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Creating a Photorealistic Chimp

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The ever increasing yearning for photo-realistic characters and the technology onslaught to visualize them in today's 3D productions can be daunting, to say the least. With tight scheduling being normal practice, artists and studios alike can learn from digital maestro Graham McKenna and his refreshing take on production techniques. As he steps through modeling, texturing, and fur coating a photo-realistic chimp, Graham uses his knowledge and experience to look at each area from a different perspective.
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This article will be explaining a few techniques that were used for my latest digital creation, a photo-realistic chimp named Pan. Pan evolved both on a personal development level and a Research and Development basis for the studio. He was primarily created to investigate the Sasquatch fur shader by Worley Laboratories, but also used to investigate various areas of production and the ever-increasing suit of tools from Newtek. Although the majority of what will be explained is unique to Lightwave itself a lot of what's outlined crosses over to many different 3D packages. Much of the investigation is based on method and approach, to look at things from a different angle.

Collecting References

When you are going to undertake recreation of any kind it pays to know the subject matter you are trying to emulate. Gathering the following types of information can be your most valuable asset:

  • Using real-world examples. If you collect as much reference material as possible, it's going to make the steps that follow a lot easier to understand. Real-world examples show a multitude of points you have to address with a photo-realistic project: proportion, texture subtleties, and the mass variety in fur patterns, of course. Pick the best of the bunch and make a collection of reference sheets like the one shown in Figure 1, highlighting key attributes can go a long way.

  • Figure 1 Examples of reference materials used to carry out the project.

  • Studying real bone structures. If you can get your hands on skeletal reference materials, then all the better. I find this gives you an extra understanding of what actually drives everything. This can be especially useful when tackling something like the head. Take the skull in Figure 1, for example; it holds key measurements to proportion that prove to be one of the pinnacle factors in portraying believability. Although not to scale, it still gives you vital clues as to how things should sit in relationship to one another.


    The Internet is a good source for reference material, not only for images, but general information about your subject. It makes good sense to have as much knowledge about your subject as possible. It can also be said that nothing beats a good book!

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