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Making Game Characters with ZBrush & 3DS Max

Dávid Jankes shared his character art workflow and talked about working ZBrush & 3ds Max, game-ready topology, materials, UVs, and more.

Dávid Jankes shared his character art workflow and talked about working ZBrush & 3ds Max, game-ready topology, materials, UVs, and more.


My name is Dávid Jankes and I am from Slovakia. I am working as a 3D game artist and mainly focus on characters and creatures. So far, I have worked on 20 different games including Mafia 2, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, World of Tanks, Silent Hill: Downpour and Angry Birds GO. When I was 11, I got familiar with 3D graphics and it excited me. I started to buy books, read tutorials on the internet, publish some of my works and get more and more serious about the whole thing. During high school, I had the chance to work on a few small projects and after that, I was hired by 2k Czech where I got the first big opportunity to contribute to Mafia 2.

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The game Battle Chasers: Nightwar was released in October 2017 and changed everything for me. The style of the game was created by Joe Madureira who worked on Darksiders 1 and 2, and I fell in love with it. The Hangman is inspired by the character from that game the concept of which is also drawn by Joe. The silhouette and colors in the concept are simply amazing, and Joe Madureira really inspires me with every his new work.

Creating a Game Character

If you want to make characters for games, you definitely need to learn about human anatomy and how it works. Practice makes perfect. When you work on stylized characters, it is much easier if you know how it all works in reality. Then, you can modify this anatomy according to your needs. In ZBrush, I always start with a high poly sculpt from a sphere object. Later on, with the help of ZRemesher, I am able to work on topology and this process continues until I am satisfied with the final model. I mainly use such brushes as Standard, ClayBuildup, Smooth, Pinch, DamStandard, TrimDynamic, hPolish, and Move.

As for the low poly and UVs, I worked on them in 3ds Max. When working on UVs, it is easy to cut the model and then unwrap it. I remember times when I worked with Unfold 3D and it was a very painful experience. Nowadays, it’s quite easy – just cut parts, unwrap, and use relax for some parts if needed.

The base mesh of the ax was made in 3ds Max where I worked on the silhouette, shapes, etc. according to the concept art. The rest of the details were made in ZBrush. The basic shape of the “bracelets” was made in ZBrush, then I used TrimDynamic brush which is very good for sharp edges or anything metal.

Game-Ready Topology

This character can be used in absolutely any game and is suitable for animation. I’ve been working on characters long enough to know what a correct topology of the mesh should look like. The low poly model has between 4000-5000 polys which became more or less a standard for 5 cm characters (on the screen). For optimization, it is good to use LODs which are usually split in half. For example, if your character has 4000 polys, LOD 1 will have 2000 polys and LOD 2 1000 polys.


The material, texture baking, lighting, and rendering were done in Marmoset Toolbag. I rendered Normal map, Ambient Occlusion, and Object Normal map because I use the green channel layer which defines lights and shadows on the model. I also rendered Curvature map. These textures were a good base for the final textures. In the beginning, I worked in Substance Painter and then continued in Photoshop. Here is what I used in the end: Albedo, Normal, Reflectivity, Gloss, Emissive.

What’s Important for Stylized Character Art?

I am not that experienced in stylized character art because I’ve worked on realistic characters for a long time but I think the most difficult part here is to get the concept art right. The artist has to realize certain things like how the elements work, why they are as they are, etc. The best way to do that is to know about the character itself, its backstory. But if you work in a team, it is the job of a designer/concept artist.

Dávid Jankes, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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