Last year, more specifically the second half of last year had a decisive impact on my current decisions regarding my career. I mean, I knew the path I was going to take but the specifics were a bit blurry. Especially regarding 3D modeling. The type of products and services I plan to develop is based on web programming, 3D programming, and 3D scene/model optimization (custom 3D viewers and extended virtual experiences). Regarding the latter, I started learning Blender 3D to reactive my skills with 3D modeling. At first with basic tutorials and then pushed my limits more and more with 3D modeling and Three.js. One of my first experiments dealt with modeling a scene with glass materials for real-time and animated shaders to imitate snow, here. Last year another experiment really touched one of my goals in scientific 3D visualization in real-time, here, but until my paper is published I won’t detail more about it.
Virtual reconstructions were always on my radar as I wanted to be able to create more with my 3D scans, by showing missing parts or earlier versions of the scanned object or monument. A definitive moment was enrolling in Koré Formación‘s Blender for the 3D virtual reconstruction of Heritage (2022 edition) back in the summer of 2022, about which I wrote here. After the first hours of the course, I had an epiphany, where everything suddenly seemed perfectly connected. All my skills, my direction, and my professional and artistic hunger suddenly had a solid base of motivation. I somehow connected with my past self with his historical monuments 3D modeling hobby in high school and all I could feel was: This is the way!
Coming back to today, I want to say a few words about my third course with Koré Formación, 3D recreation for historical figures with Blender (2nd edition), because it was a completely out of my comfort zone experience, from many points of view. Similar to the Virtual reconstruction course, it was held online with both pre-recorded and live sessions every week, with a total of 60 hours. In Spanish :). It started in mid-October and ended on 15th December (the deadline for the final project). Unfortunately, that period of the year usually is the busiest for me and I wasn’t sure I would be able to follow and complete the course. More than that, I never considered human characters important for my development. But Pablo (the course teacher) convinced me I would find it very important and that it would be worth the try. He was so right!
About the course
First of all, what I realized with this course was that all the virtual reconstructions and scenes, without a real scale factor and an affective component in it are really stark and abstract. Yes, they can rely on a lot of information but they are lifeless. Placing human characters in a scene suddenly has a real scale. Creating an interaction between characters or posing them in natural intentional movements throughout the scene brings it to life. Now put all this into a story or a message that you want to transmit with the scene and the characters and you will surely connect with the audience on deeper levels. This is what I got from this experience and what I will try to convey in my future works.
The course structure was quite simple, it had 4 sections, where we learned the importance and a brief introduction of how to create characters and most importantly how to document before starting a historical character reconstruction, how to create a character with free apps, and how to create it with more advanced and commercial ones. More than that, we learned how to create custom poses with special devices by ourselves and how do the forensic and archaeological face reconstruction works (a really interesting live session was dedicated to that).
character creation - Basic methodology
This first method uses only free software and with a little effort cand generate complex results just as the advanced method that uses commercial programs. For this approach we learned how to create a character with Make Human, how to create clothes, sandals, and other accessories, and how to rig them to the character for animation and pose purposes with Blender. Also in Blender, we learned how to create realistic hair. My exercise project was a Thracian. I tried to play with texture paint to make tattoos and different designs on the clothing.
CHARACTER CREATION - Advanced methodology
For this method, we used several commercial programs like Character Creator and Marvelous Designer. Also for texturing, we used Substance Painter. After this, I became a permanent user of SP. The goal was to create a detailed portrait of Hypathia. Marvelous Designer, although quite expensive, is a ‘marvelous’ tool for easily creating clothes for your characters. Pablo managed to infuse a lot of methods and knowledge in a really short time, so without a final project that you would have to make from zero, all the info might get lost in your head. There’s a lot of practice to do until those skills and knowledge finally settles in. Like in any other field of work.
(re)Creating Vlad III 'The Impaler'
My final project was Vlad III also known as ‘The Impaler’. Vlad III was a 15th-century Wallachian voivode with a complex and quite famous history. Known for his combat and military proficiencies he was an important political figure of that time for all the surrounding powers (Hungarian and Ottoman mainly). His father, Vlad II, was a member of the Order of the Dragon (military order dedicated to fighting the enemies of Christianity) so he inherited the name Drăculea (in Romanian for ‘of the dragon’) which later was the base for the name of a fictional character for Saxon horror stories based on his savage actions even for that time: Dracula. The character was made famous by writer Bram Stoker and later by the 20th-century entertainment industry (movies, comic books).
As I mentioned before, this course landed during one of my most busiest periods of the year. So I did not finish him (as the final project) on time for the course deadline, so I had to send a partially finished project, which was well received and appreciated. I finally finished it last week, a month later. Being just an exercise, historical accuracy had to be limited to the time available for the research. So I took a few liberties in some regards, but I tried to be as accurate as I could.
The first step was to gather data about the character. Mostly visual data, as there are a lot of text and descriptions of him (dedicated books even) that I had no time to synthesize. From all the visual data I had, I chose a full-body portrait painting found on Wikimedia Commons. This painting is actually a 17th century life-size portrait of Vlad (130 cm x 218 cm), from the Esterházy gallery in Forchtenstein Castle. As for the scene, I decided on a room corner with an arched window that would have a window open.
The funny thing about me not finishing the project in time for the course, was that actually the character and its clothes and textures and hair were all done by then. But certain accessories and especially the scene were the ones that took me the most time.
The most important accessories were his mace/scepter, a sword with leather belts, the small table, and the element that staled me the most was the arched window. For the arched window, I had to test several approaches and finally, I ended up drawing the shapes of the empty areas and boolean them out of the arched shape. Not the best method but it was the fastest for me.
Trivia: the parchment on the table has some inscriptions on it. It belongs to Richard III Lionheart, who actually reigned at about the same time as Vlad III did.
The outside environment is an edited photo. Actually, the photo is an aerial one taken right from above the Poenari Castle, Vlad III’s castle. The real image has a sunny summery vibe but with Photoshop Neural filters I transformed it a bit. I took extra measures to remove any technological traces (like wires, cars, power lines, etc) even though in the final scene just a small portion of the image ended up being visible.
There were some things that I planned to do but didn’t, like volumetric lights through the window, an incense smoke trail, or a carpet on the floor. I said good is better than perfect and chose to end it here as new projects were waiting for me for some time.
This course, like the first one, was instrumental in shaping my vision for my future projects. Both methods presented are important and I will make use of them. The first one is a very fast and efficient way to create mass crowds or characters that have enough details but that will never be in the focus of the scene. The second one is mostly for ultra-detailed portrayals and specific character reconstruction. I learned a lot and I am thankful for deciding to enroll despite the hard times I had with my schedule at the end of 2022.
As for Kore Formacion courses, I can’t wait to see what they will launch this year. I have a hunch about something new regarding VR exploration, which I would be very interested in, but we’ll wait and see. Big thanks for Pablo Aparicio Resco for his role in my development so far. Also in the thanking section, I would like to thank anyone who showed interest in my work and supported me, with or without social media interactions. It means a lot and kept me going on. Big thanks, people!
If you reached this far, thank you and please enjoy the BTS and WIP gallery below.