Making a Valkyrie: Armor, Feathers, Materials

Making a Valkyrie: Armor, Feathers, Materials

Jose Antonio De La Hera Gilarranz shared the production details of his character Valkyrie made in ZBrushMayaMari, and Substance Painter.


Hello everyone! My name is Jose Antonio De La Hera Gilarranz, I’m 32 years old and I’m from Madrid, Spain. I graduated from Lightbox Academy as a Character Artist and I have a career in 3D Animation and VFX.

My current work is quite far from 3D but I’m looking for an opportunity to join a studio as a 3D Generalist, Character Artist or any other suitable position. That is why I dedicate my free time to learning new things and improving my skills.

I became interested in 3D thanks to RPG Maker 2000 and the video game Tales of Phantasia. Since then, I’ve always wanted to expand my knowledge and continues self-studying.

About Valkyrie

Valkyrie is the final project of my Master degree at Lightbox Academy which represents the guardian of death.

Valkyrie wouldn’t actually exist if I hadn’t insisted on making it. My teacher wanted me to do something different but I asked him to let me be creative.

I started in ZBrush making a small prototype of what I wanted to do. The main references for the work are the Valkyries, the works by Soufiane Idraasi, anime drawings and medieval armors with Viking details.

In each work, I try to show something unusual. It’s true that everything is already invented but I believe there is always a new way to convey a feeling, a smile and so on.

Start of the Project

I wanted to give this sculpture the most realistic touch. For this character, I used a model of a female body that I made previously and retopologized it in Maya to avoid any problems at the skinning and rigging stages.

For the pose, I looked at a League of Legends character Syndra that conveys power, strength, and determination. In the end, this is what I wanted to convey in the initial pose along with the feeling of sadness from the world where death happens day after day.

When you work on a character with a helmet that covers more than half of the head, you have to take special care of the expression of the face to convey the needed feelings because you don’t have the usual parts that can help you with such as eyes.

The most difficult objective was to convey the feeling of power and determination – here you need to take into account the posture of the body, the back, the head, and the shoulders. The wings can help to give a feeling of greatness and further lift the pose.


The armor is one of the elements that I’m most proud of. It was a rather tedious process because I initially made it in the T-Pose using a combination of Maya and ZBrush.

Thanks to the masks in ZBrush, I extracted parts of the model to have a base of the armor, then retoplogized them in ZBrush and smoothed the edges. After that, I took them to Maya and made another retopology (ZBrush 2018 doesn’t work with retopology as well as the 2019 version). Here, I tried to work with as few polygons as possible. Then, in Maya, I did the extrusions and secured the edges with new edges.

All the decorative elements are made in ZBrush where you can work with alphas and convert them into geometry. This workflow has a small problem, however. If you try to obtain a high level of detail you need to give the element a lot of polygons. So for each element, I had to reduce the number of polygons without losing the details. For this task, ZBrush has an incredible tool Decimation Master which gives you incredible results.

For the small details such as screws or chains, I used Maya. It has a very powerful procedural tool MASH for it. MASH is great for duplicating elements. Having a curve and only one element, you can duplicate the element throughout the curve as much as you want, then rotate it and give asymmetry. This way you can get a realistic result saving a lot of time.

For organic and inorganic elements, Maya and ZBrush are an incredible combination.


The wings were possibly one of the simplest things in terms of execution but the most complicated in terms of assembly and posing. They are made with pure geometry. I tried to make them with planes but I didn’t end up getting a good result.

First, I made a little research on how feathers and wings function and studied birds (mainly eagles).

The Valkyrie has three types of feathers. One was made in ZBrush and the other two – in Maya.

With ZBrush’s Curve Tube tool and the Stroke modifiers, I was able to make the elongated feathers. In Maya, you can make a feather with the Curve Tools though it’s a bit tedious because you need to combine straight lines with curves.

For the third kind of feathers, MASH helped greatly. From a curve, we copy a cylinder, modify the end of the tube and leave it with a pointed tip to give the feeling of a feather.

The main part of the wings uses the third type of feathers. The wings base was made with MASH using a curve created in Maya.

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Having a base for the wings, I went to ZBrush and started duplicating and overlaying feathers, and posing the wings.

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After that, the only detail left was to give the Valkyrie a feeling that she is coming down from the sky – that’s why there are feathers around her and the fabric is moved by the wind.


The materials were made differently. I used Mari for the body and face of the Valkyrie and Substance Painter combined with Adobe Photoshop for the armor, clothes, and weapon.

In Substance Painter, I divided the whole armor into parts: neck, chest, and arms on one side, then legs separately, and the clothes on another side. When baking the high to low poly, it helps me to keep the Ambient Occlusion and the diffuse cleaner. They are not mixed with other elements and I can later retouch them in Maya’s Hypershade.

The materials for the armor are a combination of gold, iron or copper Smart Materials that were refined and retouched to get the look I wanted.

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With Mari, the way of working is different since the objective is to achieve a hyper-realistic result with as many details as possible. Both the Valkyrie’s body and the face are started in 16K and then reduced to 8K to maintain the details.

It’s easier to work on different parts separately and combine them later because if you need to make any modifications you spend less time exporting textures.

Rendering & Lighting

The project is rendered in Redshift inside Maya which allowed me to render the Valkyrie in 4K in quite a short time.

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The lighting setup uses the basic principle of 3 points and consists of two bounce lights and a Key light. I added a fourth light coming from the top to give more feeling of depth.

When working on a character like this. you need to illuminate the parts that convey strength and greatness the most – usually, it’s the gestures, weapon, and the posture in general.


When you work on a complex project, the best way to start it is to define the result you want to get. Once you have it, divide the project into parts, parts into smaller fragments and so on, until you have manageable units. Then approach each unit separately, giving the maximum effort.

Jose Antonio De La Hera Gilarranz, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev


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