This usually involves looking for inspiration and reference, while possibly sketching out rough ideas to think about.
Once I have a direction in mind, I start by blocking out the subjects of the composition. I try to rough out the main subjects while still thinking about design, before I go too far into the detailing phase.
After I get my main shapes blocked out, I like to layout some simple edge flows. This allows me to easily adjust proportions and make larger adjustments. I will then continue fine-tuning the model, occasionally adjusting topology again if necessary. I always make sure to double check the mesh and clean it one last time before unwrapping and rigging.
Once I get a model to a point I am happy with, I will UV map and texture the model. Sometimes I will do simple shading before I decide to UV the model, but I always make sure to unwrap it before I begin to properly paint. Once an object is unwrapped, I will usually jump between Photoshop and ZBrush to get the desired texture maps.
I choose to use the Transpose Master in ZBrush for posing models, but if the scene requires animation, a rig may need to be setup in another program. After I have posed the models, I may sometimes go back to sculpt and paint anything that needs to be cleaned up. Jumping between steps 02-05 is when I do the majority of the designing in 3D.
If I'm making an animation instead of a still image, I would setup the scene accordingly. Animations can require utilizing a skeletal system, blend shapes, cameras, lighting, etc. After I have things setup, I would then adjust the animations and simulations until they are complete.
Making sure that I have everything ready to go, I then begin to set up the rendering phase. This stage can vary a lot depending on many factors including software, quality and output. Mainly I focus on lighting and materials to produce the layers I will use when compositing.
Once I have all my images to work with, I will take them into Photoshop, and begin to layer them accordingly. There is usually a specific way I plan on using the rendered layers I make, but I also like to take time and experiment with variations.
All of the steps in my workflow are pretty much interchangeable. I do tend to move around between steps to keep things from feeling tedious and more fluid. I think that it can help to break up the process mentally and can also allow for unintended gains as well. After everything is accomplished, I consider any possible final touches.
Only after I have spent sufficient time in step 09 double checking and gaining approval for everything, will I complete a piece.
Words: Gordon Goane