Heidi the Brain Worm


If you know much about me you know I’m a huge fan of the tv program Face Off, currently in season 10.  This season two of the artist, Robert Lindsay (@MMMutant) and Katie Kinney (@KinneyEffects) teamed up in a challenge to create an alien organism.  Thus was born Hans the Brain Worm.  Unfortunately, they ended up on bottom looks and Katie was sent home.  But, that’s not where this story ends, but rather where it begins.

See, one of the really great things about the show is that many of the artists competing on it, as well as some of the judges (especially Neville Page @NevillePage ), use Twitter to interact with the fans.  I ended up chatting with Katie a bit and she mentioned she wanted to go back and redo the make up on her own sometime.  I offered some suggestions which she liked and one thing led to another and next thing you I’m in Blender 3D doing a basic model to help show her what my ideas were.  But then things sort of took off in their own direction.  I got curious about how you might make some of this stuff, materials you might use, and what was and wasn’t possible.  Katie was pretty patient with all my questions and I learned a bit.  As we tweeted Robert joined the conversation and with some encouragement I ended up taking my own ideas and doing a full sculpt.

Thus was born Heidi the Brain Worm, Hans’ girlfriend.

What follows is a screen shot record of this unexpected creative odyssey.

So to begin with I started with a stock human figure model I happen to have which is the “green guy”.  Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick did a demo for the Zbrush 2015 summit in which they made a 3D model of Neville’s head and used that as the basis for their 3D sculpt.  One of the neat parts that I learned watching was the idea of using a copy, one green (the original) and one grey (the duplicate) to begin a sculpt.  But you can just watch Neville explain it himself, here’s the presentation.  Neville talks specifically about this starting at about the 11 min mark.

 So, needless to say I am nowhere near as good at this as Neville.  In fact, Heidi was and is my very first attempt at doing this kind of 3D sculpt.  Up until now everything I’d done was poly modeling and most of that was hard surface style models.  So to jump right into sculpting a very organic shape… well, nothing like diving right into the deep end of the pool, right?  Did I also mention I have no real life sculpting experience either?   But with encouragement from Katie and Robert and a few other friends, I said what the heck and went for it.

 So my concept was that Heidi has laid some eggs in the scalp of the host / victim and that as they grow they’re protruding through the skin.  Knowing that I knew I needed to figure out their size and placement first.  Since I was also doing this as a “proof of concept” model that someone with way more talent than me might turn into an actual physical make up, I had the additional challenge of trying to create something that could exist in the real world.  So, first the eggs which you see below floating above green guy’s head.  I left the extra space so that whatever the eventual cowl / skull cap would be made out of would have space to be formed under the eggs and everything.

alieneggsac003It took a few tries to get this just right.  My first set of egg sacs were too big, which was easy to see when I looked at them in relationship to my mannequin model (green guy).  The next set were the right size but I had too many.  So after deleting a few and moving the remaining ones about a bit I was ready to move on.

Next came the part that, honestly, kinda scared me a lil… my first sculpt.  I made my duplicate of green guy, changed the color to grey, cut away most of the mesh (because it wasn’t needed) and then stared at the screen for 10 min before I finally switched over to sculpt mode and got to work.  Funny thing was, once I got started it was a lot quicker and easier than I’d ever imagined.

Moral: Stop making excuses and just get to it!  You never really know til you try.

It didn’t take long for my basic cowl shape to emerge.

alieneggsac009alieneggsac008With the rough shape done, I started refining a bit.  So I’m using just the clay, clay strips, and smoothing tool mostly to build up the shape.  I wanted the eggs to look like they had a sort of swollen blister around them so I began pulling that shape out.

alieneggsac010Next I wanted to develop those bllister shapes more, give them a more textured edge that was visual interesting.  After spending a very disgusting hour looking at images I found online of open sores (I’ll just spare you guys that part).  I decided maybe a pebbled edges was more to my liking.  After a couple of abortive tries I got my Blob tool set to create some shapes I liked and I went to work pebbling the edges. (Tip: Save your work often, Blender makes it really easy to have a numbered save history, if you mess up, just go back to your last save and pick up from there.)

alieneggsac012alieneggsac013I spent more time figuring out what I wanted to do than it took to actually do it.  Once you start figuring out the tools in Blender, and if you get used to its hotkeys, things go really fast!

I also included a few places that I wanted to look like maybe they were new eggs still growing and emerging.  Just to kind of give the audience a visual que as to how these eggs form and grow, a sense of process.

Next up I wanted to add more texture between the egg sac blisters.  I liked the idea that the skin was maybe irritated and rough.  So I grabbed my draw tool and added a random noise texture to it and went to work roughing up the skin.

alieneggsac014In the original challenge Katie and Robert had, part of the premise was this was an alien organism invading the body.  I realized if I wanted to follow the same rules I needed to use some “form language” (Stop laughing formies!) to communicate this so I decided to create some raised veins radiating out from the egg sac into the scalp to further indicate how they were “invading” the host body.  I think it turned out pretty well.

alieneggsac015So…. so far so good.  But now for the next big challenge, I needed to actually make Heidi.  Yeah, that led to about a 1 day delay as I mulled over how I wanted to approach something I’d never even attempted before.  Going back to the Zbrush 2015 summit, if you happened watch the sculpt off they had some REALLY amazing artist who often started with just a sphere and turned it into some really cool stuff.  It was mind-blowing how fast they worked and they made it look really easy.  So, I figured what the heck, things have gone well so far why not just jump in the deep end again.

alieneggsac018There’s my sphere and…

alieneggsac019… yeah, not so easy.  I tried for about an hour and finally gave up.  This is something I need a LOT more practice with.  But, that left me with the problem of how to create Heidi.  I’d already come further than I had expected and didn’t want to give up.   So I went back to what I know, poly modeling to create my basic form.

