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The 55 Dragon Marathon, Tutorial by Damir G Martin PDF Print E-mail

His Pet Australian Bearded Dragon as inspiration, add to that innumerable likes and comments from fellow artists and viewers of his work, add to that him challenging his own creativity and our persuation to bring accross to you, the best of creative work of an artist: Damir G Martin.

A character design artist, he needs no introduction on CGTantra, his amazing work makes him a perennial artist featured here. We always have fun featuring his work and we are sure you get loads to learn from his tuorials...without further ado...over to Damir and his work.

Note: we would like to credit certain people for their most encouraging words for his work.


Unfreaking & unbelievable...What went on in your 'In your left brain' to take up this Marathon, to compete with yourself?
A: I wanted to do something challenging and unlike anything I used to do. Wanted to see how far can I push my self in terms of creativity and the pressure, since the "55 Dragons Design Marathon" was public, and by doing so I had to do it, quitting or walking away from it was not an option.

Why Dragons? You have a soft corner for reptiles?
A: Yes :)  Reptiles and animals alike are my favorite motive to draw my inspiration from. Dragons are pretty closely tied to Dinosaurs, that's just one other reason I like dragons and chose them as my challenge subject. Who knows, maybe in couple of months I decide to do another "Design Marathon" making 55 made up, imaginative Dinosaur species. And, I have a dragon pet, Australian Bearded Dragon, that guy gives me loads of inspiraition.

28 days, for 55 dragons...lets make it more challenging
A: I had little less work with clients scheduled so I decided to make use of that extra time in a good way.

How did you plan before beginning, how did you envisage the entire process? How did you juggle between work and the marathon? Seriously what inspired you throughout? How did you do your time management and then what would you like to tell people of how to retain the interest and flow of work without loosing track since you are working on other projects at the same time?
A: There was not much planning, I just sat down and started sketching and modeling after the idea came to me. Since I had less work scheduled for February I really didn't have that much trouble working and doing that Dragons marathon thing. I had couple of periods when I thought I wont be able to complete all 55 dragons, because of lack of time at some points where it intersected with my professional work. Then at the middle of marathon, I started loosing ideas, but after you give your mind one day of rest you just get back on the track..

I wouldn't recommend doing this if you have your schedule crammed up, one might easily burn out. There is that thin line between enjoying the time spent in front your computer, modeling and being creative, and that other time when you have trouble focusing for couple of minutes, and feeling stressed, under pressure and unsatisfied. Being creative should be fun, not tormentful.

Truly Inspirational, Can you please share with us the entire process of working on the marathon? The alpha brushes used, the tools used at every juncture and whether this was a culmination of an idea that you have been working on over a period of time?
A: Well, the process of creating one dragon is used on all of 55 with slight variations in approach depending on the dragon design, it's complexity parallel to my progress and understanding of some new features Zbrush has that I have used previously, but only superficially.

In this design marathon of my own, 2 brushes were of most use to me. It is Move brush and tweaked Clay Tubes brush. I changed it's default rectangular alpha to circular alpha number 6 in the zbrush alpha palette, the one with soft edges. After these two, I guess the Track brush was the one that makes your life so easy when it comes to texturing dragon/reptile/dinosaur like creatures. For this brush, I created couple of specific alphas, these alphas can be downloaded from a link below the tutorial text. Feel free to use them in your own work.

As I mentioned above, I created couple of custom alphas specifically for this Design Marathon.
The method I used to create these alphas is as follows.
I would draw rectangle tool on the canvas, subdivide it to whatever count you feel will work out for you.
In this particular case I will talk about repeat scale alpha for track brushes.
I used clay tube brush and move brush to sculpt needed detail on the rectangle tool.
Once sculpted one scale, I grabbed the Zdepth info with Grab Doc button under Alpha palette and took that psd file to photoshop. From there, I cloned that scale vertically couple of times, and adjusted bottom and top scale so they intersect evenly(tiling) when used with track brushes.

Zsphere, Zsketch and Subtools
I cannot stress enough the usefluness of these features. You may have already read this, but I'l say that again.
Zsphere and Zsketch tools are super useful. Not only are they essential at the beginning point for any serious sculpture or when you may start modeling in Zbrush. They can be used as a rigging tool for your completed detailed sculpt via Transpose master. They are awesome if you need to add separate mesh to your sculpt. I probably need to discover some example of use for these tools myself.
Subtools are something Zbrush would't be what it is. Using shortcuts to copy and select tools enables one to create intricate and detailed models within hours.

