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Saman Mahmoudi discussed the way he worked on the recent series of game characters: 3ds Max, ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, and Substance Painter workflows, modeling, texturing, and lighting.
My name is Saman Mahmoudi and I’m a 3D artist. I’ve been working in both the film and game industry since 2005 on different projects including Mirror’s Edge Catalyst. I’ve been interested in art for most of my life but it wasn’t until the end of my teenage years that I started to play around in 3ds Max. Later, I studied in a few universities here in Sweden to learn how to do it the right way. We had some good teachers here and there but 3D art or art, in general, is best learned on practice and that’s how I gained most of my skills.
After working at DICE I realized that I needed to have some more realistic-looking and current-gen art in my portfolio with PBR and what not. I started learning programs such as Marvelous Designer, Substance Painter, and XGen in order to get the results I wanted faster. I wanted to create some characters that people were already familiar with and try to do them justice, I also wanted to introduce something new but still keep the essence of the characters in one way or another like creating Zelda but having her in a different uniform than the usual ones.
When modeling I use 3ds Max for hard-surface and model such pieces in the traditional way. Organic models are usually started in 3ds Max as well but later reshaped and detailed in ZBrush. I tend to switch back and forth between Max and ZBrush in the beginning in order to get the right proportions and I also try to have a good topology even when working on the high poly in ZBrush.
For smaller details like pores and wrinkles, I use TexturingXYZ textures as well as extra brushes with detail alphas. I also use polypaint in ZBrush in order to get a good concept of the end result. I also try to export the model into whatever engine I’m going to present the art in as soon as possible so I can spot proportion and modeling errors. The polypaint from ZBrush can be useful here as well if it can show vertex painted materials (like Marmoset Toolbag 3).
For the clothes, I usually use Marvelous Designer in order to get a good starting point. I don’t spend too much time in there as many adjustments can later be done in ZBrush. I then retopologize and bring the pieces into ZBrush again for further detailing. I have provided an image of this process below so that you could see my workflow.
Textures & Materials
A well-executed model is great but a good set of texture bakes can really bring out details and shapes that might otherwise be missed. I use a set of ambient occlusion (both from xNormal and Knald), curvature maps, cavity maps, convexity maps, and translucency maps. I sometimes also use height maps for added geometry as well as specular, emissive and more for more adjustments. Some models like stylized ones benefit from color gradients when you need a brighter focal point and I use a gradient map for that.
Substance Painter is very powerful as it considerably speeds up the work by having a great database of different materials, brushes and more which you can use to get the results that you want. Preparing the textures is key though so make sure all the maps are baked right and you won’t have to rebake too much. I also bake ID maps by using polypaint so I can assign each material to different parts of the mesh. Using polypaint/vertext paint is great as you won’t have to repaint the ID map too much if you would have to change the UVs.
When lighting, I use a 3 point light system for most parts of my scenes: one key light (usually the sun or another strong light source), a fill light in order to bring out more details in the scene and finally a backlight. I try not to overcomplicate things but I sometimes use several lights for each of the 3 light sources in order to have more control. I also try to have a good mix of both cool and warm lights in order to bring more color to the scene as well as other colored lights for color bleeding when the GI isn’t enough.
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