Master and Servant 3D Entry: Trey Harrell

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  03 March 2005
Master and Servant 3D Entry: Trey Harrell

Trey Harrell has entered the Master and Servant 3D.

Challenge Page

Latest Update: Final Image: Self Portrait (Wired)

Final image, with last of the color correction and perspective adjustment.

Title: Self Portrait (Wired)


Once we enter college or the professional world, our pace of life gets accelerated to an unnatural rate.

Caffeine -- specifically my enormously expensive espresso habit -- helps me focus and keep working when I'm exhausted. It's a preventative cure for my headaches brought on from fatigue. It helps me unwind. It gets me out of bed. It keeps my migraines from coming as often.

It adds hours to the day, helping people find balance between work and life at the cost of our health and mental well being.

It's a vicious cycle.

The master / servant relationship has a couple of layers in this instance. The person begins as the master, using his servant -- the espresso machine -- to add hours to the day and help him keep going.

The caffeine then becomes the master, as the person is an addict and dependent on the coffee to keep going.

At the end, however, it's modern life that's the master as we end up addicted, exhausted, sick, and broken from our expensive habits and frenzied pace -- a pace that might not really be worth the damage done in the long term.

Creative Direction:

I was shooting to achieve an insane mood that's darkly funny in a surreal setting -- bordering on absurdity.

Influenced by the art direction in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the oversaturated colors of Ronny Yu's early films (Bride With White Hair in particular), and the industrial design of the FrancisFrancis! company. They make beautiful machines, and I hope they'll forgive the characterization!

I wanted to straddle the line between photo-real and cartoonish. I shot for a composition and color balance reminiscent of a comic book cover. As such, I didn't add much skin detail, I exaggerated environment textural details -- particularly patterns and geometrics -- to almost toon-shaded line definition, and I pushed the slave's face and pose well past normal human limits.

I was going for really over-the-top silhouettes. I used an extremely wide angle lens to push my vanishing lines out of whack and distort the image.

I wanted to anthropomorphize the machine: make it a little demon face on second glance -- but an innocent and friendly demon -- he's just doing his job.

I used the basic design of a famous electric chair for the chair itself -- just for a slight psychological cue as to the situation.

The slave could break free if he really wants to -- but he's not really committed. There's a twinkle in his eye saying that he's enjoying the rush -- but how much longer can he take it before it kills him?

Software used:

- Maya 6.5 / Mental Ray and Maya Software renderers
- MJ Poly Tools
- Photoshop CS for textures and compositing
- Gretag MacBeth EyeOne Match (for color management and profile generation)
- A total of seven pounds of coffee beans were used as fuel over the course of this challenge

I used a Windows XP based workstation for the modeling work, every Mac or PC I had at hand (and a few I borrowed at the end) for satellite rendering, and a PowerMac G5 for the compositing and color correction.

This is the first real character work I've completed. My professional CG projects to date have been almost exclusively product work and FX. The deadline forced me to make compromises in my final vision so I could get this done. I've learned a ton about rendering in passes, subsurface shaders and clean deformations while working on this -- from trial and error, and from others participating in the challenge.

Thanks go out to CGNetworks and the sponsors for holding the challenge, and to everyone who gave me feedback over the last two months -- it's that feedback that kept me going.

I'm getting on a plane in a few hours, and it's time to let go now. There's a few things I'd tinker with and rework until the end of time if I didn't have a deadline. I pushed myself past what I thought was my best -- and as such, I'm very happy with the final piece.

Special thanks for comments, encouragement and crits to:

soapy, neeno, Alan Daniels, arlutik, d-tox, blackdragoncg, Wandddo, Gianluca, Mr Micro26, DaddyMack, monica.ta, Miyagi, Madlight_1988, jackmcfly

Mad props to Intelligentsia Coffee and their Black Cat Blend -- without which I doubt seriously I would have finished. If there was any doubt, this image is a self portrait.

Extra special thanks to:

Amy, Dennis, Damon, Brue, Tiff, Steve, Jefferson & Michelle for real time crits and encouragement. These are the ones who had to deal with sleep deprived me in real life as I focused on finishing this.
  03 March 2005
Concept Sketch: Initial Sketch

Initial, really rough and loose concept sketch. More than slightly biographical.

We all know how it starts. First you have a sip of mom's coffee as a kid, then you drink pots to stay awake and cram in school.

From there, it's just a small jump to making enough money to afford your daily double latte habit.

Soon, some of us find out what GOOD coffee tastes like and begin an expensive quest to purchase various devices in search of the perfect shot.

What then, when we find it? There's nowhere left to go.

We're slaves to the habit, the caffeine and the rush. And it'll never again feel like the first time.

I'm trying to cross the old cliche of the junkie in rapture cooking up a shot with a caffeine addict in search of the God Shot. Walking a fine line between confession and parody here, but would prefer to stay on the funny and true side of my (admitted) addiction.
  03 March 2005
This is my first challenge here I've participated in. Work's a little slow right now, so I think I can push myself hard enough to at least not be embarrassed submitting in front of some of the crazy talented folks we have around here.

