“The disc, being flat, has no real horizon. Any adventurous sailor who got funny ideas from staring at eggs and oranges for too long and set out for the antipodes soon learned that the reason why distant ships sometimes looked as though they were disappearing over the edge of the world was that they were disappearing over the edge of the world.”
– The Light Fantastic (1986), Terry Pratchett
This scene is a tribute to the amazingly addictive series of Terry Pratchett- Discworld.
Recently I completely got sucked into realm created by Pratchett. Discworld series consists of over 40 books, and every one of them is a satire for certain aspects of life. It is full of colorful metaphors, and sometimes infantile jokes. It is also full of British sense of humor, so it won’t be right fit for everyone. I completely fell in love with it, so I’ve decided to recreate world presented in books. It is always better to work on something, you are somehow emotionally attached to.
I’ve started this project from collecting references of sea turtles- The Great A’Tuin was first to model. Great help were also illustrations of Discworld itself. I wanted to check what are acceptable proportions between elements of the scene. Original map featuring top view of the world was also helpful (I’ve used it for creating detailed terrain of Disc as well). The greatest reference of all, was content of books itself. Lots of them starts from description of this world. After reading few of them, one can have solid amount of information about Discworld.
Modeling has started in Blender. In there, I’ve made base mesh for a turtle, which then I’ve exported to ZBrush. Retrospectively I think that creating this base was waste of time, and this thought helped me to speed up my work. Anyway, in ZBrush I use standard set of brushes. My favorite set contains Move, Clay Buildup and hPolish. Depending from sculpting subject I like to use Dam Standard and Pinch (for narrow cavities) or Inflat (that saves me with thin surfaces). I sculpt using DynaMesh.
When I was happy with results, I took a break. After I got back, it struck me that skin doesn’t look as good as I thought it does…
For creating details I’ve used vornoi texture which was supposed to simulate cracks on skin. Unfortunately, this process gave me really poor looking results. I took two deep breaths and decided to do this details by hand. It took me some extra hours to gather references and polish skin, but when I finished it, I knew this was the right call.
I did retopology in Blender. Created UVs, and baked details to low poly mesh. From now, I could proceed to next stage.
Time for texturing! My software of choice for this is Substance Painter. I’m starting from baking basic maps and creating simple masks for materials. When I’m producing those materials, I try to get best results with procedural maps, and then add final touches with regular painting brushes. Base materials gave me proper values for Roughness, Height and Metallic, while Albedo was later strongly over painted by hand. At this moment I step back from Great A’Tuin and let it rest. He (or she) doesn’t have bones yet, because I left rigging for the very end phase of whole project.
Beril, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen…
Well, of course it’s the same model. Elephant was created much faster than the turtle, because I started right in ZBrush. I sculpted it using the same workflow as previous model, with differences at late stage- I’ve used a bit more alpha textures. Elephants’ skin is more subtle than a turtle, so I didn’t need to make it by hand. Although at the end it struck me that maybe I rush it too much and could have make it better.
Retopology was done in Autodesk Maya and it was awesome. Quad Draw is so far my favourite tool for that. It was very pleasant to use, even though I’ve worked in Maya for the first time.
Texturing was also finished much faster than with previous model. After reviewing references I noticed that elephant has less subtle details. I’ve used skin of a rhino as a base material, then added some discolorations, but had to have in mind not to over-paint it. Elephants are really very grayish…
During creation of every other part I had in mind that one day I would have to create a terrain. To reconstruct a whole world is a real pickle. Of course, I had a map, so I started outlining it in Blender. My ugly mesh was exported to ZBrush where I could shape basic mountains and valleys but deep inside I knew it’s not enough to get satisfying good-looking environment. I downloaded some real world height information from terrain.party, and did height maps to use in ZBrush for more detailed sculpt. Most maps that I used were picked from Great Canyon and Nevada desert. In the meantime I started to worry, how am I going to texture all this…
I was worrying a short time because in my hands got a certain software. I generated a 8k height map from sculpted environment, which served me as a base in World Machine. Using just few nodes I was able to generate geometry of my world and awesome textures. I had to optimize mesh that I got, but retopology seemed madness to me, so I simply decimated it in Blender. If I’d do this today, I would probably get rid of small islands from height map and recreate them later, based on texture from another part- this would also increase quality of texture itself. I must admit that some of those islands have very ugly geometry. Water was painted in Substance Painter.
Rigging and animation
We have all the elements necessary to bring Discworld to life. To do this, I’ve created separated rigs for turtle and elephant. Then I merge them in one file and copied elephant three times and connected all rigs for one master bone (each time I had to rename bones so mesh could stay in right place). After I connected last piece, I started animating. I was aiming to catch subtle movement of dignified turtle swimming through the endlessness of the universe, and four elephants bearings weight of the world on its back. I hope it worked well.
Is that all?
My next step wast to create city of Ankh Morpork. I did tower of Unseen University, walls, several simplified houses. I also created palace of gods on Cori Celesti… but wait. Where are any of those? I’ve decided that I should end project at this point. If I wanted to create all of this (in fact I would have to create some characteristic points in every corner of a map), I was worried that problems with smooth loading of my scene on Sketchfab might occur. That’s why I’ve chosen minimalism when talking about the Disc. I added Sun and Moon to make it more complete. After that, it seemed appropriate to add also stars. In general, I am happy with results. I’ve learned a lot from this project. If I would have to sum up time I spent on this scene it would look somewhat like this:
- 30 hours for turtle. There was huge amount of trial-and-error. Mostly error.
- 10 hours for elephant. I’ve a lot on previous errors.
- 8 hours for environment. World Machine is incredible.
- 8 hours for finalizing everything. Putting rig together, animating, tweaking, publishing scene on Sketchfab.
We can round it up to 60 hours in total. In the end of this project summary you can see some renders from Substance Painter.
I encourage you to comment on this project on Artstation. There I publish the very essence of my work.