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Konstantin Gdalevich prepared a detailed breakdown of his recent character Bird made for the recent Artstation Challenge covering time-management tips for those who want to participate in challenges, sculpting process, cloth material and more.
Hi! It’s been a long time since our last talk. Right after the first article, I went to Slovenia to get married. After my return to Israel, I took part in a quite interesting project for company NoGame.
Together with Victoria Gdalevich, we were responsible for the creation of game arenas. We were drawing concept art, making models and paintovers within the general style.
Here you’ll find many other maps.
The project turned out to be very colorful and eclectic. Be it city maps or global locations, real or fictional, we had been digging in a bunch of references and cultures. After finishing this project my wife and me, accompanied by our dog, moved to the other end of the world to Vancouver. Now I am studying at Think Tank Training Centre and looking for a job. A change of scenery is always good for creativity, but you should have seen these rains!
Choosing a concept for this artwork wasn’t easy. There were a lot of artworks from the first stage of the Feudal Japan Challenge and I had been surfing them for about a week, being unable to make a choice. Finally, I opted for Raymond’s concept being attracted by its unique idea.
After a week of research, my eyes got tired from geishas, samurai, and ninjas. Raymond’s idea was fresh and interesting but at the same time bore a resemblance to Japan’s enemies – the Mongols. It felt a conflict with the main idea of the challenge, but I took the decision and have never regretted about it. As a result, Japan shown in that artwork is far from being classical, but I like it.
The shape of the huge helmet gently breaks the silhouette. Having done everything right without sinking the character inside the helmet, I had a chance to produce an interesting and unique artwork. I planned to create many layers of fabric, it meant a lot of details and materials: fabric, wood, metal, paper, leather and even a gemstone. All these details helped me to plan future zones.
Not to mention a bird, whose magical nature gives full scope to the imagination. Having weighed up all facts, I had no choice but to make it in 3D.
Time-Management during the Challenges
This article will be partly devoted to mastering survival skills under the pressure of a deadline. A kind of Guide for those who want to take part in some challenge and finish it in time. For the record, I mean the competition with yourself, not a colleague.
Well, the first step is to choose the right concept – not very difficult, but not too easy. Consider how much time you will be able to give to the project. Make sure that you are familiar with the workflow. Choose the concept not by heart, but by its feasibility. For instance, if you have never created fur, never worked with xGen or other engines, it is not a good idea to start making a hairy beast in 45-days competition. Learning new things and keeping a pace is very important, but if you are going to finish in time just forget about other things.
A character from my first challenge (Art War 2) was not finished for the sole reason of wrong time management.
The final version with a month delay:
As I mentioned before, making a character from scratch is not an easy deal, you have to keep in mind a lot of things. That is why I broke down all the stages into substages. I touched on this topic in the previous article, but now I have something new to add. When the references are ready, it is time for the creation of a rough concept. I concentrate on the overall design of my character: weight, balance, silhouette, large zones. I try to do it quickly, keeping the flow and having in mind S and C-curves. It is probably the least favorite stage of the artists, they often jump straight to the blockout and topology, but I believe that it slows the process down and deadens the flow.
A final result of the concept:
The helmet itself and its balance with the face was one of my hardest challenges. The helmet is really big, while a girl inside is nice and delicate. I spent a lot of time to make the helmet look like it isn’t too heavy for her. I wanted to create an attractive girl wearing thick winter clothes. The creation of this balance between slim waist and full skirt was one of the absorbing sides of the design. Later, trying to emphasize the connection with winter more clear and to add more weight to the silhouette, I added a pair of winter shoes.
Technically, the concept sculpt is a few dynameshed subtools, without topology and a clear silhouette. Usually, I look for volumes distinguishable from afar. In ZBrush, you can check the silhouette by pressing V.
Make a concept sculpt! A 2D concept is not enough to understand how the character will look in 3D. It also helps to measure your possibilities – if you feel that you are spending too many hours putting all the details into the concept – it is time to get rid of some of them. If you start the blockout right after the 2D concept, you will waste time on unnecessary details, which will probably be removed later.
When I am happy with the concept, it is time for the blockout. I change rough dynameshes for the new ones, with proper thickness and topology. I also continue playing with the balance of zones. Blockout, or as I call it “Primary forms”, is a foundation of your future sculpt, so don’t hurry and take your time.
Here are the results of the blockout stage:
All the cloth was simulated in Marvelous Designer.
To get the clear and proper topology I used a method from the FlippedNormals’ tutorial which you can find below. Among other methods that I have tried this one offers the best solution for a clear mesh, appropriate for future animation.
Here is the result with subdivs and topology ready for sculpting, thickness adjustment, etc.
In addition, this method gives the perfect UV maps, based on the seams.
Sculpting Secondary Forms
When the blocking was ready, I started sculpting secondary forms. I added many medium details, improved the face, added decor, sculpted large folds. The large part of the work was done in ZBrush but some elements like jars and jewels were created in Maya.
