Comic Con Chronicles: Wolf Pauldron Workflow
To Final Fantasy VII fans, the Norse figure Fenrir is most iconically associated with Cloud Strife, acting as a symbol of his lone wolf, warrior demeanor. This is especially apparent in Advent Children, for Fenrirs are represented everywhere, from fashion motifs and motorcycles to appearance of actual wolves. It is because of this prominence that I wanted to create a special piece dedicated to this important aspect of Cloud's character design.
I wanted to share my 3D printed journey for this piece of my cosplay because of how iterative it was, and that is where this process shines- its original term, rapid prototyping, speaks for itself. 3D printing was originally designed to speed up the time it takes to get to that final, presentable prototype, and without that rapid iteration the process provides to makers, I would have never reached my final piece or truly understood how my piece was functioning, and how to make it better.
Prep Work/Initial Sculpt
When working with an animation as source material (and Dhemerae ran into this with her Princess Mononoke mask as well) it can be very difficult to find reference images or stills that depict the object in a consistent way across 360 degrees. I had a tricky time curating enough consistent images of the Fenrir that I could work from, which heavily contributed to a frustrating and unsatisfying initial sculpt. To help ground myself anatomically, I bolstered my reference images with shots of wolves, which also helped me capture a more authentic wolf expression. I spent several days really knocking around that ZBrush sphere before I reached a base I was satisfied with.
The base anatomy and structure was sculpted using the Move and Move Elastic brushes on Activate Symmetry. I then went in with FormSoft and Clay Buildup to roughly sketch in, then refine, my details, finishing the tips with the Snake Hook brush to achieve the perfect tapered end. These tools make up my Holy Grail team, and I find that a combination of these alone have allowed me to create a variety of sculpts quite quickly.
I shelled the piece by isolating the area where my shoulder would sit; then, I deleted the area and Edge Looped my surface, adjusting the thickness accordingly.
Once the Fenrir was at a near finished state, I brought it into a file that housed the 3D scan of my torso (the same scan I used for last year's armor) and began to adjust scale and position it to my frame, modifying any details as I went.
As a first iteration should be, my model revealed a series of areas that needed adjusting.
The most obvious thing was the size- I knew as soon as I pulled it from the printer that it was way too small! Especially with my petite upper body, I wanted this piece to add more drama and presence to my frame, and provide balance against the other sweeping elements in the look, like the sword and the billowing fabric. It was also a bit narrow, so I needed to adjust the width to add more room to accommodate mobility and supplemental padding for comfort.
An example of tunnels
I also had several tunnels in my model. In some cases where the model's walls are quite thin and made up of minimal polygons, the DynaMesh algorithm will attempt to resolve the issue through creating small, "closed" holes that not only thicken the wall but compensate for the lack of geometry over the same surface area. These tunnels were most prominent within the mouth region, as well as the top of the Fenrir's head, so I also had to resolve these sites in my next iteration.
Also, the spiky "fur" that I created had incredibly sharp tips, and needed a severe filing as to not puncture my jugular!
While I was able to nail down the scale on the second print, I was not out of the woods yet.
With the increase in size came more areas to adjust, for parts that once hit me correctly on the smaller piece now not sat differently on my body, despite how I positioned it on the scan.
This is a great example of how you are never going to know entirely what your result will be until it is printed, because moving from physics-less digital space to the physical world will never be a seamless one without iteration.
The tunnels were still hit or miss; I still had a few even after remeshing and Edge Looping again.
This was assurance that I had definitely overworked the model too early in my sculpting workflow- I created the details too quickly on a mesh whose poly count was not high enough to compensate all the micro-managed sculpting, leaving me with tunnels when I DynaMeshed. So in lieu of starting over, I continued with the model I made and set out to resolve the tunnels to the best of my ability, and fill any remainders in post. Since I wanted to nail down the shape and overall look before adding in the teeth, I now had an even more delicate modeling challenge ahead of me.
I also decided that adjusting the more sculptural fasteners to look more industrial would also be a more successful edit in the long run.
...And my tips were still too sharp! Moving on...
... Third time was in fact a charm: size, check. details, check. Tips, check.
I still had a few small tunnels remaining, but due to their location, and the state of my mesh, I decided to not make any further adjustments, for they in no way compromised the piece. Sometimes, you just get so passionately into the sculpt, you move too far too quickly!
The "Blind" Final
The final model, spray painted!
The one thing that I did not test prior to going to final was that I made my fasteners articulated; after reviewing the third prototype, it just did not make sense to have such a pragmatic object not function the way it should.
Normally I would not recommend moving to final before testing such an element- since they may in fact be fused- but my tolerances were large enough that I was confident that nothing was touching.
Post production-wise, I did have some chronic leaking of raw print material in certain sections of my model due to the tunnels and they way I shelled it. This somehow created a pocket where the material became trapped. To resolve this, I swabbed the areas clean with alcohol, then epoxied over them. This is actually quite common with 3D printed material; since the materials are design for prototyping and not archiving, they will discolor, change chemistry, and weaken over time.
I then topped the piece off with a black spray paint that had a hint of texture similar to that of Cloud's original piece, added a leather strap to secure it to my body, inserted shoulder padding for comfort, and after two months, I was finally done!
I am very pleased with the result and my interpretation of the original piece- I got quite a lot of compliments on it at Comic Con! It ended up being one of my favorite pieces I have ever made, despite its issues.
SLOW DOWN your sculpt: Make sure that as you are working , you keep making mental checks in 360 degrees of what is happening with your mesh, and how you are manipulating it.
DynaMesh/Remesh/Subdivide as You Go: This will maintain the integrity of your mesh, and when the time comes to move to the micromanaging step, you will have a sound mesh to carve into.
Choose your battles: Sometimes, things just do not go as planned no matter how prepared you may be. Check in with your context, and efficiently modify to each issue you may have- decide how much of an actual issue the issue is.
@bulandewi via Instagram
Stay tuned as we move into post-production!! We have a few videos up on our Instagram as we begin the testing phase for painting the swords, and plan to post more, so stay tuned here and there and Twitter and everywhere!