Character Workflow Tips from Nikita Svechnikov

Character Workflow Tips from Nikita Svechnikov

Nikita Svechnikov showed his character workflow: sculpt, props, cloth, feathers, Substance Painter workflow, and rendering in Keyshot.

Nikita Svechnikov showed his character workflow using Forest Nymph and Native American projects as examples: sculpt, props, cloth, feathers, Substance Painter workflow, and rendering in Keyshot.


Hi! I’m Nikita Svechnikov. I’m from Ukraine. First, I worked as a freelancer and now for about 5 years, I’ve been an art lead in a small mobile game studio in St. Petersburg.

I didn’t get any professional education. When I was a child I went to a traditional art school and learned some basics which is still very useful. There were no additional courses or schools for game art so I just read and watched lots of tutorials online. Considering the style, I like both cartoon and realistic stuff. And now I’m trying to learn more about anatomy and material details to improve realistic skills.

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First Sculpt in ZBrush

First I’m looking for a 2D concepts that I would like to see in 3D. Forest Nymph was inspired by Anna Davinscourt’s amazing concept. While working in ZBrush I mostly focused on shapes. Leaves make great directional lines for the whole picture, and my main goal was to keep the flow of these beautiful shapes. I made a couple of curve brushes with different types of leaves and then just placed them to the right areas. Then I defined each of them with the Move brush.

Crafting Props & Clothes

For the Native American character, my main goal was to make something qualitative, detailed and comprehensive. This work pushed me out of my comfort zone because I don’t like to concentrate on details. For props for this particular project, I looked at lots of works of great traditional artist such as Zhou Shu Liang, who specializes in tribe native American art.

It inspired me to recreate a kind of a shaman ritual scene, so I did some sculpts of a drum, bird skulls, and other artifacts. For rocks and tree trunks I used Quixel Megascan library.

For the clothes, I used Marvelous Designer. I watched a talk by Guerilla Games at ZBrush Summit in which they tell in a very basic and detailed way how to sculpt leather. I think the video is super useful for understanding the difference between fabric materials.

For feathers, I used ZBrush Fibermesh.

  1. I took a cylinder and adjusted it to the feather body, then made a polygroup which became a base for Fibermesh.
  2. Then use a fibermesh with settings on the picture
  3. Made a polygroups for comfortable grooming.
  4. For grooming, I mostly use Move and Pinch brashes, groom brushes do not work for me usually.
  5. Then I polypainted and rendered the feather. I use ZBrush to Photoshop Plugin to export additional maps such as depth, mask, AO, normals and mix them in Photoshop for the final result.

Substance Painter Workflow

I really like Substance Painter and I make all the textures and bakes in it, even hand-painted. Baked Light Filter helps to save a lot of time and not to draw the shadows with your hands – very helpful for mobile assets. I also use it on PBR setup with low opacity to receive more volume and depth.

Usually, I start with baking all the textures. I like to use Match By Suffix where your low poly meshes use suffix _low and high poly suffix _high to bake everything in one step without overlapping. To set suffixes I export all high poly meshes from ZBrush to 3ds Max. Also, I assign all the materials in Max to get the ID map by mesh color in Substance.

Then I start texturing by rolling through the built-in smart material library or try to find missing ones on Substance Share. Then I adjust them for my needs.

Hard Fabrics

  1. I create a base mesh by cutting the polygroup from the jacket and adding thickness to it.
  2. Then I cut it in pieces with SliceCurve to create polygroups. It is important no to intersect the lines.
  3. Then I crease by polygroups.
  4. I create guidelines from polygroup with Frame Mesh by creased edges.
  5. Then I take any curve brush and just click on the guidelines. I use some simple tubes and add fabric details in Substance Painter.


For my cartoonish projects, I used Keyshot. I try to create them as fast as possible so I sculpt the characters only for one camera angle and don’t use UVs. ZBrush to Keyshot Bridge feature is a super great and fast way to render models with good quality keeping ZBrush matcap and polypaint. First, I set up the matcaps and choose Group By Materials in ZBrush Bridge settings to easily control materials in Keyshot with etch re-import. Then I adjust materials in Keyshot. I especially like the translucent material type and try to use it as much as possible.

Then I set up the light with HDRI Editor or add meshes with light materials.

For the game characters, I use Marmoset Toolbag.

Nikita Svechnikov, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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