Hat in Hand

Our commercial agent Norman Maslov publishes an annual promo book, and this year we are honored to have our work on the cover. In keeping with his tradition, the image must feature a hat (often a fedora which is his signature accessory). The resulting image must read as two strong verticals, as well as a strong horizontal. In other words, the front of the book features the right side of the image, the back is the left side, and when opened and laid flat, the whole image can be viewed.

For our piece, Man About Town, we chose to create a dystopic scene that strongly features a large broken statue of a hat being held by a hand that rests neglected in an unkempt field. This felled statue, and the scraggly grass were created in CG and  composited into the final image using photoshop.

This posts covers our process for creating the statue – from conceptualization through to compositing. Jason wrote a previous post about the initial creation of the grass and trees. I also wrote a piece about creating a CG monument that will appear in the background of this image. This monument  also serves as a tribute to mid-century Brutalist architecture, and Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.

Step one for hat sculpture – CONCEPTS
I have a love affair with broken and abandoned man-made creations that are slowly becoming reclaimed by nature. For this project I looked to the unofficial Soviet statue graveyard, in Tallinn, Estonia for inspiration. It is a vast collection of enormous statues that have been (unceremoniously) dumped into heaps.

Step two – SCULPTING
We create all of our complicated objects in Zbrush, a powerful 3D sculpting program. Even though we only see one view of the sculpt, we still take the time to model it properly from all angles. This ensures the proportions and perspective will feel correct. Below you will find many views of the hat and hand statue.
After the sculpt is complete, we move on to painting and texturing. But before we can sink our teeth into this enormously fun phase, we must make sure the sculpt has a clean low-polygon model (for processing speed) that matches with a high polygon displacement map (which preserves detail). All of this also must have proper UV’s to make sure the textures lie across the form properly and doesn’t appear stretched – we use a grid to check the UV’s before exporting.

Above: (upper left) low poly model (upper right) UV QC check (lower) high poly sculpt.

Step two – TEXTURING
Once we dial in the shape, scale and datails of our objects, and make sure the technical parameters are dialed in (which honestly, is mind-numbingly boring), we get to plunge into the FUN part of creating and painting the “real-life” surfaces. We use Substance Designer and Substance Painter to create our textures. These two powerful programs allow us to craft our own materials from scratch using photographs and digital painting, as well as the utilization of their vast texture library to create wholly unique surfaces.

Above: the statue was modeled  with a combination of these four textures.

Above: Substance Painter screen capture of the materials layered together using masks to paint on/off the desired effects.

Above: Substance Painter allows users to set lights so the surfaces can be pre-viewed. This is critical to determine the scale, quality, sheen and roughness of the material. If you look closely you can see the custom paint brush used to paint the organic moss.

Step three – RENDERING
All of our 3D scenes are built in Maya and rendered using Arnold. Below is the raw, un-retouched render of the hand/hat sculpt, placed into the grassy field. Water has been added inside the hat.

All of the renders are brought into Photoshop where we blend them together with traditional photos, and a few more gallons of digital paint.
We are always keen to add many the subtle details, and for this hat statue, we wanted it to feel aged and ‘settled’ into the environment. This involved not just a physical patina, but also the backstory of who and what we imagined had interacted with the sculpture. In this case we visualized a wide variety of urban explorers and taggers had passed by and left their mark. For authenticity we drew inspiration from real graffiti we’ve collected around the globe. We (loosely) translated our name “Ransom & Mitchell” to be used as a humorous, double entendre tag (выкуп +Митчелл) and we also used the phrase uttered by Yuri Gagarin when he blasted off into space, “Погнали!!,” (Let’s Go!).

Below is the retouched render of the statue that has been digitally painted, distressed and embellished with our graffiti.

We will be posting more about how the image was composited together with our vast library of fauna and flora.