The Discerning Wolf – Creating Realistic Animal Fur With Sasquatch

Wolf fur is a beautiful thing to behold.  It is so rich with layer upon layer of subtle diversity, it seems natural that it should be a complex task to re-create in CG.  With the foresightful Tools Sasquatch  provides, making beautiful, "realistic" Wolf fur is actually easy!

Because this is a tutorial on understanding what makes Animal Fur look the way it does, (not on Character modeling,) I'm only going to touch briefly here on the importance of the Model that sits beneath the Fur. However, making sure your Model reflects the actual skin of the Animal is integral to making the final product look good. Understanding Anatomy, is important, but even more so is being able to "guesstimate" what the skin looks like beneath the inch-or-more worth of "smoothing" and "padding" the Fur adds to the form. (Comparing photos of "Hairless Cats" with what we normally think of as the nice, "roundy" forms of "Regular Cats" is a big help in getting a handle on "Skin" versus "Fur.")

Contrary to popular belief, the most challenging thing in creating a Furred Animal isn't the process of laying the fur over the Model's Skin, nor is it the painting of the Texture Maps that govern the Patterning of the lights-and-darks of the coat. The only real challenge is in understanding the construction of the fur layers themselves - this is the real Core Concept behind the way Fur looks like it does! Once you've got a grip on this Core Concept, things like Length, Density and Fur Patterning are almost "no-brainers," (when you have good Reference Material to work from)!

Now, I want the "meat" of this Tutorial to be Hands-On, and since not everyone has immediate access to a good "Skin" Model of a Wolf, lets explore the Core Concepts of Animal Fur with a "Level 6 Tessellation," 1 metre Sphere.

With that Sphere in Layout, a nice Gradient in the Background, (so we can see our fur against something other than flat-black,) apply the default Sasquatch settings to Sphere and Scene. And this is where the fun begins...

Animal Fur "Core Concepts"

The first Core Concept of animal Fur is that the Tips of the fibers hold the darkest hues, while the Base of the fibres hold the lightest hues. (Wolf fur, courtesy of "Wolf.") Generally, the Black areas on a "Black-and-White" Wolf aren't Black all-the-way-through. The Black is usually only at the Tips of the fur!

So, with this Core Concept in mind, enter into Sasquatch's Panel for the Sphere, and let's start working some settings!

  • Working first with the Color options, set the "Salt" Root to 255, 255, 255, White, and its Tip to 0, 0, 0, Black.

  • Set the "Pepper" Root and Tip to White. The Salt Percentage should be 80%, (making 80% of the fibers have Black Tips).

  • The Salt/Pepper Blending should be 0%; fibers either have a Black Tip, or they don't - there is no "in-between".

  • Skew Color to Tip should be set to a low value, so the Tip color stays right at the Tips.

  • I've set my Skew Vary to 5% to get a tiny variance in how much each fiber'sTip is Black.

  • Transition Sharpness is set to 100% to get the delineation between Root and Tip as Sharp as possible.

  • (Bright Vary and Hue Vary are left at their defaults.)

  • Clump Inheritance is set to 0%, so each fiber retains its original coloring, and doesn't get "lost" in the overall coloring of each Clump.

An <F9> shows we've made a good start!

Now, lets adjust the other Settings so the Fur looks a bit more like the long, straight "Guard Hairs" of a Wolf's "year-round" coat.

  • Under the Fur/Fibers panel, set the Density to 20%.

  • Set the Length to 64%.

  • (Leave the Length Vary at 50%.)

  • Set the Coarseness to 90% for nice, thick fibers.

  • And I've added the Optional Comment of Guard Hairs so I'll be able to quickly identify what this instance of Sasquatch is doing when I'm looking at the Object's Displacement Tab.

  • (Everything else on this panel is left at their defaults.)

  • Under the Styling panel, set the Tangle to 0% so all the fur grows "neatly" in-line with the flow of the fur's "grain."

  • Set the Tip Droop to 50%, making the tips of the fibers"bend gracefully" with their "weight."

  • Reduce both Frizz and Kink to 0%; two of the three settings that will help the Guard Hairs become nice and smooth. (Kink Frequency automatically becomes inactive when you "zero" the Kink field.)

  • Then, under Clumping, set the Clump Haircount to 10% to just slightly reduce the default number of fibers that find themselves clumped together.

  • And set Fiber Wiggle to 0%; the final setting that "irons out" these long, smooth, Guard Hairs into the shape all canines have come to know and love.

Now we've got something tat looks a little more "spikey," a little more like the Guard Hairs of the Wolf fur we saw earlier. It's not bad, but it still looks incomplete...

