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Alessandro Manzani did a breakdown of his recent character Demon Betrayer and talked in detail about concepts, sculpting, UVs and more.
My name is Alessandro Manzani, I’m currently living in Florence, Italy, and have been working as a freelance in the industry for 5 years. I worked for some animation and video games studios on such titles as Marvel Avengers Academy and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Now I am working on other titles and teaching modeling and texturing at Nemo Academy in Florence.
Character Art: Choosing Concept
Starting a new project means for me a new challenge. Usually, I love to make something that I did not create before to improve my skills and increase the chances of finding new jobs. With the 3D models, we have the possibility to give life to 2D characters and it is what I want when I start a new character. The main aspect of each personal work is the subject: I spend a lot of time looking for the right character to create. There are a lot of amazing concepts done by great artists but only a few make me think “Danm, this one is the right character to do!” The same happened with Demon Betrayer. The perfect harmony between the shapes and the colors is why I choose a concept instead of another one.
Character Creation: First Steps
When I have the subject, I start to find references for the style and the details even if, in principle, I like to maintain the style of the artist I took the concept from.
In case of the demon lady (and usually, it’s the first step in general), I start to study the concept, open the concept in Photoshop and paint-over to understand the shapes, how many pieces the model has, where the soft and hard edges are and so on.
I can start to block the model and see if everything works correctly before I begin sculpting. I learned this method from the hard-surface modeling in Maya where it is very important to have a clear shape before starting to add the details.
Usually, when the main shapes work correctly, filling in the details is very easy and there are a lot of brushes to make this stage easy.
Personally, I am a bit lazy to create new brushes, so I use brushes done by amazing artists like Michel Vicente (Orb).
Sword & Shield
Something that got my attention was the sword’s blade and the smoke of the shield: they are great light sources and probably the first things that you see in the model. Therefore, I had to take special care of these parts and recreate the same energy that comes from their mouths. I sculpted them in ZBrush, and the smoke part was especially easy thanks to the new feature in ZBrush 2018 Sculptris pro. For the blade, the main challenge was creating the craters on the top of the sword. After a few tests, I decided that the best solution was to create different pieces and merge them using Dynamesh. I only had to pay attention not to lose the definition with a bad Dynamesh resolution.
Texturing and colors are the things that made me fall in love with her when I saw the concept. The work by Konijn is amazing but Carlos’ style and palette are perfect. My main goal was to recreate the amazing atmosphere transmitted from the concept which is a great liability.
Texturing process is a very important step, in my opinion. You can have an amazing model but if the textures are not at the same level the result can be mediocre. Before to start I again searched for a lot of references and studied the concept (as I told you before I like to follow the concept and honor concept artist’s wishes). When I find the palette, I put the flat colors on the model and see if they harmonize. In case everything is all right, I start to paint. This method was used for the glowing smoke. The most important thing was to mix the different purple hues to create the right effect for the fluid that comes out of the mouth. When it was finished I added some details and fixed the colors and contrast.
UVs are an important aspect of the texturing process especially when it comes to the hand painting models, however, it is scarcely talked about. It is very important to put every single shell in the right position, to be sure that there will be no grainy pieces when I paint, and I dedicate a lot of time to it. Since school, I’ve always used UVlayout for this step. I consider it a great software solution that allows me to manage UVs as I want.
Diffuse Textures. Organic pieces, upper body, sword (left column) and lower body, shield, shield’s smoke (right column):
When we talk about the handpainting model, the shaders’ setup is easier than in PBR or VFX models. There is just the diffuse texture to manage and in the case of the demon lady project, I only added an emissive file texture to increase the glow effect. As a final touch, I tweaked a few render settings in Marmoset to make the scene deeper and more interesting.
Lighting setup is another challenge of getting the look right. It is easy to use a bad light setup and ruin everything you have done before in the modeling and texturing stages. Each render is difficult because each model needs a right environment for it and the rules are always different: different lights, different settings, and sometimes different engines as well. For this project, I used 3 spot lights and set them on the right, left and back in addition to the environment lights. The main goal for me here was to highlight every material with the lights so that people could make out different materials when they examined the scene.
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