All characters look so artificial...all movements of characters are unnatural :( CG industry has traveled by so many years of 3D development in all possible ways and all characters in animations looks still like puppets:(
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Tim Haag did a breakdown of his fan art of the character Feena from the PS1 game Grandia made with Maya, Substance Painter, Marmoset Toolbag, and ZBrush.
Hello, my name is Tim Haag and I am a 3D Artist in the game industry with a focus on Characters, mainly of the stylized kind. You can find more of my work over at polybutts.com. In this article I will be talking about Feena and how I went about creating her, sharing some tips/tricks and minor rantings on stylized characters. The software I use is Maya, Substance Painter, Marmoset Toolbag and ZBrush.
Start of the Project
I started this piece as a part of the Retrogasm 2018 competition which is an art competition where you remake a character from a video game from the PS2-era or older with a more modern or different take. I initially started with Vyse from Skies of Arcadia and actually finished very early so decided to try another entry and thus I started working on Feena.
When starting out the project I knew I wanted to keep the essence of the character very true to the original and since she had never been done in 3D I wanted to translate that in accordance to what I like to see in stylized characters. Some of those things are clean lines, an easily distinguished silhouette, clear vibrant colors and not much noisy detail. My main reference was Kingdom Hearts 3 as I feel that game encapsulates all those aspects very well, so it was perfect to use as a visual reference for what I was planning with Feena.
Sculpting & Modelling
Starting out I try to focus on the bigger forms and proportions. Of course, the face and underlying body are what I start on as they lay the foundation of everything that is coming up. After an initial pass of exploring the main forms, I tend to move on to defining and finding more final proportions.
I always employ the use of blockouts for bigger objects and things that define the silhouette. Using simple extrudes from the body is a good way to start off for most things like the shoes, underwear, and shirt while simple primitives that you dynamesh work well for other things like cylinders the belts and pouch. As previously touched upon, this stage should be more about the silhouette rather than defining details. Most of the details come in when I manually retopologize the blockouts. When doing this, topology flow is not that important as long as the mesh subdivides correctly. Pinching and other artifacts that may show up don’t really matter much as I smooth/flatten those things out in ZBrush later.
For the hair, I usually start with a big solid shape that I lay hair tubes onto using Dylan Ekren’s Brush which then is dynameshed into a single shape to avoid a streaky look. The process is detailed below.
Retopology & Planning Ahead
Moving on to retopology is something I always have in mind when I am creating the high-poly itself, to make it easier when getting to that stage. Things like grouping the hair helps with that. With posing and animation in mind, I also make sure that there are always separated bits that can be used for secondary motion. The process is very straightforward mostly using quad draw in Maya on a decimated version of the high-poly. For certain parts I use the base I built previously and remove excessive topology to speed things up.
The UV work is quite simple as well, using unwrap. What is important for me to keep in mind is how I can make the texturing easier, employing both baked color IDs from the high-poly sculpt, and Substance Painter’s selection options, in combination, make sure that I can always select the different materials with ease.
Texturing: Keeping it Efficient and Sweet
To get a soft look texturing I decided to not have major changes in roughness and instead focus on the base color, as you can see below there are some painted in/generated shadows and highlights. What is painted in the face on the base color is not represented in the roughness, if I were to do this then the nose, for example, would look beaming as it would not only display what I painted but also reflecting the light. Keeping the roughness uniform, things blend together better. Going with a softer approach for painting also allows her to work under more light conditions without looking too obvious.
In contrast, this is my latest finished model Ancient Warrior where I did my usual routine and stuck more closely to what the PBR pipeline works best for. You can see how there is no shadow baked, the base color is flatter and roughness plays a more pivotal role.
If your model doesn’t pop the way you want it to, an easy thing to do is to add a black overlay to a render so you can see how the different parts read in values rather than pure color. This is not only helpful while texturing, but also when rendering if you are unsure about what your lighting setup does for your model.
This is probably obvious, but you want to have that light reflection in the eyes to really bring life to the character.
Having Fun with Lighting & Rendering
Rendering is probably my favorite step, and really where you make or break your model. I always try to appeal to my own sensibilities, which usually means stark colors, lots of contrast, rim lighting, bloom, a fun pose, and many post-process effects. I crank it up to a level some may say is excessive, but if I am doing a personal project I am only really working to satisfy my own sensibilities and thus I go all out.
Before starting your render you want to have some reference. Something that always comes back to my mind when searching for that is music videos and more often than not k-pop. A lot of my projects are directly influenced by visual cues that I picked up from music videos.
My weapon of choice for rendering is always Marmoset Toolbag, regardless of if it’s a high-poly sculpt or a finished game character. My setup is always different but often hard to navigate for anyone except me. Below is how the scene of the most elaborate render of Feena looked like.
Posing is always important, no one wants to see a T- or A-posed character as your final presentation render. It should be a supplement to other poses that give your character some personality. For Maya users I don’t see any excuses, as you can set up a simple humanIK in seconds and usually the skinning doesn’t need to be perfect if you work with blendshapes to manually correct errors once the pose is done. With blendshapes, you can also add facial expressions and add life to, for example, the hair without needing to fully rig them.
As a closing I would like to thank you for reading, hope you found it helpful and remember the fun in creating a character! You can find me at polybutts on both twitter and instagram if you want to see what I am doing between projects.
If you found this article interesting, below we are listing a couple of related Unity Store Assets that may be useful for you.
Tim Haag, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev