Making of a Metroid Tribute

Softwares used


I want to start this “Making of”, by giving a shout-out to Josh Herman, whose Hard Surface Character Modelling course I attended. I made this model during his 8-week course, in my spare time besides work, and had a blast working on it and learning from a true professional.

Over the course of the “Hard Surface Character Modelling Course” thought by Josh Herman, I had to take loads of screenshots of my work to show my progress to Josh in order to get feedback. Looking through all the screenshots in retrospect, it’s really nice to see the evolution of the model over time. This led me to the idea of doing a “making of”, since I have made lots of useful images showing all the steps leading up to the final model.

Before starting I want to mention that this model is based on concept art from the game Metroid Prime 3 Corruption. This model is fan art and the original design is property of Nintendo.

Fig. 01 (Concept art is property of Nintendo)

Picking a Concept

I decided to make Samus Aran, as a tribute to one of my favourite game series Metroid. During my search I stumbled upon a concept for Metroid Prime Corruption that resembles the final model used in the game. Since this concept looked a bit more intricate then the iconic orange Varia suit, I went ahead picked it as my main reference.

Since the concept is a bit painterly in some areas I also collected a ton of screenshots to fill in any missing gaps regarding the design.

Fig.02 (This reference material is property of Nintendo)

Analyzing the Concept

After picking my concept, I did a couple of paint-overs, studying, proportions, shapes, volumes and gesture.

Fig. 03

Starting the Model

Within a couple of hours, I already had a crude looking model resembling Samus. Although this model looks extremely basic, a lot of really important decisions have been made: the general height, shoulder width, length of limbs, size of hands and head are already determined and locked down. These proportions were established by adding new pieces of geometry and changing their global shape in Zbrush with the move brush.

After alternating a couple of times between Zbrush and Maya ( Zbrush for the shaping, and Maya for the adding/ changing of geometry) I locked down the global proportions and moved on to the next step.

Fig. 04

Blocking in all my shapes

After all the big shapes had been established, I broke up my model into smaller pieces, defining some of the individual plates. During this stage I also paid attention to the already established shapes breaking up the planes into more smaller angles. Topology is not really playing a big role at this point, but if possible I tend to keep everything all quad unless it will add a lot of unnecessary faces. This is mainly to make things easier in later stages.

Fig. 05

Refining my Model

Refining the model is always a major step, now I was committed to my shapes. At this point I separated all the individual planes into pieces and gave them all thickness. After that, multiple edge loops were added around all the edges that need to stay hard after sub-division. I use Maya’s smooth preview to see how the final result will look after smoothing. Being able toggle between smoothed and unsmoothed view allows me to quickly access what I am doing. I already used different materials in previous stages to colour code my model. In this stage I rely heavily on the specular high-light to read the shape.

Fig. 06

Adding Detail

After the whole mesh is smooth-able (keeping its shape and not becoming one big blob) in smooth preview, it’s time to go beyond retaining the shapes of the block-in and start adding details. On this character all the bare metal parts, such as the gun, torso and back piece are quite detailed so they got their fair share of attention. After that, other parts such as the helmet and shoulder pieces got divided into multiple pieces along their seam lines.

Fig. 07

Polishing and Final Touches

Now that most details were modelled, I spent some extra time on the subtle stuff. I made a complete iron muscle suit for the arms and neck area, so there is some interesting shapes being exposed between the various top plates. I spent some more time on the legs making them fit better with the rest of the design. For the final touch I added Samus’s face behind the visor and inspected the model for any pinches.

Fig. 08


For the final presentation of the model, I decided on a nice pose, and put her on a pedestal so she has something to stand on. In the end two poses were created: An action pose to show off the characters powers in a dynamic pose. And a more passive pose to show off all the detail of the model. The action pose obscured a lot of parts by the hunched nature of the pose, so the passive pose was kept nice and open, shifting her weight more to one leg to create a subtle gesture. Both poses were made with a turntable in mind, so they needed to work from all angles. I had to take special care to solve any interpenetration of plates since I could not hide them off-camera.

Fig. 09

I took special care to change the facial expressions to match her actions in the pose. Choosing an angry expression for the active pose, where she is hastily charging her gun. Compared to a calm and neutral pose fitting the relaxed nature of the passive pose.

Fig. 10

Texturing and Shading

Taking Iron Man as an inspiration, wear and tear was added to both the model and the pedestal. This means the entire model is properly UV’ed. The image below show how the colour, specular and glossiness map work with each other in harmony to create the desired shading.

Fig. 10

Mental Ray was used for rendering, making heavy use of the MIA shaders to create that metal look. To get the various metallic surfaces looking nice, you need to vary the sharpness and intensity of the reflections per material, creating contrast between the neighboring materials.

The environment consists of an HDR dome and 3 area lights for both images. I also manually placed volume lights on all the LED lights on her body to convince the viewer these objects truly cast light.

Fig. 10

Presenting the Model

The final editing was done in Photoshop, post processing was kept to a minimal with only a few slight curve and level adjustments. I decided to keep the original environment dome in the background to tie the character in more with the surroundings and to keep all the tones consistent. During my testing I kept blurring the background out more because it was distracting the viewers eye from the main object, the character. In the end I choose to blur the background out so heavily no shapes are recognizable. But this way the hues of the background still tie in with the reflections on the metals, keeping the image more coherent.

A depth pass was used to fake depth of field, guiding the viewers’ eye to the more important areas of the character. After that some slight bloom was added in Photoshop to really sell the lights. Below you can see the end result.

Fig. 13
Fig. 14