Best of luck to all!
  03 March 2005
Concept Sketch: Scene blocking & composition 1

First of two potential compositional choices.
  03 March 2005
Concept Sketch: Scene blocking & composition 2

Second of two potential camera angles. I've quickly dummied up a set to scale, thrown an old rig in place for figure massing.

Next step is the modeling of the espresso machine.
  03 March 2005
Modeling: Modeling update

Initial massing of the espresso machine / monster -- dials and hoses still to come. Default DGS and Blinn shaders, nothing fancy -- but it's important to check high quality test renders as reflective items have the tendency to look a bit whack if you don't catch uneven verts early in the game.

All pieces started life as Nurbs geometry, converted to Sub-D's for sculpting and texturing ease once masses were about right.

On a side note, I usually randomize a few verts in Z when I'm dealing with a flat, reflective, metallic surface as very few things on earth are perfectly reflective and straight. A few imperfections go a long way to sell the shader.

It's going to be loosely based on a Francis! Francis! X2 machine, but I'm taking a lot of time anthropomorphizing it to the edge of the absurd.
  03 March 2005
I gotta hook up to any thread that has a expresso machine monster! hahah, I like the idea a lot. Maybe you could add a Starbucks mug or two on the counter, or paraphenalia from other evil coffee empires.

cheers and good luck.
  03 March 2005
Modeling: Espresso Machine Character - First Pass

Cranked a bit tonight on the machine character.

I'm walking the fine line between exaggerated realism and making the viewer laugh at the absurd face on second glance.

It's meant to be funny and a little bit psychotic. I'm laughing at least!

Just basic DGS and blinn shaders in there -- no spec, diffuse or weathering yet -- but I couldn't resist turning on the blinkenlights.
  03 March 2005
dude dude dude.. thats the funkiest espresso machine i've ever seen mad stuff here man dude.. give this to your local appliance company you could make a fortune eheheh funky as dude... looking great

-= Man with One Chopstick , Go Hungry =-
  03 March 2005
The machine

Thanks for the kind words.

Actually, it's based on an amalgam of real (super cool) machines by an Italian company called Francis!Francis! I've just taken liberties with the proportions and placement of the bits to draw out the inner demon!
  04 April 2005
Course correction

I went as far as to model most of the kitchen environment, and I played with the camera angles a bit more and the whole thing was striking me as far too mundane.

Right now, I'm researching vintage hospital and asylum photos -- the art deco style of the espresso machine should be a good match with scary 30s-60s hospital machinery and sets. A lot better creative possibilities for the mood, color and lighting of the scene as well.

I've got a very green-tinted feel in mind right now -- similar to film stock that's been cross-processed or had a bleach bath.

I figured that if I'm pushing this to the edge of the absurd, a plain 'ol kitchen set does nothing for the mood, theme or emotional content but add realism -- which I'm not really going for.

There's interesting possibilities in actually getting the raw plates written to film (with my old-school film recorder) then rescanned after getting some chemical processing done if I can't achieve the quality of light and color that I'm going for in Photoshop. That might add some nice, organic feel to the piece -- although I'm not sure that time is on my side to tinker with it that long.
  04 April 2005
Modeling: Environment Round 1

I worked most of yesterday starting to create a realistic kitchen environment, but a good night's sleep and a healthy dab of inspiration have me changing direction a bit. This will just be too plain, and add nothing to the mood of the piece.

Posting as a WIP image for posterity, however!
  04 April 2005
Concept Sketch: Revised concept

I've been struggling with the composition of the scene pretty badly up until now. It works well as an illustration, but I'm coming to learn that having the main characters in your scene (1) inanimate and (2) comatose can cause problems when you're trying to achieve a dynamic feel.

Today I was kicking around the concept with some coworkers and one mentioned that having the machine leering over the guy's shoulder would work better as a composition -- and it quickly made it to the point of an electric chair type staging.

From there, a new composition/staging with the same core idea was born.

Props go out to Damon for this gentle nudge. Beers on me in six weeks, man...
  04 April 2005
Modeling: Chair pass 1

Initial poly modeling of the chair contraption -- based very closely on a famous electric chair from Sing Sing prison (thanks Google!)

I've shortened the back a rung so that the machine will sit at neck level with the main character.

More mitering, bolts, nails, tubes and straps will come when I dress the set later. Besides, I need a break right now -- staring obsessively at archive photos of electric chairs for the last few hours has gotten to me!

Next step: initial UV and texture pass for the chair, floor and backdrop, then on to modeling the main character. Undecided if I'm going to model him in place or rig him, what with the awkward pose and cloth wrinkles. Probably a combination approach.
  04 April 2005
I just joined the challenge myself, so I hope I'm not too late in adding this, but I just had to say that I love your idea. It got a good laugh of me. I want one of those espresso machines!
Water, Electricity, Money, and Life: If there's a way through, they find it.
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