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Study more real-time characters
Hi, my name is Harley, I'm a Character Artist currently living in Ireland. I have three years of experience in the industry and currently working as a freelance artist for Scott Eaton. Before that, I worked at a game studio here in Ireland as a Character Artist.
Before that, I worked as a fabricator in Scotland. I was fortunate to work on some pretty cool projects from designing and building bespoke furniture for coffee shops to sculpting and fabricating for artists. Even though I was delighted to do that kind of stuff for a living, I was always a secret nerd at heart and realized I needed to pursue my passion.
My main goal was to up my skill set and create a piece that could fit into an AAA game. I also wanted to get a realistic real-time character portrait which is something I really admire in Adam Skutt's work and learn how to push the facial details under the constraints of a real-time render engine. Apart from those goals, I looked for an opportunity to focus on getting better at organic modeling as a whole.
Turtle Clan Warrior
I found Adrian Smith's concept art when I was looking through Kotaku one day. There, I saw an article about the board game Rising Sun and instantly fell in love with all the artwork and miniatures. After doing a bit of research, I found out that Adrain Smith created all the concept designs and illustrations. At that time, I had no idea that Adrian was behind many pieces of artwork for Games Workshop that had a significant influence on me when growing up! It's no wonder why I was drawn to the design of Rising Sun.
Another reason behind my choice is my background. I was born and grew up in Singapore and I have always loved Asian mythology and culture. Naturally, I clicked with Adrian's concept art.
Finally, I wanted to practice both creature and human anatomy. Taking this into consideration, I decided to move away from the concept slightly and find an actor who I could use as a general reference to help add more realism and detail into the model. In the end, I decided to use Jeremy Holm as my primary human reference; I felt he had many subtle similarities to the concept like the underbite, similar nose shape, and the facial expression.
My modeling workflow was pretty straightforward. I started by roughing out the design sculpt in ZBrush using DynaMesh; once I was happy with the proportions and silhouette, I started cleaning the model up. I ZRemeshed it so that I could use subdivisions, smoothing groups, and layers. Finally, when I was happy with the model, I exported a decimated version into Maya for retopo and set up my naming conventions so that I could export an FBX and use Match by Name function in Substance Painter to get a nice bake.
For the skin, I used texturing XYZ maps for the displacement and as a base for the diffuse. I projected these maps onto the model in Mari and then imported them into ZBrush. I applied the displacement on a layer and used a very weak morph brush to integrate the details into the face sculpt. I masked the details by the cavity and then inflated the model very slightly, which helped to incorporate the scans a little bit more. I then made a separate layer where I added in all the secondary wrinkles and imperfections.
I used Marvelous Designer to do a quick simulation for the trousers, then in ZBrush, I used DynaMesh to chop the mesh up so that I could rearrange it and resculpt areas I didn't like. As I enjoy practicing sculpting cloth, for other areas like the belt and the fabric on the feet, I quickly took some pictures on my phone for reference and sculpted those pieces by hand.
Rope & Beads
I found the rope pretty hard to make as I didn't know the best way to go about it. Eventually, I settled on creating a tiling rope material that I made in Substance Designer, which I could then bake into an IMM brush and use in ZBrush. This way, I could quickly rough out the rope placement using Z-Spheres and use the low poly loops to create the curves that would place the rope geo. Then all I needed to do was apply my tiling material, and it was good to go!
As for the bead patterns, years ago, I bought a book that had lots of Chinese textile and ceramic designs. I selected ones that I liked and scanned them into Photoshop. Then, I created masks that could be applied in ZBrush using the UVs. In ZBrush, I masked and inflated the model and used morph targets and layers to sculpt out the seam lines.
I created the hair using XGen and Maya following Adam Skutt's hair tutorial from his Gumroad. After I finished the hair texture in XGen, I started off creating rough proxy hair in ZBrush, which I could import into Maya. I then created the hair cards and a series of dreadlocks out of those cards using deformers. I decided to hand place all the hair cards and dreadlocks in a set of layers as most of the artists I researched seemed to all agree that it gave the best results over any plugin.
All the secondary details were either added in by hand or added using NoiseMaker in ZBrush. I stored the surface noise on a layer that I could then further edit using the morph brush. This technique helped me to apply loads of detail and break up pretty quickly. However, I decided to leave out any micro-detail as I could add it in later in Substance Painter or Marmoset.
I love using Substance Painter and enjoy building my materials from the ground up. I find it helpful to work on each channel individually in the viewport and gradually add more breakup and depth using different masks like smart masks, AO masks, cavity masks, and generators. However, I left most of the small micro-details out as I planned to use John O. Owsment's custom tiling Marmoset shaders. This material allowed me to use color id maps to create masks for micro details that I added in using tiling normal cavity maps in Marmoset.
I chose Marmoset for rendering as this was the program that Adam Skutt was using in the workshop. I wanted to take full advantage of all of his teachings; so it was a pretty easy decision to make. Up until that point, I had only used Unity for work, so I was more than happy to try a new real-time engine and found Marmoset to be very artist-friendly and easy to learn.
As lighting isn't my main focus, I tried my best to keep it simple and show the model clearly with a simple three-point lighting setup with multiple rim lights to help the silhouette pop.
My biggest challenge was to stay motivated and focused. As I wanted to push past the quality of my previous work, I concentrated on iterating changes through the pipeline as many times as needed until I was happy with the result, which was rewarding but also pretty time-consuming.
Overall, I really enjoyed the course. The tutorials and feedback were super beneficial, Adam is a great instructor. From what I saw, he gave excellent feedback and encouragement to all the students no matter how much experience we had. He also pointed us to loads of great resources like Peter Zoppi's eye tutorial, his own hair tutorial, and John O. Owsment's SkinDetailShader. This meant we could spend more time going over other areas of his workflow. But above all, it was super motivating and inspiring seeing all the excellent work all the other students were doing!