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Illustrate a Sensitive Subject Using Poser, Cinema 4D, and Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I'll walk you through a hypothetical brief on creating a magazine illustration. To start off, I'll show you how to painlessly export/import Poser meshes into Cinema 4D, where you'll perform a Boolean operation. You'll discover how Object Buffers and Multi-Pass renders can save you hours of post production time in Photoshop. Finally, you'll learn how to transform a 3D render into something quite unique by building up its weight and density with some real-world textures.

The initial part of this tutorial is 3D heavy – so for those of you who want to skip this part and concentrate on the Photoshop techniques, jump to Step 39.


Sometimes an art director will see an existing image in your portfolio that can inspire the commission. Once the idea is discussed, the art director may send you a rough layout – depending on how detailed your brief, you may need to produce a more polished sketch for approval. In this case, the sketch and previous example was sufficient for me to begin work. Also, a good art director will welcome input from the artist, such as the suggestion of adding the ladders.

The magazine article focuses on metal heath awareness in males aged 25-40. With a fairly small budget, Poser was the ideal choice because the figures could be repositioned at any time during the creation process. Also, the use of characterless figures avoids any negative connotations or stereotyping. The finished illustration is shown on the magazine spread below.

You may also like check out the illustrations of David Ho who's work partly inspired this tutorial.

Step 1

Launch Poser and replace the default figure by highlighting the "JamesHiRes" thumbnail (under Figures > James) and clicking the Change Figure icon. This figure is going to be the large one, that's why we're using the high resolution mesh.

Now check you've got the Smooth Shaded option selected in the Document Display Style panel to make things run faster. Incidentally, I'm running Poser 6, but all the techniques you'll use will work from 4.02 onwards.

Step 2

Add another figure by highlighting the standard "James" thumbnail, then selecting the double tick Create New Figure icon, so as not to overwrite the first figure. Now select the whole figure and use the Parameter dials to set the Scale to 10% and the yTran to 2.880. This setting makes the figure visible, because each time a new one is added, it lands in the same spot. This will be the first of the small characters – that's why we're using the lower resolution mesh.

Step 3

With the small figure still selected, set the Parameter dials as shown.

Step 4

Pose the figure using the Stand 15 preset (under Pose > James Pose Standing Pose). Now scale the figure to 7%, then transform using the settings as shown. Be sure to use your different camera views to help positioning – sometimes a side view can look fine, but when viewed from a different viewpoint it's totally wrong. Don't worry about being too precise at this stage, as we'll be fine-tuning the Parameter dials later.

Step 5

Add another small figure above on the other side of the head, then use the same techniques to position. Now pose using the Pushing 05 preset (under Pose > James Pose > Action > Handling Objects). The art director had originally intended both small figures to stand on the ears, but agreed it would be better to add the ladders. Don't worry about any limbs colliding with the large figure – we'll be removing the top of the head in Cinema 4D later.

Step 6

With your two small figures roughly positioned, select the large figures' head mesh and set the Blink dial to 1.000.

Step 7

Download the free ladder model, then after unzipping it, store in a memorable location. Now go File > Import > 3D Studio and navigate to the model. In the Prop import dialogue box enter the settings as shown (I estimated a scale of 20%, but this will be changed later). With the ladder selected, you can pull upwards with the yTran dial to roughly position it.

Step 8

Now set the Scale dial to 80% and pull/rotate to refine its position. Your smaller figure will almost certainly require positioning tweaks, as well the feet dials amended to match the rung of the ladder. Again, view the models at different viewpoints for accuracy. At this point feel free to adjust further parameter dials on the smaller figures, such as their arms and hands.

Step 9

Viewed from the front camera, you're scene should look like this. Again it's OK for the ladder to sink into the shoulder a fraction, this will be corrected with Photoshop later.

Step 10

Now open the Props library and with the ladder selected, click the Add to Library icon and name it "LADDER."

Step 11

Select the ladder thumbnail, then click the tick icon to add the second ladder. Now set the xTran dial as shown.

