challenge is to show intentional (Focused) content which they have clicked for. So, I was trying to be precise for a fine layout setup where I can apply rules of actual photography senses. After rough conceptualization, I’d started to make out rough asset list of props, BG elements and rigged characters against ‘production scratch guideline’.


After conceptualization, I really needed real references for water effects, bubbles, gravels, dirt tiles and especially for fish. I gathered all possible references from net and even reused from my references library. I founded very good references for fish eyes, and it attracted me lot to experiment onto. Well most key role for any character artwork is to learn its whole anatomy first. I checked out fish anatomy for better to make modeling and texturing.

Modeling incorporated with dynamics

Well be at modeling stage, tricks and shortcuts are major weapon to overcome deadline and timeline. I really love modeling stage:)! 

All models were done in Maya and minor tweaks done in Z-Brush. According to modeling list, I took props first where BG setup needs priority. I made very simple and low poly tiles and floor in short time. Then As per reference I made pipes absolutely like that but, kept it limited according to Logical and Composition sense. After completion of whole basic setup; I’d decided to make gravels.

Gravels were little tricky one! So, I thought to spread it through dynamics. I made little emitter “particle setup” for such things which can help me in further. With collision of each object (pipes, floor and tiles); gravels placed perfect on floor and some on pipe even. To give little natural effect I have used Random Transformation (rotate, scale) script for gravels. Result in few minutes!!
Amazing water level needed right attention. So, I made pond fluid and wake emitter for waves. Once I satisfied with shape of water level I’d converted fluid into polygon for MR shading purpose

Bubbles were made same with dynamics process, I’d put emitter into leaked pipe connection. I’d used instancer of particle dynamics to make out instanced geometries. With help of mathematical expressions into instancer properties, bubbles were little screwed, pressed, randomly rotate and scaled properly (Fig.05). Dynamics helps most with such situation. As for droplets on tiles and bubbles for water level, I used paint effect brush with pre-defined visor brush called ‘water droplets’ (dynamics bubbles, paint-fx). Then it was a time to make Lead star of the scene a common “Tropical Fish”. I had used few references to understand its anatomy and skin structure as I mentioned. I’d also loaded reference image into front camera for better proportion guideline. First Made very basic block out stage of Fish model first (Fig.06), then I took blocked model into zbrush for minor tweaking and proportion check up. For better result in zbrush; I had attention on topology according to area where actual details needed. Topology and flow is really matters when character is going to animate with support of all type of maps like displacement, normal, bump, cavity etc. Before starting sculpting I took UVs of exported zbrush fish object in stand alone uv-layout application.

For upper, lower and tail fins; I used hair system with the help of nurbs shape. The process was little manual but, it gave me right soft rays or dorsal spines on perfect place and clump. I had hold shift and make numerous isoparms according to taste, then I’d duplicate curves and converted it to hair and follicles with “convert curves into hair-system” function. Again I had converted hair into polygon geometry for better optimization, Sent fish model for more detail sculpting in very cool software called ‘Z-Brush’.


Well, that’s really ‘full of fun’ stage; just we need to be aware of some pre-requites steps before get into Z-Brush package. Such as clean topology, clean UVs (if you want to use any map), equal space of quads, lesser tries. I’d decided to put full details as much as possible on Fish in Maya only. I’d started sculpting with ‘Standard brush’ and ‘Inflate brush’ to catch up basic details on 1st level of subdivision. I was keep going towards more details, particularly on fins, gill cover, anal fin, soft dorsal fin and caudal fin area within 2nd and 3rd level of subdivision.

I usually get shuffle from each level alternatively. When I was satisfied with appropriate details, then I took fish sculpting for final details like creases, spots, and fish skin pattern around at last subdivision level. Even I’d used layers option for more details like skin pattern with help of alpha brush. After happy sculpting, I’d decided to use masking with cavity and enhanced details. Now time was for posing, so I took it to lowest level and exported to Maya and rigged (Last level, rigged one) then again imported back to Z-Brush. I’d decided camera angle so, I didn’t need to concentrate on asymmetrical shape.

Texturing and Shading

Texturing and shading is one of the important stages through out whole artwork look and feel depended. I assumed major objects would be shaded with procedural shaders. So, I used very basic single switch node for gravels and I’d used 3 little scripts for randomization. Assigned user defined attribute “vcoord” to n selected objects using script.

  • Connected geometries with selected single switch node in hypershade using script.
  • Randomized all selected geometries attribute “vcoord” using script.

For pipes, I was so inspired from old copper and mossy effect. I felt little difficulties when I was rendering pipe shader; I found some strange dull ness in over all color because of “proxy box” caustics photons. Then I solved it with tweaking in base color and transparency in layered texture nodes.As far as bubbles concerned, I made two different shaders for surface bubbles and water bubbles. So, I used different MR dielectric and DGS materials for bubbles. I found problem at water droplets on tiles were highly intensive glow because of key photonic light was linked to it. Refraction and reflection was tricky to handle. There are basic properties for various water density, bubbles and droplets properties.

I used zbrush for fish and tiles texturing, especially I’d used ZApp-link plug-in for easy texturing, which can be interlinked with photoshop and zbrush visa versa. Great package from ZBrush!!
I made specular, reflection, all three skin layer maps from ZBrush for MR SSS shader in Maya. I’d noticed shiny glossiness in fish skin, so I need to make glossy map which was really effective enough. Even SSS shader’s specular attribute has quite detailed options to generate nearly real skin as per Figures below

Lighting and Rendering

I used MR and Maya procedural shaders for whole artwork, which gave me very nice result. I’d used basic 3 lights setup (photonic key, fill and rim light). I’d used key photonic light for whole Layout and other 2 lights were linked just for fish individually because of Back scatter effect.

I’d used GI photons for better result to the scene. Because of mental ray’s dielectric shader and DGS refracted and reflection values, I had used caustics photons also. I was exited with double bounced shadow layer when light reflected through main photonic Light. It gave me real water shadow effect through.

I made proxy/dummy box under water level till floor with refracted glass, transparent shader assigned on it. It was just for refracted effect to water from straight front. Over all i tried to make Light setup is so formal and simple but, somewhere was little tricky. I was facing challenge at rendering occlusion pass, where refraction appears at under water portion specially. But, simple solution was to assign manually overrides at each property of light and shaders,  i.e., in occlusion pass; I made AO shader, proxy box has same refracted shader but, I’d assigned AO shader to all other objects apart from ‘proxy box’.

I always prefer self review first! After almost final rendered image, I did self correction and review of an image. Self review is much appropriate for current stage before publish image for presentation. According to self review I found some minor creative corrections and changes. So, I rather preferred to be back on texturing and layout stage. I rapidly changed in layout according to review then, it came up with very straight appealing composition. Production can be suffered if you found some problems, which can be technical or creative after rendering passes. So, reviews+ correction stages are most reliable and accurate for any production


After rendering all passes separately, I took all of them into photoshop and started to tweak values according to subject. I rather choose photoshop for compositing because I wanted to make it like standalone photo frame kind of image. In whole colored scene, threshold color histogram was quite on proper curve and balance so; it was healthy to convert it to Black and white without missing minor details. I was really imagined about simple monochromatic mood but, little curiosity to achieve real fish skin and water effect. Later I’d added little paint over to highlight shinier over all. I took some basic render passes according to present various nesses in picture.

Related links

Email: vaibhavshah1982@gmail.com

Website: http://vaibhavshah1982.blogspot.com/

Talk about this Making of on our Forum >

3DExport Buy & Sell 3D Models

About The Author

You might be interested in


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.