I found the "Equalize surface area" feature under Geometry palette very useful in my 3D sketching of 55 dragons.
The only tool that Pixologic needs to improve or reintroduce in my opinion is the topology. Once they make that feature more fluent and intuitive, there wont be anything else left on my wishlist.

Wow, you can make some awesome stuff in a short amount of time...Can you please give us a breakdown of the amount of time that went for every process, from scratch to the last composition?
A: Rough sketch with Zsphere/Zsketch tool takes couple of minutes, but the great thing with these two is that you can use them to create quite elaborate sketching/modeling/work.

What I like about Zsphere /Zsketch is that if you wanted You could practically start and finish the base shape and the volume, leaving to mesh sculpting bit only detailing work.

Poly mesh part, modeling and sculpting detail is the part that takes the most time. Especially when you are sketching in 3d, looking for the form, trying to define the look.

Not all the dragons were conceived on paper. I would never quit using real paper and pencil, they havent built hardware that can 100% compensate for the real thing. I'm using Wacom Cintiq, and I really like sketching with it in photoshop or Zbrush QuickSketch or PaintStop sub apps, but I feel Im better off doing it on plane paper.

Regardless, at least half of dragons were designed in Zbrush solely. Great thing about using Zbrush for 3d sketching is that you get to see the model from all sides all the time, you dont have to sketch different angles like you do on paper. You have realtime feedback on all the sides of the model and relation of all the parts of one design to one another, enabling you to set ideal proportions without much sweat.

When designing in 3d you are going trough certain stages. You have basic shape blocking, once you got the desired shape, you start adding details, you move from bigger details to smaller ones. Until you reach texturing bit, adding displacement, skin bump, scales etc. and final step is exporting 2,3 or more matcap shaders to photoshop to tweak the render.

Particulary in my case, I exported basic shadow render of tweaked clay material and Alpha grab of the canvas for depth of field. This is the fastest way to achieve really good looking bokeh in my experience. If you want to do it in Zbrush directly, it is possible, it can look just as good, but it would take much more time. Imagine setting up shadows, light, this and that, and upon tweaking DOF you have to hit render and wait for it to finish rendering, then if you weren't satisfied, repeat that numerous times.

In Photoshop, you can use lens blur feature under filters/blur to get that effect fast. You select Alpha zgrab layer Using Select/Color range, after setting up parameters to what you think is ok you end up with selection that can be used with lens blur to achieve realistic DOF.

How did you manage to keep the difference between one from the other dragon and when you knew you had to be creative and innovative 55 times?
A: I think there are repeating elements troughout the 55 models. I was trying to keep it fresh and add as much difference as I could. But it was challenging cos of the time frame I was in. If I had more time, I'm sure the dragons would look even more unique and different from one another. So, at times it was easy to come up with fresh ideas, other times I had trouble to think of anything. I constantly thought about, not only how some dragon could look, but what his features would be, his traits, if it was a live animal, how would it feed itself, what sort of environment would it live in, how big would it be.

You have to ask yourself many questions. The deeper you go with these q's, the more likely it is you will wind up with either original or likeable design.

Though sometimes it's therapeutic to just let go, let your mind flow into the viewport, and look for the right looks there, real time, by moving and reshaping that digital clay.

How did you go about studying the anatomy & features of the dragon?
A: There is not so much real anatomy involved here I think. I was thinking about it, but was not losing much time to try and work it out deeper, about how the underlaying mechanisms would work, bones and muscles.. 

I applied some of my knowledge of dinosaurs and some modern animals to try to keep it from becoming too abstract. I guess also, real anatomy challenges would come if I had been creating complete bodies, with wings, limbs, tails.

Inspiration & Imagination...There are hints of fishes, snakes, birds in the dragon, how did you manage to integrate their features into the design of the dragon? Which animals did you study? While working on the characters did you intentionally try and characterize them, they all seem to have some personality?
A: Well, yeah, I tried to cover as much ground as possible. If you'd take these 55 dragons, you could easily populate some imaginative world. I went for diversity cos it would be quite boring if I had 3-4 types of dragons done in 55 ways. To have that diversity, I had to think of many different modern or extinct animals.