Step 12

Rotate/position the ladder into position, then select and adjust the second small figure. You'll also need to fine-tune the feet dials to match the rung of the ladder as previous.

Step 13

Click on the Texture Shader Display Style to ensure all the textures are there (apart from the ladder, which we'll fix in Cinema 4D). Now this part looks complicated, but it's quite simple. We need to export each figure as separate OBJ files, so it's just a case of checking the required mesh boxes.

First, go File > Export and choose Wavefront OBJ, in the next dialogue box ensure Single frame (the default) is checked and click OK. Next, you'll be presented with the Hierarchy Selection window. We need to export the top half of the large figure (JamesHiRes) fist, so deselect UNIVERSE and GROUND, then expand the hierarchy groups and check the required meshes as shown. If you refer to the finished illustration, you'll see the bottom half of the figure is not visible – that's why these meshes are not checked, when you're done click OK.

In the next window check the boxes as shown and hit OK to export. You'll now be prompted to choose a place to save/name the file. I saved to a new folder and labeled it "James_hires.obj."

Step 14

Repeat the export process, but this time selecting all of the first small figure (James) and the first ladder (ladder). Save to your folder and name it "James_left.obj."

Step 15

Export again, selecting all of the second small figure (James 1) and the second ladder (ladder_1). Save to your folder and name it "James_right.obj." – your folder should now contain the following files:

  • "James_hires.mtl"
  • "James_hires.obj"
  • "James_left.mtl"
  • "James_left.obj"
  • "James_right.mtl"
  • "James_right.obj"

Step 16

You can now save the Poser scene as "Figures_final.pz3" within your folder and quit Poser. Since we'll be importing the OBJ files into Cinema 4D, you'll need to either purchase interPoser Light, interPoser Pro, or download the free demo.

InterPoser is a plug-in for Cinema 4D that enables OBJ files and Poser scenes to be loaded with ease. It also allows reconstruction of material settings with the help of Poser Runtime references to find image textures. Also, changes saved to the Poser Scene file can be applied at any time thereafter. You can also use the plug-in's Runtime Explorer to apply any Poser Runtime library file containing material information to the selected object or objects in a manner similar to Poser.

I'm running Cinema 4D V8, but the techniques you'll use will work on newer releases. Once you've installed the plug-in, launch Cinema 4D and open the interPoser window from the Plugins drop-down menu. Next, click the Load Scene Object button and navigate to your "James_hires.obj." In the Scene Configuration window check Merge with Active Document and Apply Materials from Scene File. Now navigate to your Poser file and hit OK.

Step 17

Next, you'll be prompted to navigate to your Poser Runtime folder (Applications > Poser > Runtime) select it, then click the Choose button.

Step 18

After a short while, the figure will import, complete with textures. If you spot any unwanted figure parts (from the export process in Step 13), simply highlight their meshes in the Object Manager and hit Delete.

Now save the document as "Illustration.c4d" to the same folder as the OBJ files.

Step 19

Open a new Cinema 4D file and use interPoser to import the "James_left.obj" and repeat Steps 16 – 17.

Step 20

Now save the file as "James_left.c4d" within your folder.

Step 21

Open a new Cinema 4D document, then use interPoser to import the "James_right.obj" and repeat Steps 16 – 17. Save the file as "James_right.c4d" within your folder. Reopen your first Cinema 4D file ("Illustration.c4d") and go File > Merge, then navigate to the "James_left.c4d." Repeat the Merge command with James_right.c4d."

Now if you inspect the Object Manager, it should have three groups of meshes all in the exact position as they were in Poser. If you were to export all the meshes from Poser in one go, you would have a huge list of ungrouped meshes that could easily be mixed up. Now perform a preview render (Control + R) to check everything is looking as it should.

Step 22

Expand the "James_hires" group and drag the "Figure_1:head" mesh above it as shown.

