Making of Portrait of a Troll
by Jonas Persson, Sweden

This picture was made as a school project this spring at "Nackademin Digital Graphics" in Stockholm. It was not only our first individual project but also the first where we could choose subject ourselves. So I decided to do something funny, a troll. At this time I had only studied 3d for about ten months so there was heaps of stuff that I didn't know. I think more than half of the time spent on the project was research, and of course a lot of trial and error.  


For a while now I have been doing illustrations for a sort of Swedish version of dungeons and dragons, called "Drakar och Demoner Trudvang". A game much more influenced by Nordic folklore and fairy tales. One of the big differences from other fantasy worlds is that this one doesn't have the classic orc, instead there is numbers of strange and fun troll species. When I did this sketch I got inspiration from other illustrations made for this game, especially some from the artist Alvaro Tapia, a true master of drawing trolls. And of course from the old paintings made by the great Swedish fairy tale illustrator John Bauer.

I didn't put too much time into the sketches (as you can see), just enough to have something to start from. I know that I should give them some more work, after all it saves your time in the end and it would have been nice to have something better to show you guys. As you may notice, at this time I still thought I would have the time to make a hat, hair and beard. It turned out to be a bit optimistic.

Low Poly Mesh

Even though I wanted to have nice topology I knew I didn't have to make the edge loops perfect since the final product would be an image without any need of blend shapes or other deformation. There are no big secrets in this part. I just tried to get loops that didn't go too much on the diagonal and that concentrated the amount geometry to where it was needed. I was not trying too hard to create the perfect mesh from the beginning, it usually works out when you start to sculpt the shapes and see what kind of loop you need. After that, I began solving all the problems that I had created, adding and shifting loops to make the mesh as clean as necessary. I finally ended up with something that was good enough for the next step, the fine sculpting.

Mudbox Sculpting

I had a quite strong vision of how I wanted it to look and that always makes the work a lot easier. I just tried to create a fairly realistic looking creature, where you can sense the thick skin and the skull underneath. Like always I finished all the big shapes in the first levels before even starting to look at details. And though I tried to achieve some level of anatomical realism I knew something’s were not hundred percent correct, like the corner of his mouth sticking out and that he got a fat lower lip even though he is smiling widely. But I choose to keep them anyway, since this was for a picture only and I could get away with stuff that might have looked ridiculous on an animated creature.
Our teacher often tells us "you are never better than your reference material", it’s true. I used some reference material for the wrinkles and other details, pictures of old smiling people with thick leather like skin. Two tools that really help you give the wrinkles a right feel is the pinch and bulge tool.

When I considered myself finished with the sculpt I extracted a 32 bit map for the displacement. And also an 8 bit bump map from the last level to help me create the fine details without having to tessellate the mesh as much in mentalray.  Although the bump map was 8bit I figured out that I got more control if I baked it as a 32 bit to later turn it into an 8 bit in Photoshop. Like many other things I don't know if it’s the right way to do it, but it works for me. 

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