In a move that will surprise no one that is familiar with working on stuff they're using to improve their skills, my project has gone through some revision and not the least of which is the core dolphin model, the centrepiece of this diorama I am working on.
After soliciting some feedback from a few animator friends, I decided that the previous dolphin model was not fit for purpose and that its particular stylisation was not, after all, the direction I wanted to take this project in. Whereas the dolphin before was slightly lumpy and exaggerated in its features, I decided to stick close to nature and I'm pleased so far with the result.
Something I've done a little differently this time from my usual workflow is that I made a very basic, proportionally correct dolphin shape with mouth closed and without any fins in ZBrush using Zspheres lined up with an orthographic reference. I refined the general shape, then exported the "body tube" for retopology.
Once this tube was retopologised, I imported into Maya to start creating the fins and stitching them onto the form. This ensured the fins were all straight and tapered down in a nice, accurate way, and could be angled at precise degrees for rigging later on.
With the limbs attached, I opened the mouth. Making sure to test periodically that the shape could still close consistently, I added gum ridges and bored a hole into the back of the throat in case I want to do any talking animations. I'm at the point now of creating teeth and tongue, then UVing can begin and I can pull her into ZBrush for some wrinkles, scars and fine skin detail.
The tech stuff should be fun.