Step 23

Rename the mesh "Figure_1:head_outer," then Copy > Paste as a new mesh, position above the original mesh and label it "Figure_1:head_inner." Color it white using the Display Color (under Basic Properties) in the Attributes palette. Now scale from the centre as shown – this inner mesh will create the thickness required when the top of the head is sliced off.

Step 24

Add a cube object below the "Figure_1:head_outer" mesh. Now hit F5 to view all panels and ensure the cube encompasses the head. Now select the side view (F3) and zoom in, then drag the green Y coordinate up so the base of the cube aligns to the left-hand figures' foot which will eventually rest on the lip.

Step 25

Highlight "Figure_1:head_inner" and "Figure_1:head_outer," then right-click and select Group to add them to a Null Object. Now position the "Null Object" above the "Cube."

Step 26

Add a Boolean (Objects > Modeling > Boolean) and position it above the "Null Object." Now drag the "Cube" into the "Boole."

Step 27

Drag the "Null Object" containing the two head meshes into the "Boole." Now with the "Boole" highlighted, select Object in your Attributes palette and make sure A subtract B is chosen in the Boolean type drop-down menu and that the High Quality option is also checked.

Step 28

You'll notice some odd looking artifacts on the head meshes. This is because Poser has imported some extra Tag data that gets corrupted by the "Boole" object. This can easily be corrected by deleting the two extra Base Tags on both head meshes as indicated. Now perform a preview render to check everything is OK.

Step 29

To keep things tidy, drag the "Boole" into the "James_hires" group at the top of the hierarchy stack. Doing this ensures all the figure meshes and the "Boole" are grouped and could be moved as one object if required.

Step 30

Now begin to assemble the inner mechanical workings of the head in separate documents. You can either model pieces yourself, or for speed I've used some freely available meshes; such as this engine. This part is like working with 3D clip art – have some fun assembling the parts in a way not originally intended to create your mechanism. The top model is from a stock 3D CD.

It's always wise to check the license agreement on free models if you're using them commercially. When you're done, delete any textures which may have been imported, then Save and Merge as before with your "Illustration.c4d" document.

Now position/size your parts to fit within the head cavity. Also toggle the visibility of the "James_hires" group in the Basic Properties window to help with positioning.

Feel free to add any other elements – I used another component from the stock CD at the base to fill the space.

Step 31

If you don't have the basic Cinema 4D's materials loaded, press Shift + Command + O and navigate to them (labelled "Basics.c4d" in your "Mat" folder). Now highlight your mechanical groups in the Object Manager and texture them by drag/dropping a combination of the "metal007" and "metal008" materials. Were only after a basic coloring, so don't labour over any Reflection or Bump settings – also drop the Brightness values as shown.

Step 32

Shift-click to highlight all your mechanical group names, then add them to a Null Object (as you did in Step 25), which you can rename "Mech_brain."

Step 33

Drop the "wood003" material onto both ladder meshes and adjust the Brightness setting to 80%.

Step 34

Add a Floor plane and rest it just below the waistline of the large figure. Now adjust its size to cover the background area on your main view panel.

Step 35

Now let's add some basic lighting. Drop in an Omni light (1) and position as shown, adjusting the brightness to 22%. Set the Shadow to Soft and position as shown. Copy > Paste a duplicate light (2), reposition and increase the brightness to 22%. Paste again to add another light (3), then change its Type to an Area light.

Step 36

Add an Environment, then click on the Environment Color swatch and choose a very pale green/yellow. Now adjust the Environment Strength to 20%. At this point it's a good idea to perform a preview render, screengrab it and shoot it over to the art director for approval.

Step 37

In the Object Manager, target your first group and go File > New Tag > Compositing Tag. Now select the Object Buffer in the Attributes menu and check Enable. Continue to add Compositing Tags to your remaining groups and enabling them as separate Object Buffers. Each of these Object Buffers will now render each object group as a separate alpha channel to make our Photoshop editing much easier.

