Sun Priest: Sculpting Cloth Folds and Texturing Skin

Sun Priest: Sculpting Cloth Folds and Texturing Skin

Oksana Martyshenko talked about the production of her Sun Priest character with a Slavic touch to it sculpted in ZBrush and textured in Substance Painter.

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Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Oksana, I am 30 years old. At the moment I work as a Character Artist on an RTS game Partisans 1941 which is going to be released this summer.

I was born in Samara, Russia. Since childhood, I was into drawing, anime and video games. I even got a Wacom tablet when I was in high school. As it sometimes happens, my university degree is in an absolutely different field, economics, but I quickly understood that it is not something I would like to do in life. In the middle of my university education, I gathered my anime fanarts into a portfolio and that helped me to find my first job as a 2D artist at a local mobile game studio. After graduation, I moved to Moscow. 

Game development in Moscow was quite different than in my hometown. Unity was gaining popularity at the time and there were many studios that made 3D mobile games. I joined one of those studios where I saw the work of 3D modelers. I really liked the idea that you could turn simple art into volumetric figures, and in addition, 3D projects were more complex and interesting for me. So I began my studies feeling very optimistic (I had no idea how much I had to learn for that). Our studio was doing a project with hand-painted textures at that time, and I asked for permission to work on textures. As an artist, I did the job pretty well and then, with the help of other artists, started my path in 3D character art.

Inspiration

Even when I worked as a 2D artist I liked to draw characters the most. Growing in that field became my goal in 3D graphics, and I've been doing character art for 6 years already. What I really love is that you can imagine a story of your hero through the details throughout the process.

My latest works were inspired by traditional sculptures and artworks, and history too. I’m a big fan of the Soviet Austere style: Mukhina, Shadr, Korzhev, Nissky are great! Since I became a mom I fell in love with Soviet children's book illustrators such as Kochergin, Losin, Udin, Eryomina, etc. There are amazing strong characters in their artworks. I think these artworks still look fresh and you can learn a lot from them. 

Also, I’m really inspired by Qi Sheng Luo and Zhelong Xu artworks, they masterfully adapt traditional art to 3D. I believe that it’s important to follow trends as an artist but remember your roots, too. This is what I've been recently trying to achieve in my work.

Sun Priest: Idea

The idea to create this character came spontaneously. I just wanted to do quick winter-themed artwork (snow fell for the first time in Moscow that year, with a big delay). The choice of the subject wasn’t too long. 

My husband writes game settings in his free time. He created a world called Tsarstva (translated as Kingdoms) and I decided to fit a character into this world. At first, I made up something like a work task for myself: she is a servant of the cult of the Sun, dressed in expensive clothes, she is always cold, so she is wrapped in a huge fur coat. After that, I found references and painted rough concept art.

I had several goals set in this project. Firstly, I wanted to play with forms, to get a simple clean silhouette and a realistic level of details at the same time. Secondly, I wanted to go further into stylization and add a feeling of traditional Russian art, something like Palekh miniature in 3D. 

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Sculpting the Body

I usually start my models with a blockout in Maya, and this project wasn't an exception. I establish the main proportions using Create polygon tool; this process is similar to drawing when you try to find a silhouette with brush strokes. At first, I “draw” the silhouette in the left or front view. I don’t think about topology, just draw. When I finish the main parts, I extrude them in perspective view. The main rule is to keep the polycount very low so you can change forms quickly. Before sculpting, I decided to rig my basemesh and it was pretty easy since the mesh had around 5000 tris. I used Unreal ART tool for that. When I found a good pose, I imported it into ZBrush.

I tend to use a simple sphere to start the face. I always sculpt in dynamesh mode and use brushes like clay, clay tubes, trim dynamic, and move. I also like to use polypaint as soon as possible. I think it helps you to work more like a 2D artist, but I always remember to check the model without polypaint. 

The hair was made with Dylan Ekren's hair brush. It’s free and it’s really awesome! I use this brush a lot, it's truly a must-have. I shaped hair with strands creating them one by one (just like game-ready hair). When I finished with the haircut, I used trim dynamic brush to smooth borders between strands. 

Folds

I think folds are an important part of general concept design for characters, especially in stylized works. Directions of folds and their number must support base flows and shapes of your model and the design itself. You should use real-life references wisely. Several pieces of advice from me: avoid parallel lines, don’t forget about gravity and weight of cloth, keep folds simple and clean, and avoid the crumpled look.

For the folds, I used TrailsM brush. It was in a standard pack in one of the old versions of ZBrush but I couldn’t find it in a newer one. However, ZBrush has a brush called TrailsF, it works similarly. I attach my settings here, try it. 

So I sculpted base lines of the folds with TrailsM and after that, I used clay tubes to add the weight of cloth at the bottom of every fold. Then I used smooth and move brushes to fix unwanted clamps and cavities. And I always kept checking the model from all sides.

In difficult cases, I use Decimation Master for cleaning the folds. I decimate the model at a very low poly count and subdivide it again. This method was used in my work Poludnitsa.

Accessories

The accessories were modeled in 3D Coat. I really like to use this software for hard-surface tasks since the process of modeling there reminds me of drawing. It’s simple and free of routine. I mostly use VoxHide, Cut, Clone, and Curve tools. At the end of the process, I import my meshes into ZBrush and apply polish deformation to get bevel on the edges. I also use move brush to add asymmetry and break straight lines.

Retopology

This work was supposed to be just for rendering, so I did not spend time on UVs and retopology. I decimated my model and then unwrapped it in ZBrush. For the fur, I used automapping in Maya.

Texturing

All textures were made in Substance Painter. At this stage, my main goal was to convey "materiality", a doll appearance in the textures.

It’s very important to add color and roughness variation when you are working on the skin. Magdalena Dadela has a tutorial on the skin texturing, I studied from it:

The principle is standard: fat and bones are yellowish, muscles are reddish and veins are bluish. I also mixed several colors in the base layer of the skin using “dirt_3” noise 3-4 times. Next, I painted blush and added a simple makeup. Also, I lowered the value of the roughness of the t-zone on the face, - the tip of the nose, lips, and eyes - so they shone brighter. Also, I mixed a bit of curvature in the texture so that the area around the nose and eyes was a little sharper.

The rest of the textures were very simple. I created a base layer, then added 1-2 grunge noise layers for color and roughness variety. I also applied “dirt_2” noise to imitate lint on the clothes.

I also added a gradient on the final textures to darken the bottom of the model.

Preparing the Render

Final renders were made in V-Ray Next for Maya. I used Substance live link to export the textures, it saves a lot of time.

In this work, I didn't want to achieve an epic atmosphere but rather a personal one. So I modeled a flattened sphere for the footing and used a 3-point lighting setup. I reduced the main rectangle light to get deep shadows and looked for a good light angle where those shadows would have a nice and clear shape.

Another thing that I focused on was the brightness of the ground relative to the background. Usually, the floor is very overexposed and attracts too much attention. To avoid this, I put an extra light behind the character’s back, which highlights the background and twists the background color.

I used standard V-Ray shaders mostly, SSS shader for the skin and V-Ray hair shader for hair and fur. The snow material was made by blending a quick SSS and stochastic flakes.

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Oksana Martyshenko, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    Sun Priest: Sculpting Cloth Folds and Texturing Skin