Monday, December 5, 2011

Love Is a Many-Headed Thing, Part I

I'm baaack.

While it may seem that I've pretty much abandoned my modding efforts for NWN2, some things just refuse to die. Once again, I find myself creating yet another NWN2 creature model.What was it that made me return to modding just when I thought I had laid it to rest? Was it love? Was it a compulsive, masochistic desire to post a new file in the Vault that few people will download and even fewer will vote for? Was it a promise that I made to Chaos Wielder years ago to create a new monster model for him?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Three months ago, Chaos Wielder emailed me, asking if I still intended to make good on my promise to him to make a hydra model, a promise that I made in 2008 when I was very much active in the modding scene. Truth be told, when I saw last year that few players still cared to download NWN2 mods, I decided to lay to rest my dream of creating Faithless and anything pertaining to NWN2. The iron was no longer hot, so there was no point in striking it. Then along came Chaos Wielder, gently, almost sheepishly reminding me of my promise to him, although he assured me that he wasn't holding me to it. Regardless, I grew up believing in keeping one's promises. I realized then that like vengeful ghosts, the things you say may come back to haunt you.

Last week, I finally got around to creating the model that I promised to make. Chaos Wielder wanted a hydra that looked like the creature from Jason and the Argonauts, not the D&D version of the monster. I downloaded a few photos that I could find on the Internet and went straight to work. My hydra started life as a bunch of ZSpheres in ZBrush, an excellent 3D modeling application. Rather than making all seven of its heads, I decided to create only one head and leave six neck stumps for me to replicate the head on later. The finished ZSphere model can be seen here. Kind of looks like a mutated ginseng root, doesn't it?

I then transformed the ZSphere model into something that is known in ZBrush as an adaptive skin. I sculpted this skin into something vaguely hydra-like, as can be seen in the screenshot on the right. It looks rather like a lumpy mass of modeling clay, but that's just for starters. The next step was to make a more refined model through a process known as retopologizing, which basically means creating a new model by plotting a set of vertices over the old one.

I had actually gone as far as retoplogizing the hydra last week. Unfortunately, when I attempted to save the model, the application crashed, and my model was lost forever. I was so frustrated that I didn't work on the hydra for the next five days. In fact, I probably would have given up on creating the hydra altogether if it weren't for my six-year old son. He saw me making the model, and he said he wanted me to make a blue one for him. Ah, love. It's what makes a person strive onward with redoubled effort after stumbling down, rather like two fierce heads that sprout from a bleeding neck stump. I still had my lumpy modeling clay version intact, so yesterday, I retopologized the model one more time. The fruit of my masochistic compulsion can be seen here. The model looked more like a hydra at this point, although the neck stumps weren't convincing at all. That wasn't a problem because they were intended to be placeholders for the actual heads.

The next step was to export the model as an OBJ file for importing into 3DS Max. I replicated the central head and neck of the hydra and replaced each of the neck stumps with the head clones. I had to painstakingly adjust the vertices on the necks and shoulders of the creature so that I could weld them together.

When that was done, I exported the model as a new OBJ file, which I imported to ZBrush. Below, you can see how the model looks now. There is still much work to be done, but at least I've nailed the basic shape of the creature.