So if I would integrate features of Dodo bird into one dragon design, I would ask myself, what is so distinct about Dodo bird, what makes that bird stand out from all others, I would then take that trait, and incorporate it into my design. It's all about taking key elements from one or more things and trying to combine these elements into soemthing new and unique while keeping it "functional" or "natural" or whatever it needs to be.

I think most of 55 dragons were intentionaly created to be perceived in a certain way, like dangerous, mean, benign, funny, cute and so on.

Design Vs Logic...How did you manage to keep the logic in the anatomy and functionality in the models when you have such out of the box designs for the dragon heads?
A: I see many "holes" in the design and functionality now when I look at them, I've seen some of it while I was making it. But the Marathon was more about throwing in 3D sketches, concepts and ideas in as higher level of detail I could do in that confined time frame. That was great thing as this Marathon gave me so much objectiveness about my own creations and had me going forward, not allowing me to attach myself to one particular design, getting caught up in too much detail. It made me look at my work from a wider perspective. My self-criticism raised.

Critic is good, you should always accept it, and think about it before starting to make excuses. When someone criticizes our work, we shouldnt take it personally, most likely that person sees something we, who spent weeks or months with that "visual baby" of ours are not able to see at the time. People who criticize are not attached to the work as we who created it are, and those people see those flaws and places for improvement if there are any, unlike us.

Generally , you need some time to detach from your work, the faster the better, I need from couple hours to a day or two. When I say detach, I mean, being able to spot places where you can improve in your work and accept critique at all times. Not everyone is able to detach fast, some people just cannot detach ever, and that is bad if you are not in the top of your game because for to be in the top of any game, you must be able to constantly look for places to improve.

You began with one or two hours per dragon, once you reached the end of it what was the speed like, did it increase or it depended on the design and intricacy of the dragon?
A: Just as you suggested it. I started becoming faster, but then I kept raising my bar higher, adding more details and making crazier solutions. So towards the end, I had some takes that took more than 2-3 hours to finish. I think that is an important thing for me, to constantly look out for challenges. if you get stuck in one gear, pretty soon it becomes tiring.

Do you plan to complete the entire body of the dragons and texture and comp them, we loved the fiery one!!!
A: Definitely, I plan to take couple of designs and go forward with them, enchance them, work them out more, and finish them completely, cos while I was "running" this Marathon, I got some crazy ideas for Dragon themed illustrations, and I look forward to start working on them.. So I guess in coming weeks and months you will be seeing some illustration work from me, hopefully it will turn out as good as I see it in my mind. When are they going to come up with Hardware/Software that could export .obj's and Psd's directly from my mind? :)

Do you intend to market the dragons and if so how?
A: I had some ideas, I was thinking of creating some dozen more designs and create 10-15 illustrations, with couple of indepth tutorials and maybe bake all that into some fine small book at those online selfpublishing services. But that's still just an idea.

You have been a self learner, there are loads of people who learn a great amount from the tutorials you create, we would love to know where you learn from?
A: Things I learned are picked from all over the internet. Zbrush for example has quite nice interface, that has loads of useful short tips on its own that are available when you overlay certain button or function with your pointer and press alt. Zbrush Central has loads of tutorials, making of threads, and sketchbook threads where you can pick up some really nice things.

Best place to start searching for knowledge that I could think of right now is google. The chance you wont find exactly what you look for through google is highly unlikely. If one has the chance to take paid tutored courses, that is definitely the best and the fastest way to do it, without doubt, but those people who can't afford the luxury, who dont have the money or support to take that easier way, there is no need to be desperate as 90% of things you could learn from some expensive courses, you can learn on your own through internet and totally free of charge.

Only downfall is it will only take more time to get it into your head, that's all.

There is quite some number of professionals and enthusiasts out there who dont mind sharing their knowledge through walktroughs and tutorials such as this one.. and that is great about online communities. I owe most of my knowledge to people who like to share, that's why I dont mind continuing that tradition, if one could call it that. Taking part in online challenges is another way to learn fast. Cool Prizes gives you motivation, talented and experienced peers inspire you, and you can learn many things by watching their work in progress threads...

So, today, you dont have much ground for excuses, hardware is affordable. Most of the software comes with trial periods, and the knowledge is everywhere around us.

Put your focus on certain thing, give it enough time and you will get there. I know I have. I never studied English in my entire life, but here I am, writing it and speaking it pretty darn good. I never took art courses, 3D modeling courses, texturing courses, but I love all that and nothing could stop me from doing it.

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