How Reza Sedghi reconstructed one of Michelangelo’s most famous works — virtually.
Venture into the Vatican’s St. Peter's Basilica church and you’ll find one of the most famous sculptures in the world: the Pietà. Created in the late 15th century by Michelangelo Buonarroti, the sculpture depicts Jesus’ body stretched out across his mother’s lap. It’s a stunning piece of work which demonstrates Michelangelo’s formidable knowledge of anatomy and posture, while tenderly conveying the drama of the scene.
For Reza Sedghi the Pietà was something more, though – a challenge. The 3D character artist was working on a horror game which required some spooky statues, and Michelangelo’s piece was the perfect place to start. “It was a great way to learn lots of things, to understand more about anatomy, folds, weight and creating a sculpture,” he says.
Having set himself the formidable task of recreating one of the Renaissance’s most intricate pieces of art, Sedghi faced an even bigger problem: he’d never actually seen the Pietà in the flesh — or marble. Instead he scoured the internet for every photo he could find, seeking unusual angles and interesting lighting. And despite the sculpture’s world-renowned nature there was one angle which remained in the dark. “The hardest part was the back,” he says. “There weren’t many photos from the rear!”
Michelangelo painstakingly chiseled from an enormous block of marble to sculpt the Pietà. Sedghi, on the other hand, started with a simple sphere in ZBrush and built upwards. “I started picking the base lines to define the whole piece,” he explains. “This meant I could identify the key areas and work on them. When I’ve finished the basic forms, I subdivide my mesh to focus on the details.”
Although Sedghi considers the entire piece a big challenge, the hardest parts were the weight of the folds of cloth. He used Zbrush’s ClayBuildUp, Dam Standard and Move brushes for the basic forms, then switched to a modified standard brush and pinch to add the final details. Finally, he exported it to 3ds Max, and then rendered it in V-Ray with a little help from his friend Milad Kambari.
Sedghi and Kambari’s Pietà is an intricate and masterful cover version of the real thing — so much so that you can practically smell the musty interior of St. Peter's Basilica and feel the coldness of the marble. And while Sedghi has created an exact replica of one of the world’s most famous works of art, he’s not going to limit himself to sculptures in the future. “I might work on some of Rodin's statues,” he says. “Or maybe I’ll make some orcs. That would be cool!”