Making Scales in 'Sasquatch'

For some time, I have wanted to make a Chinese Dragon in Lightwave. A project came along recently which allowed me to finally bring this mythical creature to life. I knew the challenge would be in covering its long curving body with hundreds of scales! I considered the new 'bump displacement' feature in Lightwave 7, but wanted clearly overlapping scales. 'Bump displacement' only moves geometry outward along the surface's planarity. I also considered a number of ways to clone or bevel out all the scales in Modeler, but the job seemed so enormous! And all that geometry would really slow Layout down. So, I wondered if there were a way to 'grow' the scales out of my geometry. Just as hair grows tightly together to form the horn of a rhinocerous, I wondered if 'Sasquatch' could be pushed to form it's hair into tight little clusters that would look like scales! A little experimentation proved this to be possible!

I admit that the demand for creatures with scales is not as high as the need for good wigs and landscape coverage, but I learned alot about 'Sasquatch' by pushing it into undocumented territory! Along the way, you might come across settings that would produce good seaweed/kelp, tropical leaves, vines, and many other textures you wouldn't expect! Watch for them and remember to hit the Save button in 'Sasquatch'!


Making a Test Object

- Start in Modeler by making a tube: 6 sides, 10 segments, 5m long with a .5m radius.

- Split the disk ends along the axis and name the pair at the +Z end “nose”. This will be used for combing later.

- Hit the 'Tab' key to make it a subdivision surface. 'Sasquatch v.1.5' now supports subdivision surfaces, parts, as well as weight maps in objects!

- Add an Endomorph: name it 'wiggly" and bend it into an 's' curve, I used the Vortex tool. Feel free to do this with bones in Layout, if you prefer.

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Applying Sasquatch

- In Layout, load the "Tutorial_Worm" and apply the Morphmixer displacement plugin.

- Set the time to 20 and key the "wiggly" target to 100%. This way it will be easy to see how the scales deform with the object bending.

- Set the Subdivision Order to 'After Displacement', so it will bend first, then subdivide. I left the Subdivision Levels at the default settings.

- Apply the 'Sasquatch' displacement plugin to the object. Leave the settings to default for now.

- Add the 'Sasquatch' pixel filter, as well.

- Time to make a test render! Depending on the object size, my first render with 'Sasquatch' can be pretty funny! Either the length is crazy or the density is patchy, so adjust these two settings until the object is covered by a "general shagginess". You might have to change the scale and density along the way as we change other settings. Don't be surprised if the density is much larger than 100%.

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From Fuzzy to Scaly!

Next, the goal is to change the shag into scales. I recommend making a test render at every step along the way. This makes it easy to see what each setting change does.

- In the ‘Sasquatch’ displacement plugin, change the coarseness to 750% (that’s as high as this setting goes!) You’ll have to type it in. This will thicken up the base fibers a lot.

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- Set the Clump Haircount to 100%. This will draw many fibers together. After this change, you may find you have to increase the Fiber Density to maintain a good coverage over your object.

- Set the Clump Size Vary to 0%. We will want the scales to be very regular in size.

- Next set the Fiber Wiggle to 0%. Now we're starting to see the scales form!!

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Refining the Scale Shape

- Set the Tangle to 0%. This will grow the scales in a more uniform way.

- In the Combing panel, set the Surface Comb Strength to about 50% and specify the nose as the Comb Definition. This will grow the scales along the length of the body. Also, set the Combing Bias to 0%, since gravity would not really affect the scale growth.

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Setting the Scale Size

The default settings on this setup make the scales almost seem feathery, so shortening the scales will help.

- Reduce the length, if necessary, and increase the density to maintain even coverage.

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Coloring the Scales

- Now, make a render with the 'Sasquatch' pixel filter set to 'preview' mode. This will allow us to use the preview in 'Sasquatch' for coloring and surfacing the scales.

- I used an orange to yellow "Salt" coloring and a brown to orange "Pepper" coloring.

- A high Salt percentage, like 90%, will make the scales mostly your primary color and 100% blending will evenly distribute the colors withing the scales.

- Set the Clump Inheritance to 0% and adjust the Hue and Bright Vary to look good. Clump Inheritance affects how the scales distribut the variation. 0% will evenly change fibers within a clump and 100% will make every fiber in a clump the same, but one scale will vary from the next.

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Shading the Scales

Scales will need to appear more opaque than the default 'Sasquatch' settings.

- Set the diffuse to 100%.

- Increase the Specular and Glossiness settings to make the scales more metallic in feel.

- The Translucent Lighting affects how the bundle of fibers is shaded. Try changing it and see how it affects the render in the preview window. 0% makes for very opaque scales and 100% allows light inside the scale.

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- Now, visit the 'Sasquatch' pixel filter to turn on turn off Preview mode.

- Increase the Shading Quality to 100%, this shouldn't affect render times badly, but makes for a nicer render!

- Finally, turn on all three shadow options. Receive Lightwave Shadows will make sure the core body prevents light leaks through the object. Self Shadow will make the scales seem more opaque. Finally, Cast Lightwave Shadows to create shadows on objects in Lightwave from the scales. The 'Shadow of Sasquatch' shader will need to be added to objects that are meant to receive shadows, such as a ground plane, to work properly.

- Change your default light to a spotlight, make the cone angle around 5%, then look through the spotlight and move it away until the object is totally inside the light's cone. 'Sasquatch' shadows work only with spotlights, an important limitation to remember.
Turn off the Preview Render option, then render again to see our progress!

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Final Tips and Tricks

- Matting Skew can be used to shape the scales a bit. 100% will yield very sharp scales, while 50% will round them off a bit. Lower values make it hard to get solid scales.

- A higher Surface Comb Strength can groom the scales tighter to the body. Use Maximum Sleekness to keep the scales from penetrating the body as geometry bends.

- Reducing the Fiber Divisions from the default 25% to 10% can shave alot of time off without loss of quality. In my test, the render time went from 14.6 sec to 9.4 sec and looked just as good!

- Increasing the Rearward Polygon Quality and the Out of View Fur Quality can improve scale coverage along the body edges.

- Be sure to turn off Dynamics, unless you want your scaly creature to have blowing scales!

- In 'Sasquatch v.1.5', there are now many cool ways to customize your scales! An image map or vertex map makes it easy to vary the size of scales on your object. You can create small scales around the hands and face and larger ones down the back and tail, for example. Or you can use fractal noise to randomize the scales, as in this example.

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The best way to find out how everything works in “Sasquatch” and “Lightwave”, is to experiment and have fun!!!

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. John Teska studied Visual Design at North Carolina State University, where he dreamed about a career in special effects. Ultimately, he landed in California where he has spent the last thirteen years. John has built monsters and models on such films as Demolition Man, Alien 3, Death Becomes Her, and Tremors.

Seven years ago, he was hired by Ron Thornton of Foundation Imaging to work on "Babylon 5." Under the guidance of Ron and Paul Beigle-Bryant, John honed his animation skills. His experience in traditional special effects proved to be invaluable, especially when it came time to animate characters and creatures. Since then, he has continued to work on “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Enterprise”. He also manages to find the time and interest to do freelance work on such notable projects as Disney’s 1997 remake of “The Love Bug”.

Most recently in 2003, he and EdenFX won an award from the Visual Effects Society for best Models/Miniatures on TV.

The Japanese version of this tutorial was printed in the Japanese Computer Graphics World magazine.