My name is Victor Petersson, I am a freelance character artist from Stockholm, Sweden. I started experimenting with 3D at school (we learned a bit of Autodesk 3ds Max 2010 during the classes) and found it really enjoyable. Since then, it became a hobby that slowly evolved into something bigger. I went to a school called The Game Assembly where I focused on 3D game art and later on, I joined the industry. Previously, I have worked at Starbreeze contributing to Payday 2 and a newly founded studio that was closed, unfortunately, before shipping the first game. Now, I work on freelance tasks and update my portfolio waiting for the right studio gig.
Choosing a Concept
The project Narcissism Priest was started right after the studio mentioned above was shut down. I knew I needed to have a new portfolio piece that showcased my current level, plus I wanted to create something enjoyable. So I started to look for concepts that caught my attention with either a lot of style or personality. Working from a finished concept is a great option if you don’t want to spend too much time on designing, – this way, you get a chance to focus more on modeling and presentation. There is always a drawback, though: if you do not succeed in matching the concept you will end up with a piece that will be perceived negatively compared to the concept itself. With this in mind, the hardest part when searching for a concept to recreate was to find something that would be fun, yet not overly complicated. I needed to get a new portfolio piece as soon as possible so that I could start looking for freelance gigs or a studio position. All in all, I ended up choosing Hayun Lee’s Narcissism Priest which had been in my “Concepts I want to do” folder for a while.
I think it is a lovely character with a lot of opportunities to showcase personality. But the absolute best part which made me choose this concept over others was the breakdown image he made. If you ever want to make a character from an existing concept, try to find one with this kind of breakdown where you can clearly see the character from the back and front. It will save you a lot of time when working in 3D as you can see all the details.
I also wanted to add a twist to the character as I looked for some artistic freedom rather than strictly following the concept, so I decided to make the character female and change some minor details. I reached out to the concept artist asking if he was fine with me making the changes. This was a great conversation and Hayun came up with great suggestions regarding how I should change the shoes and other details.
Start of the Character
I started the character with the face, – this is something I probably wouldn’t have done in production, but in this case, I wanted to start with a fun part. After the face was made, the focus was to get a body that matched the concept in terms of proportions. When making the body I worked from my own basemesh to save time and not to worry about the topology. I blocked out the female figure I felt matched the concept – it was pretty rough but great to start draping the clothes over. The only tool I used during this process was ZBrush where I utilized the transpose line, move brush and smooth brush. These tools are all you need to work on major shapes. Keep it simple and low poly during this stage and do not rush into detailing anything.
I tried creating clothes in Marvelous Designer but I realized quite early on that I only wanted to use it as a blockout tool for the major forms. Making a garment like in my project would be far too time-consuming in Marvelous compared to sculpting out the folds and secondary forms in ZBrush. This is what I ended up using MD for:
The benefit of using MD in the beginning, however, was that the time it took me to get the base shapes was drastically reduced compared to making them from scratch in ZBrush. After MD, I started changing the base shapes in ZBrush utilizing the same move brush, transpose line, smooth brush and also masking. Then, I added all the remaining elements. Heres the first blockout of the entire character in ZBrush:
This step can be quite discouraging because it’s far from the end product, but it’s really important to get a good overview of the character before committing to polishing. First, always focus on the primary shapes – the more you are happy with the primary forms and proportions, the stronger the end product will be. From there on, it is all about polishing up all the elements and extracting details one piece of the character at a time. Here’s an example of the cloth progression:
This stage is the most fun one for me, as you can take something that looks quite blobby and make it shine.
A big part of why I chose to do this certain concept was that I liked all the different materials present in it. I am a big fan of cloth, leather, and metal combines with each other. First, I try to get a good base in the high poly – if I can not feel what the material is from the bakes I need to go back to the high poly and work on it a bit more. However, I do not want to overdo the high poly either. I sculpted the high poly to a stage where no micro details were present. This means that I had tertiary details like memory folds and other material characteristics whereas details like stitches and fabric patterns were added later in Substance Painter to the flexibility of a package like SP intact. Substance Painter is a very powerful tool that lets you iterate crazy fast – you can change things like pattern density and strength, the color of the material and amount of dirt and such with the drag of a slider. For this reason, it is very important not to add too many micro and tertiary details in your sculpt.
When I am texturing, I always start with fill layers where I get my base values down. The roughness in conjunction with the base color is great to block in early. From there, I added subtle variations with different noises which I start to layer one by one to break up the albedo and roughness. In these layers, I also paint on top of the noises to break up the tiling of the procedural noise. On top of these layers, I add micro details like fabric patterns, stitches, seam lines and other tertiary details that are needed. Even though it is not physically correct, after that, I like to add a slight AO on top of the base color and the roughness channel to give it slightly more contrast and further variation. These are the steps I take for every material (except for the skin which is a longer process). From there, it is all about adding dirt and blood and tweaking the material in my renderer of choice.
Something very important when texturing is to do all your materials next to each other so that you could clearly see how they interact. You want to aim for high differentiation between different kinds of materials like cloth, leather, and metal, either through color contrast or roughness.
When I started to work on the presentation, I decided that I want to give the character a story. I was thinking that she might have recently smashed some kind of a heretic to the ground with her book while walking through a dark gothic dirty street. I needed her clothes to reflect this story. Here, references came in real handy. I chose a direction which the blood was coming from and then I started painting it.
The blood was painted with different native Substance brushes, some swapped with Alphas. Mainly, Dirt 1-3 and the Spot brush were used. The key is to paint in a mask of a fill layer which allows you to add and subtract very easily. The same goes for the dirt. The trick is to think of where the dirt comes from. In my case, the character is walking along the dirty wet cobblestone city streets, so the dirt is coming in the form of sand, mud, and water that she lifts when walking. This makes the dirt form a natural gradient from the feet upwards. Because the dirt is wet it needs to be soaked up into her cloth. This effect is achieved through a very light painted layer underneath the dirt of the same color but with way lower opacity, plus blurring all the dirt to give it that wet soaked feeling.
It took me a great deal of time to nail the pose and camera angle. During the posing stage, you really should get as much possible feedback you can find. I would recommend Polycount, different Discord channels or just your friends (which s even better). The more eyes review your work the better. In conjunction with the pose, you should also mind your camera position and lighting. I can not overstate how important the camera is for the final presentation. Here is an image that shows my progress:
It takes a long time to make a good presentation. In my case, it took around 8 days including posing, setting up the camera, and lighting. The only thing I used were spotlights, a ton of spotlights. The biggest tip I can give here is to take time and move away from your computer to refresh your eyes and mind. Let other people see the shot and give you feedback, then keep pushing it. A bad presentation can kill a great character, so give it the time it deserves.
The biggest challenge during this project was not to stress out which could lead to rushing things or cutting corners. I used this project as a tool to summarize all my knowledge and workflows I use in character art. The benefit of this was that it showed me where I needed to improve and also taught me discipline. It ended up being a very personal piece for me and I am very glad that I’ve finished it. The most important thing learned is that no matter how personal the piece is you should always talk to other people about it – not just for the sake of getting feedback, but also to get a reality check once in a while. In the end, we are not only artists, but also people, so take care of yourself no matter how much you want to finish a piece.