Valery Klishevich did a breakdown of his Alva the Wayfarer character inspired by Dark Souls and shared helpful advice.
I am a big fan of the medieval era and the history of ancient warfare. I’ve always been fascinated by warriors of those times, their customs, mindset, and achievements. I discovered that 3D is a very interesting way to express yourself bringing to life images of knights, samurai, Vikings and so on.
Concept & References
Usually, I collect a lot of references for each production stage. I am trying to improve my visual library and perception by using them for whatever I do in my artworks.
Despite the fact that in game-dev almost all the time 3D artists do models using concepts made by 2d concept artists, it is very important to learn the fundamentals of art. The reason is that you have to understand what happened inside the concept artist’s head, what principles he was guided by in order to keep the overall idea of a concept.
For my latest artwork, I used a concept done for Dark Souls series, Alva the Wayfarer. As you can see the concept is a bit stylized (this is especially true for a rather small head) but I was interested of making a knight with realistic proportions so I decided to take off the helmet.
Workflow & Modeling
As far as modeling of the knight armor is concerned, I usually use ZBrush for making a blockout of every single piece of a character in order to get the overall proportions, shapes, and silhouette of a character, then I do a quick retopo with Maya or ZRemesher.
It’s not neсessary to do a game-ready topology at this stage – the point is to make it clean and usable for upcoming detailing. I must say that now I’m gradually turning to only sculpting pipeline for the knight armor – it can save a lot of time and in some cases, you have no difference between sculpted and modeled pieces of armor. The vambrace and pauldrons were fully modeled with SubD method, but the plackart and poleyn were fully sculpted using ZBrush.
Moving to the leather pieces. For the height map, I used scanned data, for albedo – a combination of two colors: main fill color and secondary light color that appears in places where leather getting whipped. On top of it, you can place some dots, damage, leaks or whatever you want, but it won’t work if you don’t have a solid base.
Also for leather detailing I highly recommend you to watch “The Character Art of Horizon Zero Dawn with Guerrilla Games” talk:
The main things that make metal material look right are contrast roughness variation and lightning. When making a lightning scheme you definitely want to have interesting highlights on your zones of interest.
Also, I added some rust with the help of curvature map, as you can see on the screenshot – rust has close to white roughness. It’s very important to remember this point if you want to make metal material more realistic.
On top of it, I put some color variations, scratches, and micro dents, but the situation is pretty much the same as in the leather material setup: it won’t work if you don’t have a solid base.
The same principles were applied to cloth:
I use Maya for retopology.
There are some crucial things you should keep in mind:
- Every vertex should influence the silhouette
- Topology should be made of loops
- Polygon density should be as uniform as possible
The acceptable poly count for this kind of character, in general, is pretty big. Nowadays, the number of polygons isn’t a problem, but we can’t say the same about the texture resolution. You can see in some modern games that characters have 150-200k and even more tris. Alva has 25k for head + hair and 45k for body + sword.
This is my lightning scheme:
It may seem complicated and messy, but it’s pretty simple in fact. The main thing that you should know and use is Standart Three-Point Lightning. Actually, there are a lot of light schemes, but this one is universal and proven.
All other light sources are just additions and were placed for accentuating.
- Key light is your main light source
- Fill light reduces the shadows that key light brings and creates details in the shadow areas
- Rim light separates your object from the background
- Also, you can add an HDRI map with low intensity in order to create highlight variations and prevent the appearance of absolutely black shadows
Talking about accents – as you can see, I filled the head of the character with solid grey material. That was done to better see how light interacts with the face. Also, I highly recommend you to check the tones of your artwork, for example, with Photoshop by placing a black layer in saturation mode on top of your render.
For rendering, I used Marmoset Toolbag 3.
Perhaps, some of you who are reading this article hoped to find some ultra-tips that would instantly boost the skills, but actually, such tips do not exist. You will get 90% of the result by learning fundamentals and only 10% by learning tips and tricks. Being a 3D artist, don’t forget that you are not only “3D”, but an “Artist” first of all!
Hope I still helped someone, good luck!