Dylan Young talked a little about the creation of his amazing Knight character, discussing the use of Zbrush and the production of cloth.
I’m From Canberra, Australia, I’m a full-time freelance artist, and I also teach beginner 3D art courses at the AIE, a school here in the city. I’ve helped work on some local indie games, but the industry is very small here, so my experience is mostly limited to freelance work.
Turning concept into a 3d model
I’ve been a massive fan of Alexis’ work for a long time, their characters always have such a fantastic contrast between the grounded designs and the wildly exaggerated shapes to portray them. There’s a lot of care and thought that goes into their designs too, giving them a sense that they live in a fully fleshed out world. They really resonated with me and trying to capture the personality and world building in 3D I thought would be a fun challenge.
The initial block out was far messier and pretty low poly. But I think it’s essential to get those primary forms down at this stage, and also plan out a structure for how I was going to approach the rest of the character.
I started with the Julie Ztool that comes packaged with ZBrush as a base mesh and pushed that into a shape that vaguely resembled the proportions of my character, then used a combination of primitives and the extract tool to create the sub tools that would make up the character.
I spent a lot of time, fighting with the forms, particularly on the coif and his jacket, for a long time the coif looked like it was made of rubber because of how soft and doughy it looked.
A character like this I knew would be mostly carried by the silhouette, but I also knew that it would need a lot more detail than I was used to creating to really make it shine, so all of the detail was hand sculpted inside ZBrush.
I did make good use of IMM and curve brushes for the stitches, but I made sure to go back and touch them up to give some personality to each stitch.
Working with Maya and ZBrush
I’m not very familiar with using ZBrush’s hard surface tools, so I went back and forth a lot for this character.
For the block out, I created most of the forms in ZBrush, except the helmet and the elbow pieces, which were created in Maya. Once I was happy with the block out, nearly all hard surfaces were re-created in Maya again.
The leather straps were also re-done in Maya, as I found the curve strap brush to be excellent for laying the straps in, but it was difficult to refine the shape inside ZBrush.
I used the base materials in substance painter as a starting point for the brass and steel and then layered over dust and dirt to add variation to the specular and gloss maps, as well as some wear and tear around the edges.
The metal for the elbow pieces was a bit more complicated as It has a kind of pearlescent effect. For that I started with an iron-like material, added dirt, dust, edge wear, and then started applying fill layers with green, beige and blue specular values, then hand painted their masks in and out to get the subtle color variation for the final material.
The jacket was made of two pieces, the upper part by using an extract from the base mesh, the lower was a poly pipe Dynameshed into the shape I wanted. The larger stitches were all created with a custom IMM curve brush, and then hand placed to add variance to the size and spacing of each stitch.
Once the larger stitches were in place it was much easier to sculpt the folds in the cloth, as there was something that could visibly be pulling the cloth, so I just sculpted to show the stitches creating tension within the padding. Understanding what’s happening to the cloth itself made it way easier for me to start sculpting all the creases and folds.
It took a lot of refining to get the wear and tear looking right, and I found it best to just not think too hard about it, the more deliberate I was with the wear and tear the less natural it looked.
I thought about where the leather would get the most damaged, and then painted the raw leather on top of the base leather, then roughed the edges back using the sandpaper and smooth noisy brushes.
Presenting the character
Establishing a mood really brought the whole character together, and thankfully the concept had a good atmosphere I could try to emulate with my lighting. Drab, dull colors really gave me the idea that this guy lives in a pretty bleak world, so I tried to recreate that.
I experimented with different ways to light my scene and ended up with something I liked.
The actual light setup is fairly simple: two rim lights, a warm key light, and a cool fill light, with the ambient skylight, turned up to brighten the shadows. I’ve started using multiple rim lights for nearly all my scenes now, it’s a cheap way to really make your character pop.
I didn’t use any post effects in the final render, just some grain, vignetting and a little sharpening, but tone mapping was what made all the difference. I used Filmic (Hejl) and bumped up the exposure, then increased the contrast, and played around with the curves a bit until I was happy with how it looked.
I also made sure to enable GI, Local reflections and doubled the render resolution in Marmoset to get the depth of field and reflections looking nice and smooth.
I really owe a huge thanks to J. Hill and Mold3d for guiding me on this character, and for offering fantastic feedback each week, it was a really great experience learning from him.