Elvira Trofimova / Artistic expression through digital media

Hey Elvira, can you introduce yourself?

Hi, my name is Elvira, I’m a student at Gnomon — School of Visual Effects
(But if you are reading this after July 17th 2020 - I’m probably an alumni, yay!) I’m inspired by art, all types - music, visual, film, literature, video games especially, and also nature and my cat Musya :3
Today I’d like to share my thoughts on artistic self-expression and the use of modern digital media to convey emotions and tell a story.

“The Noose” Artwork

What was your motivation when you started working on it 6 years ago?

The idea came to me back in 2014 — I was inspired by the song The Noose by A Perfect Circle, I got shivers from lines: 

Your halo slipping down
To choke you now"

I knew I had to do something with those emotions, so back then the only way I knew how was through 2d illustration

Can you explain the concept behind this piece?

As far as I can tell the song is about someone who overcame their struggles and became a better person but the damage they are done is irreversible:

And not to pull your halo down
Around your neck and tug you off your cloud
But I'm more than just a little curious
How you're planning to go about making your amends
To the dead

That idea resonated with me and through this piece, I tried to put myself in their shoes to accept the change and better understand them (literally I went to the mirror and took pictures of myself for references!)

Why did I decide to remake the piece? I took Texturing and Shading 4 class at Gnomon and had to do a portrait as a final project so I thought this piece is gonna be a great candidate as I still like the idea but not so happy with execution anymore.

Does having something different Artistically speaking is a good thing in your opinion?

I do believe that expressing those sorts of thoughts and feelings is very important for artists, that’s something I learned from my first art instructor when I just started learning Art. That helped me a lot going through teenage years, the skill wasn’t there and it didn’t matter back then I needed an outlet for the emotions I was experiencing and I found it in art.

I know I’m gonna be chasing techniques all my life but the purpose is to tell a story and express a feeling or emotion.

Right now I’m in that technique-chasing mode because of school schedule plus quarantine doesn’t leave much room for experiencing life, but that is an experience in itself!

(How the Gnomon experience feels)

As Artists, we need to experience life to get ideas and express ourselves, when we do that we get space for new ideas and keep experiencing. And execution doesn't have to be perfect to express ideas, here’s one of my favorite webcomics for example:

Literally just stick figures, but expresses the idea and tells a story.

Do you think that today, surrounded by all the great portraits you see online, you have to find something to step up and get the attention of the audience?

The online is a strange place, like a void that you throw stuff in and eventually, it might stumble into the right audience. So I believe as long as you doing the things that you like and strive for better quality with each piece you’ll save yourself the nerves from worries about the attention of the audience.

"That being said — compositions is super-important, and lighting for the WOW effect, don’t skip lighting day chaps!"

The workflow

Even though the assignment was to make a portrait, I decided to challenge myself and added hands. Once the model was finished I started cutting UVs.

 It was my first time working with multiple UDIMS and first time texturing in Mari. Started with displacement projections I used Female Face #01 and in Maya combined it with extracted displacement from the highest subdivision level from Zbrush.

Followed up with albedo projections using Male Face #04 photos and overlaying cavity map extracted from Zbrush and multiplying displacement to emphasize pore and wrinkle details. Copied albedo and adjusted curves and levels to make the first level of Sub-surface scattering maps. For Deep SSS I just filled everything with procedural noises and painted some veins on hands.

Getting Roughness was an interesting process - I rendered face with different roughness parameters from 0.05 to 0.6

And painted those values on a single layer 

I absolutely loved the ability to link-share layers between channels like for example project tattoo on albedo and copy mask to displacement to raise the bump or to paint red veins on a deep SSS layer and link-share it to albedo and make it blue. The option to have different versions of geometry — crazy powerful!

For the hands, I used Male PalmHand #01 and Male FingersHand #01 and just reduced the amount of displacement to match my character better.


I knew the halo is gonna be lighting up the face from the bottom but having it just as one source was not enough so I experimented with a 3-point lighting setup balancing between the contrast overall and showcasing the textures, and since it was a texturing class, for the class presentation I chose the lower contrast option


After class ended I adjusted textures and lighting to make the composition pop more. I only kept rim light from the previous setup and studio HDRI from hdrihaven.com at 0.1 intensity as a subtle fill light.
The whole lighting and lookdev process looked like this :

And for 2 extra angles I added one more ring of light. The circular shape gave that nice soft light like.. Yeah, the ring light

Those two rings are invisible Vray mesh lights and the visible ring rendered as object with surface shader and SamplerInfo node’s Facing Ratio plugged into V coordinate of the Ramp (similar setup is used for fabric shader)

(The braiding of the halo symbolizes rope = noose)

And for final touch Glow and Defocus was added in NukeX.

Do you think that TexturingXYZ brought something new in the industry?

I cannot even imagine how I’d be able to achieve those results without TexturingXYZ in that amount of time. I think it’s super important If we can save time by using resources like that—it means we can produce work faster and get ideas out quicker and grow as artists with each new work.
And the same thing applies to the industry and professional works.

Did you ever dream of something that could help you drastically to improve the final results of your work?

I always thought procedural stuff and simulation like Marvelous Designer is super cool, computers are smart and awesome, they can calculate real-time some powerful stuff. We can make more things like that happen, for example with hair—I want to try for my next project to make hair curves grow out following the direction of the head’s surface normals, cut them according to haircut length, simulate them falling and colliding with head and style like a hairdresser would do. Art imitates life after all. So things like that are very inspiring and that’s the direction I think the industry is going too.

I’d like to thank TexturingXYZ for giving me the opportunity to share my work and thought process and extra specially thank my instructors at Gnomon—Tran Ma, Anton Napierala, and Miguel Ortega, my classmates, all Gnomon instructors and faculty and my clowder Musya and Alex.

You can follow Elvira on Artstation - Instagram

We would like to thank Elvira for his helpful contribution.
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1 comment

  • Sofiane

    very nice job thanks
    did you use Arnold for shader ?

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