Georgian Avasilcutei did another breakdown of his character: sculpting, texturing, working on clothes, hair, balancing between realism & stylization, and more.
The whole process of making this character and some of my previous ones have been streamed on my Twitch. My subscribers are still able to see the streams with the full process of making the orc (Mur’goh Bloodeye), Clementine, the boxer (D. Pete Hammerhand I) and my newest work The Witch. I usually stream from Monday to Friday at least 6-8h/day, usually starting at around 9-10AM GMT.
We’ve also built a nice Discord community where we share 3D related stuff, WIPs and so on. So, if you look for some feedback or just want to brag with your work please join us.
Choosing a Concept
The concept made by Marco Teixeira is amazing. I loved everything about it. The whole weird proportions and the style that somehow remembered me of Dishonored captivated me instantly. I found the idea of massive hands and shoulders with a small head and thin long legs very appealing. This whole contrast in between his proportions gave the character an air of destructive power on those thick arms that end up with iron fists. The diversity of materials and the color scheme was also amazing. I always tend to go for concepts where I have a nice contrast between materials (metal/leather, fabric/metal and so on), and this one had plenty of that.
The sculpting part was pretty much the same as for Billy Three Arrows: just trying to find a middle ground in between the concept and my own vision of the character. Since it’s a portfolio piece and I’m not forced to follow up the concept perfectly I tend to go and modify some stuff to my liking. The first step is usually a “realistic” approach, then a lot of stylization like making the folds sharper or exaggerating the anatomy feature.
As I said in the Billy breakdown, I’m using the hpolish and trim dynamic brushes to give a stroked effect to surfaces and breaking the “perfect” look of the mesh. Of course, adding some dents and scratches never hurts since all the detail you put in high poly translates really well in textures as your generators in Substance Painter will have a lot of information from curvature and ambient occlusion. In the end, the sculpting part should not take too long. The clothes come with a lot of detail from Marvelous Designer and I just change a few volumes and enhance the folds. The rest is just a realistic approach to what I have in the concept.
For the body, I used a base mesh from 3dscanstore.com that I heavily modified. The head took like a day to sculpt and it helped that I already knew which way to go with it (Dishonored style). For skin micro details I’ve used texturing.xyz displacements which are really great and easy to use. Even though it’s a stylized character you need to find a balance in between the realistic details and the exaggeration that comes with the specific style you’re going for. I tend to go into a closer-to-realistic look for my stylized stuff by adding this kind of microdetails and realistic folds for my fabrics. The rest was just some base meshes made in 3ds Max, then refined in ZBrush or just made directly in ZBrush using dynamesh.
Powerful Belt & Gloves
Here, I just tried to get as close as possible to the concept. The impressive look of the gloves and belt was just given by the sheer size of them. One thing you can do when making stylized models is to exaggerate the thickness of pretty much everything. If these metal parts would actually be made from iron those would be really heavy and pretty much encumber the character but given the fact that it is stylized, we can exaggerate things a bit and get away with it. In the end, the whole weird proportions helped to sell the idea of an amazing powerful puncher.
The coat was made in Marvelous Designer. I tend to go quite detailed for my garments in MD, so in ZBrush, it is just a matter of correcting some volumes and stylizing some folds. Just a bit of hpolish here and there, some damstandard to accentuate the folds and I was done. Since it was stylized, I didn’t want to have too many folds. If I would have gone full realistic on this one, I would have spent more time making memory folds, small seam folds and so on… but for the stylization purposes keeping your surfaces clean is a good way to enhance the visual look of your character. I’ve seen a lot of people that tend to overdo the folds. It might look nice in the high poly but in the end, your character might become too overwhelmed by the details and the eyes won’t have any place to rest. There’s a fine balance between simplification and noise and you always should look up not to exaggerate with either one of them because your character might end up too simple or too noisy and hard to read.
In Marvelous, there are some things that beginners overlook often, like the thickness of the fabrics (0.5 cm in my case for the main coat fabric and 0.2 for the silk interior) and their density (60 for the coat fabric). This will give you a lot of weight for the folds. I’ve also used some tricks to hold my coat in the position I wanted like creating the shoulder pads in MD and just freeze them so I can easily sew the coat to them and get these exaggerated shoulders that I had in the concept.
