The Making of 'Totem'

3D World cover, with Alex Alvarez

Chapter List


In this title, Alex Alvarez shares his workflow and techniques for creating ‘Totem’, a commissioned 3D illustration for the cover of 3D World magazine. Over five hours of lecture, Alex delves into all aspects of how the image was created. Beginning with the initial design brief of a ‘stone head in a jungle’, Alex began with a series of sketches for approval. The 3D development began with the head in ZBrush, moving to terrain layout and camera setup in Maya. The terrain was then sculpted in ZBrush to finalize the foundation upon which all of the plants and trees would be placed. Scene lighting was then blocked out using Mental Ray’s physical sun/sky system, while designing the areas of illumination and shadow using a library of trees created with Onyx. Plants and trees were created using SpeedTree, including custom assets such as hanging vines and ground ivy. The moss that grows upon the stone head, as well as the tree branches, was creating interactively in Maya with custom PaintFX brushes. Further areas of discussion include texturing, shaders, the SP Paint script, nDo, Quixel Megascan, ZDepth, Volume Fog and final compositing in Photoshop. As an intermediate to advanced level lecture, artists who have seen Alex’s lecture series on natural environments will greatly benefit from this detailed overview of his creative and technical process.

Duration: 382 minutes

Format: HD 1280x720

Chapter List

  • 00. Preview
  • 01. Introduction
  • 02. Design
  • 03. Head Sculpt
  • 04. Initial Layout
  • 05. Terrain
  • 06. Lighting Layout
  • 07. SpeedTree Overview
  • 08. SpeedTree to Maya workflow
  • 09. Ground Texture Megascans
  • 10. Rocks nDo
  • 11. Grass SPpaint 3D
  • 12. Water
  • 13. Head Texture and PaintFX Growth
  • 14. Hanging Vines and Ground Ivy with SpeedTree
  • 15. Fog and ZDepth
  • 16. Photoshop Comp
  • 17. Conclusion

Alex Alvarez

Founder / Director The Gnomon Workshop and Gnomon School of Visual Effects

Alex is founder and director of The Gnomon Workshop and of the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood. Having dedicated the last decade to educating students and professional artists around the world, Alex has helped change the face of computer graphics and design education. He has been published in industry magazines, websites and books – plus he has taught courses at several major trade conferences. Alex is president of the Los Angeles Maya Users Group and sits on the Advisory Boards for and CGsociety. He continues to work on personal and professional projects, recently as a creature development artist on the James Cameron film Avatar. Prior to Gnomon, Alex worked for Alias|Wavefront as a consultant and trainer for studios in the Los Angeles area. Alex is an alumnus of the Art Center College of Design and the University of Pennsylvania.

  • " Whenever I need to breathe life into my characters, Alex Alvarez is where I go. Whether it be to collaborate on concepts with him directly or to watch his tutorials, I am always confident in accessibility to great information. Not only has his technical prowess pulled me out of many holes, but his character sense has given rise to some wonderful moments on some major motion pictures (Avatar and Star Trek). These new tutorials encapsulate what I gush about. Crazy and creative character design coupled with empowering technical know how. "

    - Neville Page
    Character / Concept Designer