Step 38

Perform another preview render, then once you're happy you can press Control + B to access the final render settings. These are the settings I used:

General tab: Geometry under Antialiasing.

Output tab: Select Manual and enter 5000 px by 4500 px.

Save tab: Select 300 DPI, then click the Path button to save to your chosen destination and name it "Render.tif."

Antialiasing tab: Select Geometry and Still Image.

Options tab: Check Auto Light, Textures, Cancel if Texture Error, Blurry Effects and Volumetric Lighting.

Multi-Pass tab: Check Multi-Pass Rendering, then load each Object Buffer in the Channels drop-down menu. Now check Save Multi-Pass Image and Multi-Layer File. Finally, click the Path button, save to the same location and name it "Alphas.psd." When the render has completed, you'll have two Photoshop files; a straight render and one containing four alpha channels. Now hit Shift + R to Render to Picture Viewer.

Step 39

When your renders are complete, open them both in Photoshop and Shift-drag the "Render.tif" layer thumbnail into the "Alphas.psd" layer palette. Now press Command + E to Merge Down, then double-click the resulting layer thumbnail to unlock its transparency and name it "Render."

If you switch to your channels palette and disable the visibility of the top RGB composite channel, you'll see the four extra channels, which can be loaded as selections as you'll see later. Now target your top composite channel and disable the extra Object Buffer channels. Switch back to your layers palette and hit Command + Y to enable Proof Colors. This allows you to work in RGB Mode, whilst previewing in CMYK and avoids any unexpected color shifts later.

Step 40

We've got too much background area, so select the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M). Now set the Style to Fixed Size and enter the following dimensions: Width: 28 cm Height: 32 mm (which is the reproduction size). Now go Image > Crop.

Step 41

Zoom in and check for objects with a low polygon count – you'll see the cups on the central device need fixing. First, choose the Ellipse Tool (U) with the Paths option selected. Now add a circular path over the first area as shown – don't worry if you don't get it right first time, just use the Path Selection Tool (A) to select, then press Command + T to Transform and reposition.

Add a new layer and then Command-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection. Now carefully use the Clone Tool (S), set to Current & Below to repair the edges . Don't worry cloning over areas such as the figures' knee – Command-click "Object Buffer 3" in the channels palette to generate a selection and hit Delete.

Step 42

The cup to the right is a little more involved, because of its thickness and not being a perfect circle. Start by adding a path as the previous step. Transform/position, then hold down Control and select Distort to reshape it. Generate a selection and use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to select an olive and pale yellow from the lip. Now add a new layer ("Layer 2"), then select the Gradient Tool (G) and pull down a Linear Gradient within the active selection.

Finally, go Select > Modify > Contact by 6 px and hit Delete, then clone within the selection on "Layer 1."

Step 43

Continue retouching using either circular or creating manual paths. Remember to work on "Layer 1" rather then your base layer, this way mistakes can easily be rectified.

Step 44

Create a path around the missing foot of the left-hand ladder and clone within a path-based selection. With black set as your foreground color and the selection still active target "Object Buffer 3" and hit Delete to fill with white. Follow the same techniques for the right-hand ladder, filling the "Object Buffer 3" with white too.

Step 45

Choose a medium, hard-edged brush. Now generate selections from "Layer 1" and "Layer 2" to paint any remaining areas on the relevant Object Buffer channels white. With your retouching complete, target your base layer and hit Shift + Command + E to Merge Visible.

Step 46

Drop in a new layer, set the Blending Mode to Multiply and label it "Shadows." Choose a medium, soft-edged, black brush at 100% Opacity to paint shadows as indicated.

Don't worry about overlapping any areas, we'll fix that in the next step. Also, if you feel your shadows are too heavy, just reduce the layers' Opacity – I used a setting of 48%.

Step 47

Load "Object Buffer 1" as a selection and hit Delete on the "Shadow" layer to remove the excess. Repeat using selections from "Object Buffer_2" and "Object Buffer_3."

