I'm trying to branch out, these days, from the low-poly, character-centric, games-oriented modeling I've been doing for almost four years now. My current job search has led me to the conclusion that I need to become much more versatile and well-rounded as a modeler, and to bulk up the ol' demo reel/portfolio in kind.
So my current project is a foray into high-poly, hard-surface vehicle modeling. Since I want to complete this in a timely manner, I decided to start relatively simple: my cartoony, stylized interpretation of the intrepid Spaceman Spiff's red saucer. I obviously took some liberties with the design, as the comic strips themselves don't supply much in the way of detail, but I tried to stay true to the simplistic, comic look, with a little retro flair thrown in.
The modeling is basically 99% complete at this stage, and was a lot of fun. Quite a departure from the character stuff I usually do. Normally, the vast majority of my time would be spent in zBrush, sculpting. It's been a refreshing change to work almost entirely in Maya, and to work on more hard-surface, mechanical forms. I've always understood the basic concepts of high-poly, edge-loop modeling, of course, and i'm pretty familiar with Maya's tools, but it's a different beast to actually build an asset from start to finish.
The main challenge I've run up against is the same problem I've always had with high-poly, which is that it can be tough to impart a sense of organic style to something with so many hard edges. It's easy to wind up with an asset that looks stiff, geometric and boring. Especially since, as usual, I'm not working from concept art or a model sheet but basically making it up as I go (a terrible practice that I recommend to no one). It's really hard to tell how a particular detail or shape will fight into the overall look, if you haven't established an overall look! Plus the art of "cartoony", at least to my eye, is knowing where you need more detail for visual interest, and where you need to keep it simple and clean. I spent a lot of time debating adding/removing bolts, hatches, handles, etc.
I'm fairly pleased with how it's turned out, so far. At this point I'm laying out UVs so I can get some actual textures and normal/displacement maps onto the mesh. That will give me a stronger sense of how it's actually going...the dashboard, for example, looks pretty bland, but I think it will take on more of the chaotic, nonsensical character of the comic strip once I've got the screens and buttons and lights all colored and textured. I'm also looking forward to diving into building so real, quality materials. So far it's pretty much all default blinns with the values tweaked. I need to figure out, among other things, a nice glossy look for the ship body, and a proper glass material for the canopy.
Once this is done, maybe I'll need to build a Spaceman Spiff to sit in it...
You can see more images of this project, along with wireframes, on my Carbonmade portfolio.