The irony is in poly modeling I started with just a simple cylinder and using a combination of an Array modifier and a Curve modifier following a Nurbs path Heidi quickly started taking shape.alieneggsac020After looping the “tube” body around the neck a couple of times and getting my basic form sorted, it didn’t take me long to start roughing in the basic shape of her head.

alieneggsac021alieneggsac024I knew at this point I want the body to kind of be “eel” like.  For the head I went back to the microbe that was the inspiration piece Katie and Robert were given as a source for my own inspiration.  But I also looked at what they did to try an keep it in “the same family” so to speak.  From there I just started using some simple poly modeling tools to add some interesting shape to Heidi.  I’m not really sure what those bulges behind her head do, but they looked cool and almost gave her a “segmented” appearance and transition.  I liked it so I just went with it.

Their inspiration micro had some lil tentacle / feelers around a small mouth on the front so I worked with that idea.  For the mouth itself I added what started as a kind of “beak”, but as I made it I could almost hear Neville, Glenn and Ve commenting about how octopus beaks really look and decided I’d better make this more original looking… sort of a cross between a beak and four teeth.alieneggsac026I figure that shape out to be okay with them and then started making my “feelers”.  For that I just made some spheres, used the snakehook tool in sculpt mode and stretched them out.  Presto!  Instant feeler tentacle thingies!

alieneggsac027As cool as Heidi looks at this point, I’d forgotten the tentacle / arms that Katie and Robert had given Hans.  Fudge!  Worse, the way my body shape for Heidi had evolved didn’t really lend itself to the four evenly spaced arms they did… what to do?  So, after Katie pointed out that the male and the female of a species don’t have to be identical I decided to give Heidi just 3 semi-asymmetrically placed tentacle / arms.   I modeled these (back to poly modeling) and stuck them on.

alieneggsac029Much better!  Also, she looks more fierce-some now somehow, don’t you think?

But, still to plain.  I wanted to add more texture to the head especially to help draw the eye there.  I also wanted to maybe add some of that pebbling I did on the scalp to help keep my forms consistent and related (yeah, form language again… see Neville, we really do listen!).  Now, my first impulse was to go nuts (also Robert actually told me “Go Nuts with it!”) and pebble the whole body.  But two things stopped me.  Firstly, I thought that might be too much and second, I kinda had this gut feeling that if I did that and some FX make up artist had to actually sculpt that… they’d probably want to kill me.  I have this aversion to being strangled by an angry FX artist so I figured something more subtle and fun was in order.  On the other hand the draw tool with a texture was so easy and fun to use…. okay, I went a lil nuts.

alieneggsac030alieneggsac031alieneggsac033I gotta say, I surprised myself at how well this was turning out.  I still had one more thing I needed to do.  Having Heidi looped around the neck like that suggests she’s controlling the host / victim.  Plus, I hate having anything tight around my neck so that just creeps me out right there.  But I really wanted to communicate that she was actually in control… so how?  What if she had a link, like maybe she was plugged into the host’s nervous system?  I liked that idea and decided he tail would be burrowed into the back and spine of the host, allowing her to take over the nervous system and control the host.  Creepy and cool!

alieneggsac034So at this point my sculpting and modeling are all done.  But, no color.  I’d come this far and done way more than I thought I was capable of, but I just didn’t want to stop.  Again, if you watch Face Off, there’s always that frantic last day when they paint their creations and last looks and all that.  Darn it, I wanted to paint Heidi too!

An that’s where reality bit me.  See, I have an older computer and graphic card.  Right now Heidi and all her parts are well into several million polygons.  That’s a looooooooooooot! When I tried to UV Unwrap that high poly mesh, Blender pretty much groaned, then screamed and then crashed.   Three times.  Wasn’t gonna happen.

Unlike Zbrush, Blender doesn’t really have any remesh capability.  If I wanted to reduce the poly’s I’d have to do the retopo work by hand which would take hours, maybe a day.  As much fun as this has been I need to move on to other projects.  But, I was able to apply some simple material colors to most of the model which kinda sort of gave Heidi some color.  Here’s the screen caps (click on them for the full sized images).

AlienHeadEggs 038.blendAlienHeadEggs 039.blendAlienHeadEggs 040.blendAlienHeadEggs 041.blendI learned a lot doing this, and discovered I could do more than I realized.  I had a lot of fun creating Heidi the Brain Worm and my only regret was I couldn’t 100% finish the project the way I wanted.  But given that I ended up doing far more than I set out to do, no complaints.  Creature creation is a type of 3D modeling I’ve long wanted to try, and I think this is a pretty good beginning of what I intend to be a whole lot more!

I want to thank Katie Kinney and Robert Lindsay for all the encouragement, feedback and generally putting up with me.  This was a LOT of fun!  Its kind of strange, this started with me wanting to help and encourage Katie to re-invent her creation, and ended with her encouraging me to do my own!  Even more ironic is that since I won’t get to really finish this model the way I wanted, at some point when I have a little more experience and skill I want to come back and re-do mine as well.

I also want to thank the #formies (you know who you are) who also encouraged me.  Not to mention Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick who without knowing it, kind of helped kick this off with that demo they did.  Also everyone else in the Face Off Family, again, you know who you are and they’re a great bunch!

See ya for the next Face Off!


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