Then I work with the main forms, dividing them into sub-groups and adding new details keeping in mind the composition. What you need is to examine the character carefully and make sure your eyes do not get tired or lost in the details. In order to guarantee that, the zones with details need to be distributed between the rest places, like in a sandwich.
This is a rough explanation of what I have meant:
If I had overloaded it with details it would look like that:
Of course, the character will look better with textures and after the posing.
Divide the workflow into the logical stages and substages. The better you see where you are – the clearly you understand how much time you need to complete the project. For example, if you decided to spend a week on the secondary forms, stop after 3 days, take a breath and estimate your chances to meet the deadline. If it is highly unlikely, cut unnecessary features and move on.
The helmet and cloth were the most important and complicated elements. As I have already mentioned, I wanted to make the helmet relatively light, that is why I divided it into the layers at the blockout stage. So, now I continued working with details, adding a gemstone and 3 layers of fabric to the helmet. All of that is attached to the metal “crown”, saturating this zone with cool details.
Adding the ropes was more technically difficult. I made them in Maya with Curves and CurvesToTube tool from Maya Bonus Tools. This method allows the handy adjustment of the weight and tension of the ropes.
Jars on the back of the belt were created in Maya and then attached to the ropes.
Jewelry was made in Maya, too. I used Animation Snapshot to distribute pieces over the ropes and curves I have already had.
Boots were made in ZBrush. I masked the legs, cut the result into polygroups, then applied Inflate and got a pretty nice base after some adjustments:
Then I sent it to Maya and got down to the snowshoes modeling using the same approach as with ropes.
Having finished with secondary forms, I proceeded with tertiary ones. The approach is actually the same – take the large forms and divide them into parts where you need it. One of the main tasks at this stage was cloth folds.
Stages of the cloth creation: Blocking / Secondary forms / Tertiary forms
When I added folds and stitches to the sculpt, I got this pair of boots:
This is my final model after I have added some more imperfections, stitches, and folds.
Crearing a Bird
The bird can be divided into three parts:
- Head and body under the feathers
A base mesh for the head was prepared in Maya and then sculpted in ZBrush.
The feathers were made in ZBrush with FiberMesh. Having collected references I decided to divide the basemesh into 8 polygroups, for feathers of different shapes and sizes. I adjusted FiberMesh to get frames of appropriate sizes and saved it in a file. Then I created a separate preset for each group: small feathers for the head and neck, bigger feathers for the chest, etc. After playing with length, quantity and width I got pleasant diversity. All of them had already had UVs which is a big plus of this method. Can’t help mentioning Pablo Munoz from ZBrush Guides from whom I borrowed this method.
You can find that and other methods here.
Here you can download my Bird model.
The wings are a different story. Besides the right placement, I wanted to rig them for future posing. The point is when wings are opening, closing or bending, feathers are changing their position. If I had done it manually, I would move feathers each time I changed a pose. I found the right solution in a great and old resource Creative Crush. Heather Howard uploaded for free a cool script Wing Creator. That Python script creates wings, distributes feathers and makes a rig. You can even give it custom feathers with proper names and the script will deal with them. Actually, it is more than an average script. Heather studied birds at Texas A&M University and wrote a paper about the studies, so that script has a solid anatomical basis.
Texturing & Colors
Since it was my personal project, I had the freedom to change the colors and details from the concept. I began by picking interesting color combinations. At this stage, I made Clay Render, Occlusion and ID pass. Then I sent it to Photoshop and started changing blending modes to find the right colors. I usually start with coloring main objects without details. When the harmony is achieved, I color secondary details.
I usually take colors from references and what’s more, their subject doesn’t really matter for me. I am looking for a good color balance.
There were three ideas, and I chose the second one to work further.
My main blending modes are Overlay, Multiply and Hard light. They help me find interesting ideas and save time on rendering, maps creation, etc.
Once you find the overall idea, you may spend some more time balancing the colors.
Color adjustment is probably the most important stage of the Lookdev. Spend here as much time as necessary, otherwise, you’ll get pretty a dull or too garish artwork. For example, metal could be yellow if it is gold, white if it is silver or iron, otherwise black, red or green. Metal can even be painted! But what can help us to decide what metal to use? Sometimes we can’t change the metal appearance: in case of a realistic setting, armor can’t be golden or purple. But when the choice is up to you, the metal turns into a piece of the puzzle called composition. Use the color balance to put it together.
Don’t fall in love with your artwork, no matter how hard it sounds. Trust me, if it wasn’t your own model, you could do much better Lookdev. It stands to reason that you know how much effort you’ve already put in some item, and now you are dying to show it to a viewer. But sometimes the composition plays against you and the item brings only noise. Hide it a little, match the colors with the background. Let it go!
To better understand the cloth material, let’s divide it into three components:
- Color, pattern or picture which is just a texture on the cloth. It is a direct continuation of the Lookdev stage. I add pictures and patterns where needed keeping in mind the composition. This map goes to Color slot.
