, by Pablo Munoz Gomez

Something Clawful This Way Comes…

Pablo Muñoz Gómez discusses his workflow creating the cute and captivating crustacean, Herman the Hermit Crab.

  • Design
  • Interview
  • Workflow

Of Kids And Crabs

A year ago, when I was visiting my family in Costa Rica, we went to a secluded beach. It was natural and wild. On this beach, there were many, many crabs. The little kids were fascinated and began to play with them: picking them up to put them in their pockets; making them fight as if they were in the Colosseum and making them race. It was interesting to see, and I really liked the whole atmosphere. Some of these crabs didn’t have shells, and they were trying to escape from the kids by using anything they could – the mood was playful and fun. As I was on vacation, I made a mental note of what I had seen and wrote it down in one of my notebooks when I got the chance. I keep notebooks for all the ideas I have that I’d like to work on when I’m in between projects, and this was one of them. I came back to it a year later and decided that I wanted to create an artwork that encapsulated that feeling of playfulness. Alongside this, I was influenced by the scene where the kids were joking around, and I decided to make the crab cute.

Curiosity Created the Crab

Whenever I create something, I try to learn something new, too. In this project, the render engine I am familiar with called Maverick Render had just released a new version of their software that allowed for particle creation. I thought that it would be perfect to test it and create the grains of sand in my artwork, instead of making the background with a texture. I wanted to create a close-up, where you would be able to see the little pebbles and rocks as actual pieces of geometry. I gave myself that target to create a fun and stylized piece, but somehow realistic with the texturing.

While my curiosity of the new feature in Maverick was the catalyst for this project, I began the same way I always do, which is to gather references. This can be for shapes, textures, or moods. Once I collected all my references, I started the process of sculpting in ZBrush. I printed all the details with the retopology and recreated the volumes with a cleaner base and better distributed verticals. This way, I could easily export it and project it in Substance 3D Painter. The result in Painter is a low-resolution image that is clean and simple. I do it this way because from there I can bake the high-resolution image, with all the details, into the low-resolution one and create those maps that you need to create textures. Once I had the height maps in Painter, I started working on the textures.

I was also planning a workshop for my Academy online focused on the Asset Library; helping 3D artists to create their own resources while just teaching how to create smart materials. So, no matter what kind of artwork you like to create, this workshop is about the process of generating a library of your own assets, which I think is very important. Mastering this can develop your workflow and enable you to work faster. With my Herman Hermit artwork, I thought that it was a great opportunity to show how it is possible to create a reusable asset. The red texture that you see here below is an example of this.

This is a Smart Material that I created in Painter and is one that you can use and reuse and can adapt to whatever baking process and details you have, regardless of the model. I set up these materials with that intention, so that if I wanted to use them again in, say, another crab with different proportions and details, it will still work in a similar way. The next step was rendering. I exported the lower resolution mesh that I had in ZBrush (that had a clean topology) into Maverick Render. Alongside this, I imported the textures from Painter. I also had used some of my own textures to create the base using Substance 3D Sampler, which allowed me to create Physically Based Rendering (PBR) material-based controllers. I took a couple of photos and created a base material for the crab, as well for the sand and then I imported those into Maverick Render. From there, I created a simple plane, where I applied the sand material. I set up the rest of the scene using a tool in Maverick called scattering.

This is what allows you to create the fragments and fibers within the grains of sand. It’s not easy to see in the final render, but there are 5 different types of shapes, and I used that tool to scatter those 5 objects scattered them around the plane. I also played around with rotation so that it looked more haphazard. For the background, I used a photo from that same trip in Costa Rica. It’s a high dynamic range image (HDRI) which is an image that can wrap around the sphere and predict how the light would be over the real environment. That’s why the lighting is more realistic. It was simple to use as it’s one single sphere that wrapped around the crab and protected all its details.

Just Crab-ulous: Detailing And Texturing

I would say that I enjoyed the texturing and detailing process the most. I also really like experimenting and learning. For example, with the Smart Material, I was trying to keep it generic enough that I could reuse it somewhere else, but at the same time making sure that it was detailed and interesting. Alongside this, once I had the volumes figured out and everything was in place, I could begin to texture and really get into the zone – not having to think too much about anything. I’ll sometimes be listening to music, and I won’t even realize it. I’ll just be focused on playing with the details and the proportions, as the design is already in place. I’m able to disconnect and just appreciate the process.

Crab-e-Diem: Create And Critique

Advice can be tricky to give because everyone’s circumstances are different, and everyone has their own way in which they develop their skills. This is something I’ve learned from my students. They come from all sorts of backgrounds, their circumstances are very different, and the way they work is very different. I like to impart practical guidance, not something more abstract like “follow your passion”, for example. If I were to go back to the beginning of my journey and give myself advice I would say: fail faster. Create what you want to, and if it doesn’t work out, treat it as a learning experience. Even though it seems paradoxical, by failing faster you’re able to get to the point that you want to be sooner. It can also help to document the process and see at what point you were wrong and figuring out how you could have done better. You also don’t necessarily have to wait until you’re better at something to have another go at it, you can iterate and learn while doing.  

Another thing is that it can be very powerful to develop a critical eye for your own weaknesses. You can do this by yourself, but if you’re able to find a someone else or even a community who will give you constructive criticism, this is great too. To do this, you must be open to sharing your work, which can be tough, but when you find the right people who really want to help you, it’s something special.

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