Step 48

Add a new layer at the top of the stack and label it "Smudge/blur." Now use the Smudge and Blur Tools (R) both set to Sample All Layers to paint over any harsh edges within selections generated from your Object Buffer channels. Remember, were aiming to remove the crisp, 3D rendered look for a more painterly look.

Step 49

Target the "Render" layer and Merge Visible again. Next, duplicate the "Render" layer and name it "Render noise." Go Filter > Noise > Add Noise, enter an Amount of 12 and check the Monochromatic option. Now drop the layers' Opacity to 90%.

Step 50

Accentuate the midtone detail on your mechanism by making a selection from "Object Buffer 1." Now add a new layer set to Soft Light and label it "Highlights."

Next, select a medium, soft-edged, white brush set to a low Opacity and paint within the selection as shown. You can now drop the layers' Opacity to taste – I used a setting of 66%.

Step 51

Add a new channel by clicking on the Create new channel icon at the foot of the palette and label it "All figures." Now generate selections from all four Object Buffers in turn and fill with white on the new channel. This combined channel will now enable you to quickly select all the Object Buffers at once.

Step 52

Drop in the cloud image as a new layer and label it "Sky." Transform to cover the canvas, then generate a selection from your "All figures" channel. With the "Sky" layer targeted choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.

Step 53

Open "Texture_1.jpg" from the "source" folder and Shift-drag it as a new layer. Name it "Distress 1" and set the Blending Mode to Soft Light and drop the Opacity to 40%.

Step 54

Repeat using "Texture_2.jpg," using Soft Light again, but lowering the layer Opacity to 28%. Then name the layer "Distress 2."

Step 55

Repeat using "Texture_3.jpg," setting the Blending Mode Color Dodge, and its Opacity to 36%. Name the layer "Distress 3."

Step 56

Drop in the final "Texture_4.jpg," setting the Blending Mode to Soft Light, and its Opacity to 40%. Name the layer "Distress 4."

The technique of layering these textures and experimenting with different Blending Modes and Opacities is not unlike glazing in traditional mediums, such as watercolor painting – so it's always a good idea to have a selection of interesting textures on hand.

Step 57

Add a Black and White adjustment layer, selecting the Maximum White preset. Now set the Blending Mode to Overlay and the Opacity to 64% to soften the effect.

Step 58

Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, setting the Saturation to -34 – then drop the layers' Opacity to 90%.

Step 59

Now add a Levels adjustment layer, setting the Input Level midpoint to 0.91.

Step 60

Add a mask to the "Distress 2" layer, then use a medium, soft-edged brush to erase as shown.

Generate a selection from the "All figures" channel, target the "Distress 3" layer and choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide Selection.

Add a mask to the "Distress 4" layer and use a medium, soft-edged brush to erase as shown.

Step 61

You can now refine any layers you're unhappy with – I adjusted the Opacity of the "Distress 4" layer to 30%.

Step 62

At this late stage, the art director wanted the right-hand figures' hand to overlap the cup. To achieve this, I had to hide the visibility of all the meshes in the Cinema 4D file apart from the left hand and perform another render. You can find the "Hand_patch.psd" in the "source" folder.

Drag it in above the bottom "Render" layer, position and Merge Down. Now delete the "Render noise" layer and repeat the second part of Step 49 again: (Duplicate the "Render" layer and name it "Render noise." Go Filter > Noise > Add Noise, enter an Amount of 12 and check the Monochromatic option. Now drop the layer Opacity to 90%).

Finally, save a flattened version, convert to CMYK, delete the extra channels and you're done!


I hope this tutorial inspires you to create some of your own 3D/Photoshop illustrations – remember 3D illustrations needn't always be hyper-real and slick. By using a combination of distressed textures and some simple Photoshop tricks, they can take on another dimension!

I'd like to thank Nigel Doyle – better known as 3DKiwi, who kindly helped out with some Boolean headaches I had! He also runs the popular C4D Cafe where you'll find plenty of resources and tutorials.

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