Character Art Tips from Igor Golovkov
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Character Art Tips from Igor Golovkov
19 March, 2019
Character Art
Interview

Igor Golovkov talked about his approach to character production: concept, modeling, detailing, retopology, texturing and rendering.

Introduction

Hi, my name is Igor Golovkov, I live in Kharkov, Ukraine. I started my way to CG and game development as a 2D artist, then began to animate. Almost 5 years ago I got employed by Plarium (and I have been working there ever since), where I first worked as a 2D animator and then learned 3D animation as it was needed. I worked in the same department with the guys who were involved in creating 3D characters and environments for our projects, and there, I became interested in creating characters. After 2 years, I began to work as a Character Artist, so I’ve been engaged in creating 3D characters not so long ago (for around 4 years).

Concept

First of all, you need to choose the concept as this is the most important thing. You need to immediately understand what you want to get in the end. At work, we closely cooperate with the concept artists, so there are no particular difficulties here, but for personal projects, I try to invent a character myself or use not very well-developed concepts so that I could think out some elements.

Modeling

In general, I have a fairly standard approach to creating a character – first, blocking and searching for a form using Dynomesh. In the last ZBrush, I also started using the new Sculptris Pro function which helps to make fairly detailed elements with a small number of polygons. Then I turn to the stage of polishing the elements and preparing them for adding details. For this, I am doing a retopology through Zremesher and then work with SPolish, HPolish, and Trim Dynamic brushes. For adding elements like scratches, ornaments, chips, etc., I use morphs and targets, these are very useful tools since you can always easily alter the finished parts.

For example, it is convenient to do any chipping and damage through the target morph. First, create a target morph, then use a hard brush with a high-intensity value, add some damage marks and then use the morph brush to give them the desired shape and depth. I tried to make a quick and short video demonstrating the creation of armor elements in Ancient Warrior.

Retopology & UVs

I think nothing has changed lately: creating a low poly is still a tedious and long process. If we talk about games where the polycount is very limited (10-40k triangles), it is important that each vertex is used correctly. It must transfer the shape of the base shape, for example, if your folds on the pants are very distinguished, then you should add them to the low poly, but if these are some minor elements, then you can just bake them.

It is also very important to make sure the topology is enough for animation, for example, at least 3 edge loop in the elbow or knee area.

Another thing to remember: most game engines automatically triangulate the model and in some places, it can be done incorrectly, so it is necessary to manually re-adjust the polygons (you need to do this before baking the maps). Then, all the textures will be displayed correctly.

As for UV, you need to try to have as little free space as possible and align UV shells when you can. It will be easier to pack them and when compressing textures, the seam will be less noticeable.

Texturing

I practically never use standard Substance Painter materials and I try to create my own ones (this applies to the major and significant elements. I use standard materials for small elements like rivets, small straps, etc. and modify them slightly). For example, for fabric, I use alphas and displacement maps purchased at Texturing XYZ or create something custom in Substance Designer. Maps from Quixel Megascans and Substance Painter are very well combined, and this approach allows to get more unique textures and materials.

At an early stage, it is important to check how the materials look like in the scene with the lighting that will be in the final render. It’ll be easier to make changes when there are not many layers in the material. It sometimes happens that the result appears to be slightly different from what you had in Substance Painter.

Torn Fabric & Other Details

Such elements as torn fabric were made very simply: I created a brush with a set of threads and arranged them with my hands. It is not as long as it may seem at first, and I can completely control the whole process. Get the brush with a video process here.

However, this method has its disadvantages, for example, it is not very suitable for use in cinematics and photorealistic works because it looks quite unrealistic.

There is also one more method that I use: procedurally creating such elements in XGen. I used this method in my work Nott the Brave and generated all the threads in XGen using the cavity mask that was previously edited in Photoshop.

Fixing Character Design

I’m not a professional concept artist, and I often show the WIPs to my colleagues. It’s quite important to look at the work with fresh eyes, especially if you work on the character for some time and might not notice obvious mistakes. Another important thing: you need to solve the problems connected with character design before low poly and baking stages, otherwise you might spend way more time and effort to fix the mistakes.

Rendering

First, I used V-Ray but I didn’t like to fumble with the settings to get satisfactory time and quality of the render.

I also tried KeyShot, but I feel it’s more appropriate for concepts where the speed matters. For me, the lighting settings are not flexible enough there.

Toolbag is perfect for game models. It’s quick and easy, but I don’t like that there’s no possibility to save the render passes.

Currently, for the personal projects, I use Arnold: it’s easy, pretty quick, and has flexible material settings. What’s more, Maya uses it as the standard renderer, and it’s a big advantage for me as I don’t like to download and install any additional plugins and programs. What I don’t like about Arnold is that with each new version they change completely everything. Imagine you found the answer to your problem – and it can’t be used in the new version because the developers deleted a tool or changed a shader.

Igor Golovkov, Character Artist at Plarium

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

Linhi Character by Quang Phan

Can be used in UE4 and Unity 5.

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