We're Helping Hands! - Using 3D to Bring 2D Photography to Life with Zbrush and Keyshot

I often encourage my clients to capture as many real world elements as possible during photography. This is often the most believable method of achieving realism but every now and then, this can limit creative possibilities. This proved to be the case in a recent job for Mike Carroll photography and Trinity Real Estate.

The concept centered around two images - one of Raleigh NC Triangle and another of Charlotte NC - featuring a pair of hands with a map of the area applied to the back of them. Trinity wanted their customers to know that they knew these areas like the backs of their hands. One idea was to have a tattoo artist draw the line art on the model's hands, but I was worried that this would prohibit us from easily making changes in post. Thankfully Trinity allowed us to approach this project from a 3D perspective. 

Doing it this way allowed Mike the freedom to focus on getting great shots with the hand model sans line art and only have to think about lighting and gesture. Once the client had chosen the hero shot, I used the selected image as reference and sculpted (by... hand!) a simplified 3D version in Zbrush by Pixologic. This would serve as a 3D scaffold and allow me to wrap the map around the hands in a realistic fashion, rather than trying to use any of Photoshop's tools in two dimensions. 

A basic rough sketch of the hero hands in Zbrush. 

Now that I had a 3D model of the hands I was able to bring it into Keyshot, which is a wonderfully accessible rendering application by Luxion. Keyshot uses image based lighting derived from high dynamic range photography to create incredibly realistic imagery. This would allow me to use a similar lighting setup to Mike's photo shoot to create accurate highlights and shadows, that would add depth to the map effect. 

An early draft showing two options - with and without color. 

One of the great benefits of working in 3D was that I was able to freely adjust each element - the hands, the map, the lighting, all independently. As I moved the map artwork around, it would realistically wrap around the hands. This allowed me to show the options to the client and after several tries we landed on the best placement. 

The final ad for the Triangle region. 

The Whiskey River Standoff - Guns, Glory, and NASCAR


Every now and then I get the chance to work on a project that could  potentially produce something worthwhile, so long as I can take all of the pieces and arrange them into some semblance of an interesting scene. A while ago I was involved in just such a project, on a whirlwind production day on Dale Earnhardt Jr's property that contains a full size Hollywood quality western town. This place is seriously impressive, with a church, hotel with livable quarters, stables, and even a working and fully stocked bar. It even has a great name, Whiskey River, which coincidentally shares it's name with a more modern version.

I've been on quite a number of NASCAR related shoots and they all have one common issue - there are so many interested parties invested and so much money involved in working with these drivers that the clients all have to piggyback on each other's productions to get what they need. Inevitably the day is based around a video spot which as any still photographer knows, it means that they are going to come second. I was working (as I often do) with Walter Arce and we knew the drill - get there early, set up, and wait for a really really long time, check our facebook feeds over and over, eat too many carbs, (why is catering always entirely comprised of carbs?)  until you get ten minutes with the talent. Luckily for us there were multiple drivers that day, and they were staggered to us between takes for the commercial.

The theme for the shoot was about, not suprisingly.... cowboys. There were some great props on set and some really solid make up artists and everyone looked their part. The drivers left to right are Jeff Hammond, Paul Menard, Junior Johnson, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin, some of the biggest names in NASCAR. Each driver was costumed in a way that spoke to their own character and in the end they all looked wonderfully authentic. We shot each driver separately as they arrived on set and tried to keep the lighting exact, though a few had to be shot another day.

With our lack of time came the question of what background to use. Walter sent one of his staff photographers to the town set while we were working with the drivers and told him to shoot High Dynamic Range brackets of everything he saw. He came back with a great angle of the saloon entrance, which worked wonderfully in the final image. I believe in the end we had a compelling image with a lot of character.


Large Format Photo Manipulation for Print


Partnering once again with Peter Taylor Photography, I was given the task of creating a 26 foot banner that is now on permanent display in the Charlotte office of Northeastern University, a private research university based in Boston.  I tend to enjoy the more involved photo retouching projects so this was a fun one for me.

I assisted Peter on set both on location in Charlotte as well as in Boston. The first shoot took place at the Charlotte branch, which was the focus of this campaign. Using rough layout of the banner from Wray Ward we were able to decide on a camera angle and move forward. Since each key school personality was photographed individually and in different locations, careful detail was paid to insure that the lighting was uniform across the entire scene.  From one of the building's offices Peter and I captured roughly 80 bracketed exposures to create the large high dynamic range panorama that appears in the background of the final image. The same workflow and attention to detail was continued a week later when we flew to the main university location in Boston.

A few days and a several revisions later I delivered massive final (printing at 150dpi at 26 feet across makes for a rather large file!) which now is on display at Northeastern University in uptown Charlotte NC.  The most fun aspect of the banner is that it takes up most of the real estate of the office which faces the city's main thoroughfare.

This is a great example of why I enjoy working closely with my clients from an idea's inception to it's final completion. It isn't a stretch to say that any image can be improved upon, but including your retoucher in the conversation from the very beginning can greatly improve the end result.




Mike Carroll and HeavyTheory for ScanSource


Once again HeavyTheory has teamed up with Mike Carroll Photography -  this time to create a dramatic series of images for ScanSource, a POS and barcoding company.  The common visual theme of this series is a bright orange source of light emanating from a number of devices such as smart phones and speaker phones. Click the image above to see the final effect complete with the client's copy and dark vignette.

HeavyTheory and ActionSports Collaboration

Aaaaaaannnnddd We're Back!.... Whew.  Apologies for my long absence, but I've been kept very busy by many new ventures - not least of which is an exciting collaboration with ActionSports Photography. ASP is a leader in sports related stock photography, but is also a big player in our local NASCAR culture.  ASP and HeavyTheory have created many vibrant images in this past year including the image in this post. I think it is a great statement for jump starting this site back into action. It displays a great feeling of self improvement and following through. I hope you will check back often as their will be much in the way of new images, testimonials,  and retouching tutorials. Stay tuned!