The second Core Concept of Animal Fur is that it is actually, (usually,) made up of two different kinds of fur. There are the Guard Hairs, (which we just made,) and then there is the soft, downy Undercoat! The individual fibers of the Undercoat are very similar to lamb's wool, and serve as insulation from extreme temperatures. In this paragraph's Illustration, you can really see the ratio of Undercoat to Guard Hair in this sled dog's coat. (Sled dog's fur curtsey of "Peter Pan.")

Under the Sphere's Displacement Menu, Copy-and-Paste the Instance of Sasquatch we just got done Tweaking so we've got a good base from which to create our Undercoat. Deactivate the bottom Instance, and open-up the top so we can make that layer of "soft and fuzzy" fur!

  • Under the Fur/Fibers panel, set the Density to 69%.

  • Set the Length to 50%.

  • Set the Coarseness to 23%.

  • And change the Optional Comment to Undercoat.

  • Under the Color panel, change the "Salt" Tip to 255, 255, 255, White.

  • And change the "Pepper" Tip to 174, 146, 115.

  • Click on the "S" button next to the Salt Percentage to add a little Textured Variety to our Salt/Pepper ratio. Under the Noise heading, set the Base (Black) Value to 100%, and Check Use Fractal noise. (Everything else should remain at their defaults.)

  • Change the Salt/Pepper Blending to 69% to create smoother blends between the "Salt" and "Pepper" areas.

  • Set the Skew Color to Tip to 50%, so the blending between Root and Tip happens in the middle of each fiber.

  • And change the Transition Sharpness to 50% to create more of a soft blend between Root and Tip.

  • Under the Shading panel, change the Diffuse setting to 100%, letting this softer, more "fluffy" fur "catch more light" than the more linear Guard Hairs.

  • Under the Styling panel, set the Kink to 50%, and affirm that the Kink Frequency is also set to 50%.

  • Under the Clumping panel, change the Clump Haircount to 100%, making every fiber belong to a Clump.

  • Change the Clump Size to 42%, making the Clumps of fur "bigger" than the ones the Guard Hairs formed.

  • And change the Matting Skew to 23% which makes the Clumps less "pointy."

  • (Now, you may be expecting me to ask you to increase the Fiber Wiggle for this soft, downy Undercoat. It would make sense, but to be perfectly honest, I like the look of the Undercoat much better without Fiber Wiggle – it's just an Artistic "judgment call," one you are welcome to overrule if you'd like.)

An <F9> reveals something that covers the surface of our Sphere with an Undercoat that looks "Touchably Soft. ®"

Then, going back under the Sphere's Displacement List, activating the Instance of Sasquatch that created our Guard Hairs, and doing another <F9>, we see a ball-o'-fur that has the same complexity and feel as "real" Wolf Fur!

Wolf "Furring" Tips

Now that you've got Fur that looks "real," applying that Fur to a Model of a Wolf's Skin is almost a "no-brainer!" Even so, there are a couple of Tips I can offer for the process, things that may make your life a little easier.

  1. Whether you prefer to work with a Weight-Map or a Texture-Map to control the Length of your Animal's Fur, use the same Map for the Density, (and Coarseness,) only set your numbers for the Base and Applied Values so that the shortest Fur has the highest Density, and is the most Coarse! (Having a Map do "double-duty" like this saves on memory!)

  2. Use a painted Texture Map, (under the Mapping panel,) to Color your Wolf's Lighter Fur, and assign another Texture Map to the Salt Percentage, (through the "S" Button) to control the Patterning of the Black, (which fibers have Black Tips)!

  3. Don't forget about the ability to change the Bias and Sharpness of Image, (Texture,) Maps in Sasquatch! These are like "brightness" and "contrast" settings that can help you get even more "mileage" out of a painted Map!

  4. Comb away from whatever Surface you have set as your Wolf's Nose.

  5. If a Wolf is chasing you, running will only make him want to chase you more.

Now, as far as how to go about Painting Color Maps and "Black-Tipped-Fur" Maps, there's no "secret" to it. All it involves is careful observation. Surround yourself with as much Reference Material, ("Scrap,") of the Animal you are Furring as possible. Get as much Scrap, from as many different angles as possible, and under as many different Lighting Conditions as possible. Let what you see in your Scrap be your guide you in your creating the Patterns of Color and Shade!

An Artist is only a focus for his experiences.

Special Thanks to Wolf and Peter Pan, (shown right of Toby).

A twelve-year Lightwave veteran, Timothy Albee now lives, Lightwaves and mushes in the wilds of Alaska. He has authored Lightwave 3D Character Animation, and Essential Lightwave, (spring 2003). He has also written for Keyframe Magazine, (you can find an in-depth comparison of Furring Systems available for Lightwave in Keyframe # 31).