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Character Production: Hair, Skin, Head Retopology

Alyssa Eigner talked about the production of her realistic Female Character Bust and some knowledge gained at GAI: hair, retopology, skin texturing, and more.

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Hi, my name is Alyssa Eigner, I am a Character Artist currently based in Wisconsin. My passion for Illustration and 3D Art led me to my first job at a smaller game studio that focused on Slot games. There, I was expected to work on 3D and 2D art depending on what game I was assigned to. In my free time, I loved studying anatomy and storytelling primarily within the illustration.  However, after fully diving into ZBrush I fell in love with forms in 3D space and character art has been my primary focus ever since.

Female Character Bust

The female character bust started out as a practice study for me to figure out how to bring a messy, asymmetrical scanned head into ZBrush and clean it up to use as the base for sculpting a more detailed model. I always like to challenge myself so once I hit that target I decided to push this project further by texturing it and adding more details. I wanted my character to have a more youthful appearance, so I reduced and moved some of the anatomical forms like the nasolabial fold, epicanthic fold and softened the bags under her eyes.

Hair & Fur

I knew that hair and fur can easily become a big-time commitment in a character, and for this project, I wanted to primarily focus on creating realistic skin, leather, and metal materials.  For this reason, the hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and fur were all crafted in Maya using XGen and exported as high poly geo. I mostly followed the video tutorial from the UIW 3D Animation and Game Design youtube channel:


While learning at Game Art Institute I learned that a lot of Triple-A studios use Maya’s Quad Draw as their primary way to retopo a character.  For this reason, most of the low poly geometry for my character was created in some way using this tool.  I decided to start with the face, which was what I considered my most complex and important object. I mostly followed the video series from Danny Mac on how to retopo a head:

While his videos don’t specifically go over Maya’s quad draw pipeline, I find that the ideas behind why and how to create the low poly geometry are what’s important.

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I decided to try to make the leather armor as efficient as possible. I knew that the most attention would be on the face, so it wouldn’t look too strange if the leather scales and metal bolts on the vest section were baked information instead of their own separate geometry.  This helped reduce geometry drastically.  As an additional way to save on UV space, the vest straps that appear on the right shoulder are duplicated geometry from the left shoulder.


For this project, I wanted to create the skin as believable as possible in Marmoset.  This is why I started by studying the free and amazing project released by James Busby.  I found it really useful to look at the skin texture maps he used as it gave me an idea of what I would need my maps to look like to be successful.

To create my character’s face textures I used a multipack skin texture from Texturing XYZ. I found that the maps they provide can really help speed up the process of creating the head texture. This tutorial is very helpful when learning how to use each map.

There are lots of ways to set up your maps to make them follow your UVs.  You could use Mari, ZBrush Zwrap plug-in, or the Puppet Warp tool in ZBrush. I ended up using the Puppet Warp method for this project, following along with Ryan Kingslien’s “Day 7: 12 Days of Realism” tutorial (29:45 is where he starts talking about the multi-channel faces).

Another thing Ryan’s video goes over is how cool the displacement texture is. The texture actually has different pore size information stored in the individual RGB channels. I like to save out the red, green, and blue channels and bring them into ZBrush under the displacement map and add them each to a unique ZBrush layer. This allows you to adjust how strong your pore details are. I usually create an extra layer or two where I refine the pores and add a little more detail below the eyes and on the mouth.  Once all that’s done I exported my high poly model to bake the normal, AO, and cavity maps.

For the scatter map you can bake a thickness map to save time, however, I prefer to hand-paint in my values for the scatter map as I feel like I have more control as to how the subsurface scattering will look. The scatter map is primarily used to tell Marmoset where light should penetrate the skin and where it should not. Fattier areas of the face like the lips, ears, nose, and chin all end up being lighter values on the map, and places that are closer to bones like the zygomatic arch, mandible, and forehead will all be painted darker values. Depending on how much fat a character has in their face, this map will look different. It’s important to think about the underlying forms of the character like, and that is what really makes this map fun to make.