- Surface quality which is a type of cloth. Here I used XYZ maps, they provide displacement, opacity and ID maps. I already had displacement from ZBrush and didn’t want to mix it with the new one in Maya, so, I turned it into Normal in Quixel NDO.
- Wear and tear. This material lays above all others. It has the highest glossiness value, Dirt map in the Color slot, and a mask in V-Ray Blend material.
Here is a small tutorial for this stage.
The dress without any maps:
The render with the color chosen at the previous stage, with displacement:
Standard V-Ray material with low Gloss intensity and a Color map in the Color slot. The map so far looks like this:
It’s well seen that the dress looks too dull now. It takes a lot of space, and we definitely should improve it.
Patterns, patterns, patterns! They are our best friends and tools. If you are going to make a large area more interesting – add a semi-transparent pattern. Fashion designers use that tool everywhere, why not try it, too?
This is our pattern:
As you see, there is nothing difficult. I drew a cross and turned it into a pattern in Photoshop and duplicated. Here I also started using XYZ maps:
I took the ID map and used it as a mask. Horizontal fibers (Red channel) were darkened by 10%, whereas protruding fibers (Green channel) were made brighter. These details are small, but being a part of a big puzzle, they breathe life into the picture.
According to our concept, there should be gold on the rims. I used the V-Ray Blend material with our material in the main slot and Gold material on the top:
The gold material is pretty simple. It is a V-Ray material with black albedo and yellowish Reflection. IOR value is 8. The only thing we need is to paint a mask:
Here is the result of our efforts:
- Surface quality
We did the main part of the work in the previous step. All that is left to do is to add a Normal map. To add a pleasant bump to the texture, I took a mask from the Gold material and turned it into Normal in Quixel NDO. Then I combined the Normal from NDO with the Normal from XYZ.
- Wear and tear
Our material looks nice, and we could be satisfied with what has already been achieved. But I wanted the dress to have some history behind it, shown by dirt. I like to do things like that in Quixel Suite. After uploading Normal and Occlusion maps and some adjustments I got a Dirt mask:
I created a brown V-Ray material with middle gloss and put it into our Blend material.
The final version:
If you wish to add more realism, you can adjust Fuzz, everyone’s favorite small fibers.
The easiest way to do it in Maya and V-Ray is by using V-Ray Fur. It gives less control then XGen, but we don’t need it now. I applied V-Ray Fur to the dress, adjusted quantity and length of the fibers:
Golden fibers looked strange, so I put the mask from Gold material to the Lengths slot.
Here is my final render:
There is a tutorial on Lookdev in Maya on XYZ. The advantage of this method is its speed: you can change the pattern size right in the application and see the results thanks to IPR integration to V-Ray. But there are a few disadvantages. Firstly, this method doesn’t provide you with maps, so it works only for Real-Time workflow, like in Marmoset and so on. Secondly, without a normal map, we have nothing to upload to Quixel or Substance to get a Dirt effect.
I rendered my artwork in Maya with V-Ray. Luckily, as a Think Tank student, I was able to assemble a small render farm from 4 computers. The king of this system was a machine with AMD Ryzen – those processors are literally beastsю But enough for technical details, let’s get back to the creative approach.
Basically, I needed two renders: Main (with materials) and Clay Render.
Main Render took most of the time. Its inner structure looks like this:
There’s nothing fancy here: all the geometry is parented to the Curve Circle for twisting. I also measured the length from the camera to the geometry for a ZDepth pass.
I used a standard Lighting system: three light sources and a rim light. I had prepared the lighting before I got down to the textures: it brought the tests closer to the final result.
The key point of the whole rendering process is to adjust the Specular balance, Albedo saturation, and Reflection intensity. The reason behind it is a great number of different materials in the scene: metal, wood, leather, paint, gemstone, glass and cloth.
If I recall it right, all the textures were created either in Substance or Quixel. It may seem that everything should have worked “as is” due to the PBR workflow, but… I had been adjusting them to keep the soft colors and a moderate balance.
Yin and yang. The balance of Specular, Reflection and Albedo is vital will distinguish a good well-balanced character from a too garish one. Remember, that viewer’s eyes can’t concentrate on the dark and bright places simultaneously.
How to adjust that balance? Choose the most frequent material in the scene. In my case, this is the cloth. Adjust it in the first place, and then set up other materials to match the main one. That’s the secret how to minimize the risk to get lost in the process.
Many thanks to 80.lv for giving me the floor! I am glad to share my workflow, and I hope you could find something useful here. If you have any questions or ideas, feel free to contact me.
Konstantin Gdalevich, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
If you can think it, you can make it with Photoshop CC, the world’s best imaging and graphic design software. Create and enhance photographs, illustrations, and 3D artwork. Design websites and mobile apps. Edit videos, simulate real-life paintings, and more. It’s everything you need to make any idea real.