For the low poly, it’s the same technique I used for Billy and pretty much in any project I’ve worked on in the past few years: I start with a basic quad mesh all over the place that is suitable for animation, then just go and add cuts to follow the folds and details. This way, I know my mesh will deform properly and I get the whole silhouette with the least number of polygons. For the retopo, I had to break my coat into parts to make sure everything was easy to reach when making the low poly. The cool thing is that if you make polygroups in ZBrush for your high poly you can use them as groups in Topogun, hide whatever is blocking your view and work on the separate pieces until you get a perfect mesh. I know a lot of people prefer to use that trick where you build your mesh on a flat morph target (blendshape) based on UVs, but I usually prefer to work directly on the high poly to build the low poly. Even though it might take a bit more time I have full control over the flow and I can easily see where I need to add more density or cut the mesh to have a perfect silhouette.
It was a challenge, especially around that big fold on the back and the lapels but in the end, it was way less challenging than the dress I’ve made for my previous character, Clementine.
I only use textures from Substance Source. I don’t feel like I need more than that, they have a quite extensive library nowadays and you can find easily what you need, especially for fabrics. In this case, the wool and silk materials for the jacket and the rough cotton for the pants. Of course, I create some smart materials using them by changing their values and colors, adding some extra details from other materials plus a lot of dirt and wear that most of the times are hand-painted. As a base to build up your materials, I think Substance Source came a long way.
For texturing, I’ve used the same technique as for Billy Three Arrows (for which I also have an in-depth tutorial on my Gumroad, Artstation store or Cubebrush). I’m starting with a realistic approach, then heavily modify the albedo by hand -painting it in Photoshop. It mostly consists of adding the green channel of the normal map object space on top of my albedo with overlay, then using the cutout filter to reduce the numbers of colors and give it an edged look, then fixing all the weird edges using a square brush with some color dynamics and adding some color variation.
For Substance, I use the ACES tone mapper made by Jose Linares. You can get it from here. It helps to match Substance and Marmoset Toolbag ACES profile pretty close so your materials will look proper in a PBR environment. The default tone mapper in Substance might trick you and usually, it’s really hard to set up your scene in Marmoset Toolbag and get the same results.
Another thing that really helps to sell up the materiality of your stuff is having a fuzz map for the fabrics. I start by creating a new channel for my maps which I rename fuzz, assign to it the values from the diffuse channel in channel mapper, then using Levels I play with the values until I get enough contrast and lightness for it. Sometimes when the diffuse of the base material is really dark I change the channel from diffuse to roughness. What you really need is to have some sort of microfiber detail in one of your maps to simulate the small loose fibers.
For most of the hair, I used the same technique as in my real time hair tutorial: just placing the hair cards by hand using path deform and binding them to a spline. I still believe this technique brings the best and fastest results. I often get asked why I don’t use XGen or Ornatrix for the hair. No matter how much I would like that, in the end, automated solutions provide only partial results. The time I spend cleaning up the generated cards is at least the same as placing them by hand in the first time. Trust me, I’ve done that back in the day while trying to figure out the best way to create real time hair and I’ve always ended up working way more than necessary.
The textures for the hair are made by just rendering some hair and fur generated from some planes in 3ds Max. You get a good albedo base and a depth map from which you can generate any other maps you might need (normal map, roughness and so on). In the end, for hair, you really care only about Albedo and Alpha. The rest of the maps are important only depending on the shader you’re using (Marmoset, Unreal etc.)
The most important aspect of doing hair is to identify the volumes, then build them properly in 3D. I find it very similar to trying to achieve a likeness in ZBrush. Don’t rush into placing haircards all over the place before marking up your volumes and flow. It is really important to take your time and identify every problematic area on your hair since any overlap or abrupt change in direction will show up easily. Make sure you use enough hair cards to change the flow and positioning of the hair roots, especially in the really visible areas like the hairline.
Another thing that I often see really off when it comes to hair in games is the thickness of the strands. Make sure you don’t exaggerate your thickness too much, not even for a stylized character. The stylization is more about the hairstyle and volumes rather than texture.
For the short hair on the character’s head, I baked some generated hair geometry that I’ve created using Ornatrix on a shell of the head. I quickly painted a density and a length map for the generator (to have that nice gradient from medium to really short hair), then using all those nice Ornatrix modifiers it took me like 10 minutes to generate a proper short hair ready to be baked. I did this because I wanted to have the same maps and shader for the whole hair. The hair on his chest though is baked directly into the albedo of the body after being generated in the same way.
Thanks for reading this breakdown and see you on Twitch!
Georgian Avasilcutei, Senior Character Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
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