The gloss/roughness maps are used to tell the programs how smooth or rough a surface is. I like the face gloss map to be fairly uniform in value so there is a nice even sheen across the face. However, the nose and lips tend to be slightly glossier as they tend to be smoother surfaces. I pulled out these values in the map using a soft white brush in Photoshop.

I use the spec map to show how much light is reflecting from the surface and how bright it is. I like to start with a map that has some pore information in it, like the blue channel on the displacement map. I then take a soft white brush on a new layer and build up white in area’s that tend to have more specularity such as the nose, cheeks, and lips. This map usually takes a few iterations between Photoshop and Marmoset to dial in the right values to make sure the right areas are popping. While this map can take a little more time, I believe that it is one of the most important elements to the face to make sure it really reads to your audience as skin.

The last thing I created was peach fuzz for this character to use for the fuzz mask using Maya’s XGen.  I followed how to transfer attributes based on Vadim Sorici’s tutorial. Once the normals are transferred, I baked out a color map so that I could use the peach fuzz as both a mask and as information in my gloss and spec maps.

In the surface normals, I added a detail normal map to help create a finer level of detail when zoomed in. I am using a map purchased on Texturing XYZ.

After texturing the skin, I brought the gloss, normal, roughness, and albedo map textures from Photoshop into Substance Painter and loaded them into my texture set settings.  I noticed that in my war paint/makeup reference that the makeup was slightly more shiny than the skin.  To mimic this I created a fill layer with ‘color’ and ‘rough’ turned on.  I changed the color to black and moved the roughness up to around .65.  Once the layer was set up I added a black mask.  I find painting in masks in Substance incredibly powerful because it allows for a non-destructive workflow. With a mask, I can easily go back at any time to the layer and quickly add or subtract from the mask. With a soft round brush, I turned down the flow and stroke opacity in brush settings and slowly started to build up the black color of the makeup around the eyes.

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Wolf Asset

The wolf was originally sculpted from a sphere.  I soon realized that the object looked fairly blobby and I would need to use multiple methods to make it appear more solid. I scrapped the original mesh and I decided to sketch out the main shape of the wolf pendant in ZBrush’s shadowbox. This is a great tool for creating complex shapes to start from. Once I was happy with the shape, I used the curveMultiTube brush to draw on the raised metal tubes that appear around the edges of the wolf. For the detail that appears on the nose of the wolf, I used shadow box once again then conformed it to the base mesh using the MatchMaker brush.  The rest of the wolf was created by masking the shape from the existing geometry, then extracting them. Once I had all the shapes created I refined it all by adding a few dings and varying the surface detail with the trim dynamic brush.

To create the wolf pendant material in Marmoset I studied my real-world reference and tried to break down how the material was made.  To me, it looked like the pendant started out as one material, shiny steel, and then the crevices were painted over with metal paint. It looked like these two materials had been affected by time and handling. In places where metal is touched often, it becomes very shiny and smooth, and places that are hard to reach were more dark and rough. I mimicked this in Substance. While creating this material I often exported from Substance into Marmoset to see how the material looked in the scene with the specific lights I was using.


My presentation was heavily influenced by James Busby’s as mentioned previously. I love the way his character was rendered and I wanted a similar level of contrast and excitement in my final images. From looking at his camera settings I adjusted mine to have a slight chromatic aberration and to have a tiny bit of vignette and grain. Most of the settings stay consistent between my cameras, however, I always adjust the blur depending on where the camera is in relation to the character. In general, I added more blur in close-ups and reduced the blur in shots where the character was further away.  I also learned that the Tone Mapping curves are fairly powerful. I’d suggest adjusting this setting only after your materials are all set up correctly since it affects the color and contrast. Once your materials are fully set up, you can adjust the curves to be slightly warmer or cooler depending on the emotion you are trying to evoke in your audience. I went with a cooler tone to my scene as I wanted my character to appear more mystical and a little distant.

Camera Settings

Alyssa Eigner, Character Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev


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