Maasai Girl - WIP 1

Hello Journal,
I am going to backtrack a little bit right now and go ALL the way back to...December!  It seems like ages ago, until i counted the months and realized its only been 3 months ago.  Then i laughed.  :)
December was the month where I created the first asset for my demo reel - the Maasai Girl.
Before I start, I should mention that in November, I had a POC (proof of concept) of my demo reel and already planned through some of the difficult areas of the projects to come...especially the Maasai Girl.  I did more research on the Maasai Girl than most of my other projects because of 2 reason:
1)  December is the shortest month of work at Full Sail, since one whole week is chopped off the end, and I knew i would be running short on time, and
2)  there are A LOT of beads on the Maasai Girl.  You'll see what i mean.

Ok, now that the backstory is covered, let's talk about this Maasai Girl.  My modeling workflow usually involves starting in Maya, heading into zbrush for midres detail, bringing it back into maya for retopology and uvs, then reimporting back into zbrush for highres sculpting.  Finally, at the end, everything ends up in maya for rendering purposes.
Every project is a little different though, and I have become quite flexible to doing anything that gets the job done faster and better.
For the Maasai Girl, this workflow worked very well for me, and I completed most of the mesh in the first week.
The next week I spent adding more high-res detail, generating maps, hooking up textures, and ... BEADS.  :)
And this is what i think is interesting.  These are my initial references:

I think they are so pretty!  Anywho, here is my concept:

Since The camera is going to be coming quite close to her face, (since this is a bust study), I knew I was not going to be able to fake the beads, and since I am a modeler, I really wanted to do them.  :)
The first question was how to build them.  I needed the approach to be :
1) Quick to build
2) Quick to change
2) look believable
3) renderable ( because if they can't, they don't exist..he he)

So, after doing some research, I decided to

1)  build planes that had the exact number of rows I needed,
2)  use N-Cloth to drap them over the model,
3)  convert the edge loops to nurbs curves, and then
4)  use THIS handy script I found to place Nurbs instances around the curve.

 It worked pretty well and was an overall smooth process...except when it came to the rendering part.  Because should i put WOULDN'T render.  I left it rendering and walked away for about half and hour one time, and when I came back, i still had a blue rendering screen.  After a quick look at the script editor, i noticed that it wasn't exactly crashing was just taking an insanely long time to process all the nodes.
So, after asking around and bothering several of my awesome teachers, I decided to scrap the instancing NURBS and switch to polygons instead.    This way, when I got them all built, I was able to combine them together as one object so that maya wouldn't have to process so many nodes before even being able to start rendering.
So, after converting all the beads, I finally was able to get them to render.  I posed the character, and brought everything in to set up final lighting.

Here are some of my first renders.

And here are my final renders for December.

For the skin, since i was short on time, I was using a plain blinn shader with the mental ray scatter radius settings to fake skin.  I painted an extra map for the scatter, so that I had more control.   This approach was acceptable for still renders, but after December, I worked on it a little bit more with one of my teachers, and soon realized this was not going to work for a moving shot.  The scatter radius just flickered way too much and did not look realistic moving under lights.
So, I discovered the Mudbox - Photoshop - Maya workflow and created a few maps for the SSS shader and got a much nicer result.

PCC1 Maasai Girl from Anna Castro on Vimeo.

Right now, I am am working with the beads again and getting passes rendered out.

Check out the updated progress of this model here:
Or the final post for it here:
Maasai Girl