Graham Toms, 3D Education specialist- Texas Longhorn Comission- 4x stage process

Here is a commission done for a rancher from Seguin, Texas, to paint his 2x Texas Longhorns. I felt this was a great opportunity to study this animals anatomy in some detail. I decided to make the project ‘fun’, fun as in challenging.

Instead of just copying from a photo, I decided to create both bulls in 3D using an application called LightWave 3D. This process was carried through with the aid of other applications such as Zbrush, 3D Coat and Photoshop. The bulk of this process involves sculpting the subjects in polygons, texturing with muscle detail ( called Displacement maps), color detail, rigging the character to move the bull in to any particular pose I want. This also includes staging the bull for dramatic lighting and a good point of view to add to the drama of 2 bulls.

In the original photo, the bulls appear to be gently sparring with their horns. With my pose I want to exaggerate it as a serious confrontation between to huge bulls sparring over territory to make the narrative more engaging.

I am going to share a description and explanation of my methodology. I hope you find it engaging and hopefully useful it you are involved in the visual arts or are aspiring to break into this particular profession.

Here was the jpgs of his Texas Longhorns sent to me via Email by the client.


A crucial part of any subject is research. A few photos isn’t going to give you enough information when designing. However, if we do limit ourselves to just a few photo references we are restricting our latitude. That means we are limiting ourselves to a more holistic understanding of our subject that we could greatly benefit in future projects. So besides the photos which are indeed important because the client wants his bulls represented in the painting, I use other references as show in picture below.

Using plenty of good anatomy books on animals as well as faithfully reproduced plastic animals along the way. I also study a variety of different cattle types because there may be something another breed emphasizes better than the Longhorn breed. Anything that will enhance the look of the subject, I will incorporate.

The image below is what is know as a base mesh.  This mesh is a polygoned model that has to have an economical amount of polygons. It must also have equally spaced polygons  for the purposes of UV mapping. UV mapping I will explain a little later on. Also the base mesh has to have what is know as good poly-flow. The poly-flow is where the quad are created in a way that will echo the physiology of the animals muscularity. This is very important if I want to move the bull in a particular pose, or animate it. The polyflow will deform the mesh in a way that must compliments the animals physiology, not distort it in a manner that looks unnatural.

Once the base mesh is created I need to create the detail that discribes the Muscles and the texture colors of my subject. Before that can be done I need to create a UV map. This process projects a texture map onto a 3D object. The letters “U” and “V” are used to describe the 2D mesh.

Here is my particular method, below is am image showing my object transferred to 3D Coat. LightWave is great at transferring data from it’s native application to a multitude of other 3rd party applications.

Below is an image showing how i have selected edges of polygons on my model to create a flattened bull hide. The hide makes it easy for me to transfer in to photoshop and quickly editing my textures if I need to. To create the hide i had to select edges along a row of polygons then click a function that flattens those polygons out. Here the spacing of polygons becomes important. Keeping all the quad polygons relatively the same size, the detail painted onto each polygon will be a similar resolution.

When the UV map is created, i open the Longhorn in LightWave and check the new UV map. The next step is to now export the Base Mesh of my longhorn along with it’s brand new UV map into ZBrush for painting Color textures and Displacement maps. The image below shows the indispensable Wacom Cintiq 21 inch and the image to the right is the Bull texture painted using the tablet.

I am able to paint directly onto the 3D model because of the UV map. Here is what the texture on the Longhorn looks like mapped onto the UV.

However, ZBrush does do an auto map UV, which when bought into Lightwave would look like this

So I’ll quickly summarize the steps-

1) Build base mesh in LightWave’s Modeler

2) Build UV map to create ‘animal hide”.

3) Paint texture maps and Displacement map directly on to 3D Base Mesh

The next stage is now to set up an FK or IK system for the bull. Basically the FK and IK is a form of puppetry that allows us to pose or animate the bull into desired position. I have the Longhorn in LightWaves Layout and begin to construct the FK through a system called joints. Below, the image shows the Joint system. I make a copy of the longhorn and make a different texture map.

Now i can test different camera positions and lens types, plus experiment with different lighting effects, such as a distant light spot light or area light. I initially just work in monochrome so i can focus on the other all design and dramatic lighting. I have rendered the image in LightWave then taken the rendered image into Photoshop for some highlight re touching.

When I am happy with the pose, angle and lighting, I apply all the color texture maps.

I am ready to use this reference for my canvas painting. I initially start with a tonal study to focus on composition,  shading and lighting.

This stage shows me now applying the first glazes of color. Good lighting and a solid easel help a great deal especially with large heavier canvases.

Here is a better view of the first application of glaze color over the top of the monochromatic under coat

Here is stage 2 of color glazing below, the colors are very saturated and quickly applied. I’ll probably need another 8 layers of color glazing to get the finish i need.

This image below is the third stage of color glaze. I am by this stage trying to refine gradients plus refine the muscle structure. There are still a few hours of refinement left, but by this stage, the painting starts to get more fun. The glazes create more depth or in technical terms, better volumetric. and this only happens after numerous layering, it doesn’t happen in the first application. Patience is a virtue with this method, i am terribly impatient but love to tease myself with this type of dichotomy.

The final color glaze is applied. The only thing needed now is the Gloss Varnish to project the color against UV light. plus the color will appear more saturated with the gloss will also create a better feeling of spacial depth. Also a stronger contrast between lights and darkest are enhanced.

Over the next week I hope to focus the project of the Texas Longhorn on the CGI side of things. I will be experimenting with LightWave 11’s Flocking and Instancing features after i have added walking cycles to the bulls.

Lunchtime i went to Bigz for a burger. They have great paper table cloths, my favorite, because I can draw on them. I brought my crayons, even though the burger place has their own supply for clients. I bought a plastic Bull with me.


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1 Response to Graham Toms, 3D Education specialist- Texas Longhorn Comission- 4x stage process

  1. buen trabajo Amigo!!!!
    Nice job¡¡¡¡

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