My Graphic Design Background

I became interested in CGI and 3D modeling in college. That was back in the day of betacams and Avid editing systems when 9Gig hard drives were serious business. I spent the days in dark rooms splicing quarter track, 16mm and occasionally, time behind hulking monitors working with 3D Studio Max, Lightwave and AT&T RIO. No one even remembers RIO now but back in the day it was cutting edge for creating 3D titles on screen.

My very first rendering was an awkward looking apple that looked like it was made of wood. It was not a glamorous beginning.When the semester ended I had passed with flying colors but felt completely unaccomplished. I was comforted only by my instructors’ assurances that 3D required many more hours than the curriculum allowed. Since I was a film major I didn’t get to sit in front of the PC again. I concentrated my efforts on directing and theory and all that good stuff.

In 1997 I graduated with my film degree and soon forgot about my arduous days lathing and beveling in front of 3DS and Lightwave. I kept tinkering and honing my skills in 2D design and soon started working as a freelance graphic designer in NYC. I did everything from Broadway billboards to packaging and catalogs until the dot com era hit.

I saw a huge opportunity to make money in new media. Immediately I hit the books and began to teach myself HTML, CGI, PERL, JAVA you name it. Truth is, the transition from creative to technical was fairly simple mostly because I really enjoyed it. I loved technology, playing with new software and the exciting possibilites the web offered.

I will spare you the details of what happened next except to say that it was a typical dot com story. I rode the money wave until the crash in 2000. After that I went back to my roots: Print. I stayed in print for six years before switching back to web and mobile app design in 2007, where I’ve been ever since, tackling new projects and evolving as a creative person.

That is the sum of my professional life, which in my humble opinion, has never been enough to fully engage me. I’ve always had to branch out creatively and go beyond the 9-5. I delved into interactive vampire theater, a print art magazine, stained glass, fashion photography, you name it. I was all over the place. I was constantly creating and learning, shooting photos, painting, messing with new software, discovering new mediums, writing–searching. I was feeding an invisible, all-consuming internal fire. I was in turmoil–a creative machine churning out art in every conceivable guise.

How 3D Rendering Changed my Writing Life

In 1999, a friend of mine casually showed me a little-known 3D program that had just hit the market called Poser. Intended as a virtual mannequin and visualization tool for artists, Poser offered a very limited set of modeling tools. It was a bit of a fad program that many 3D purists working with 3DS and Lightwave 3D discounted as amateurish but for me, it was nothing short of miraculous.

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My friend burned me a copy and I set to work right away. I spent hours and hours trying to coax life out of the plastic, clunky interface way past the point that most designers had given up. Luckily, Meta Creations was purchased that same year by Curious Labs who put out a better version of the program. Slowly, the industry saw the merit of Poser and as features were added so grew my enthusiasm.

What had been missing for me in early versions of 3D modeling software was “people.” I wasn’t interested in recreating modern rooms and sleek cars. I was interested in sculpting people, something Poser was very good at.

When I started combining my Photoshop painting skills with the Poser renders, a whole new world opened up. The long, tedious process of posing, modeling and rendering was offset by the control I suddenly had to create the characters that were floating around in my head.

Here Comes the Technobabble

In its current version, Poser is deceptively easy. As Marzio will attest, within an hour of downloading this program, most people can at least render a decent looking human being but it will be a far cry from the program’s true potential. Like any software, it takes hours and hours of use to coax something wonderful from it. Making a character goes beyond a simple strike a pose, there are transparency files, and bump maps, texture maps, lovingly doted upon in Photoshop, lights, cameras, props, list goes on. Transcending the stiff plastic look of Poser and eliciting emotion is incredibly difficult even for a seasoned user. Programs like ZBrush (which I am learning) definitely have the upper hand in this particular area.

In Khajj is Born I talked a bit about how the idea of Khajj evolved from a previous character I had created. Here I want to talk more specifically about how I go about building the textures and putting together the pieces in photoshop and Poser. The screen below shows my basic Poser setup when I launch. The basic figure that became Khajj is Vicky 3 made by Daz3D and is very, very homely. She does not inspire erotic thoughts.

Khajj Rendering

It took countless hours to mold Vicky 3 into the final sculpt but she wouldn’t be much without custom textures. Texture mapping is a method of adding surface detail to 3D polygons. A texture map starts off flat and then is wrapped around the model. Think of it like wrapping say, a Christmas gift. Every vertex in a polygon is assigned a texture coordinate (which in the 2d case is also known as a UV coordinate). Multi-texturing is multiple layers of textures to create an effect such as transparencies in eye lashes and hair. Khajj has a few layers of textures and is quite simplistic when compared to professional grade 3D models being created at the top studios. Her layers consist of a plain texture map, transparency map, and a bump map. The rest is calculated by the software when the three are blended.


This is what Khajj’s face looks like as a texture map. I have many of these depending on the adornments I would like to give her. Some have different makeup or jewelry. Below you will see what is called a bump map. This is what gives the skin it’s depth and texture. By increasing the intensity of the map you can go from very smooth skin to extremely rough.

Khajj Rendering

Bump maps are very effective when trying to make someone look real. It’s these maps that give the appearance of pores, scars, wrinkles and imperfections. Technically speaking, creating your own map is easy so long as you’re very good with the cloning tool in Photoshop and have good material to clone from.

Khajj Rendering Wings

For the wings I used a high resolution picture of leather to start from and then branched out from there. I then did a bit of digital painting on it to get the colors just right. To punch at the bottom of the wings I simply used a transparency map with those spaces filled in with black. The transparency map for the wings is also not solid white which means they are slightly transparent allowing light to pass through them as if they were membranes.

Other small details required work also. Khajj’s eyes changed, for example and I needed something a bit more diabolical than just an eerie glow. When her demonic side is tested, Khajj undergoes a bit of a transformation. Her eyes become pitch black and appear to gloss over. To create this I started with the idea of pools of lead.

Khajj Rendering

I began experimenting with different images and reflections until I found the right mix. In the end it was a very simple combo that when applied to the iris and cornea have this really neat effect.

In short, every aspect of the figure requires attention to bring the idea to life. Once the piece is rendered, I begin the digital painting process. Sometimes the photoshop work is very elaborate and sometimes it’s quite simple. Since these are still images I have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to embellishing in 2D. There are times I only add small details as with the example below and there are times the piece will have hundreds of layers before I’m done. The Rapture was one of the first renders I did of Khajj and I went very light on the Photoshop work.

Khajj Rendering

I have had  a lifelong love affair with Photoshop. My first version of Photoshop was 2.0. I started using it when it came on floppy discs and the concept of layers was several years down the line. Back in those days we only had selections and channels to work from. Nowadays CS5 includes the ability to render and texture 3d. In the future I believe there won’t be much of a separating in terms of 2D/3D.

Just recently I picked up Zbrush and will start putting in some serious time to learn it. I don’t feel limited by Poser but I am feeling the need to expand my horizons. I want to sculpt people from scratch not just sculpt from an existing build.

3D art is very versatile. Models can be animated, posed, reposed and used in a variety of ways very quickly. The art can be exported and manipulated and the best part is that it’s always 100% the exact likeness of your character. I hope this article was informative as to the basics of Poser and my work and hope to continue updating the site with insightful articles pertaining to the art of Khajj. Cheers!

[aesop_image imgwidth=”100%” img=”” credit=”Art by Narcisse Navarre” alt=”Khajj Rendered (Final)” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Final Khajj Rendering” captionposition=”center”]