Daniel Bystedt described his character production process, talking about some of the amazing things he’s doing with Zbrush and other editors.
My name is Daniel Bystedt and I am a character artist/designer. I work at Bläck Studios, which is a part of the Goodbye Kansas Entertainment Group, located in Stockholm, Sweden. Bläck studios main focus is to produce cinematic game trailers for upcoming games. Some recent projects that I’ve worked on are the trailers for Conan Exiles and Raid: World war II. A while back I also got to create the high res models for Luitenant and Sebastian in Unity – Adam demo.
When creating characters I like to not getting stuck in one specific workflow. Sometimes I might start with a freeform digital sculpt and see where it takes me, sometimes I start out with thumbnails in a painting application and sometimes I start with collecting inspiring reference images online. My aim of varying my approach is to not getting trapped in the same “look” for all my characters.
In terms of defining a good character in my opinion, is to give it just that…. character. You really want to avoid creating a character that feels “bland” and generic. You can for example portray a characters backstory in what type of clothes and props the character uses and it’s level of wear and tear. It’s also important to give your character some kind of pose. It really doesn’t have to be much. Just avoid placing your character in t-pose as this gives a very stiff and lifeless look to the character.
In the beginning of the 3d process of the character, I almost always start with a rough sculpt in ZBrush. Something that has really helped me sculpting characters is to always have each character part (head, torso, arms etc) as a separate geometry for as long as possible. This approach makes it possible for me to play with proportions on one part without messing with the rest of the body.
Adding rough gradient colors to the sculpt is a great way of getting a better understanding of how the final image will look like.
It’s also important for me to define the scope of the character early on. For example: If I want to have a final image output that is a closeup of a face, I only sculpt the face and the upper part of the torso and not the entire body. Sometimes I choose to do an entire body and that will of course take a lot more time. When creating characters for an animation production I will always need to add details to the entire body, but I always pay attention to which part of the character which will be closest to the camera so that I can put most of the details around that area.
I am definitely gravitating more towards designing characters, creatures and robots than realistic human beings. Of course I find it important to stay grounded in correct anatomy when creating a creature, but at the same time I like to push things in order to find interesting shapes. In many ways, the exploration of design is a very iterative process. I usually try a lot of stuff and change it until I see something that I like.
Thanks to the layers and subdivision levels in ZBrush it is easy for me to add details without worrying about messing up the details by mistake. I can, for instance, add tertiary details like wrinkles and pores on a separate layer, then turn it off and work on big primary and secondary forms and also use the smooth brush without destroying the wrinkles and pores. It’s also handy to add extra small details as a tiled bump texture in the lookdev/rendering process. Then you don’t have to do ultra small details in ZBrush.
I still like to do big gradient colors in ZBrush, since there is no issue of painting between udims. For most of my work I use Substance Painter, which is an application that I really have come to love because of the speed and procedural approach to the texturing process. Being able to quickly add wear and tear to the right places and not have to paint everything by hand is great!
Using a 2d application for texturing is something I don’t really do anymore except for creating tiled textures.
Using Marvelous Designer
Sculpting clothes and folds is something that is really hard. You really need good reference that fits to the actual pose of the character in order to make the clothes look believable. Using Marvelous Designer makes that process a whole lot easier since you are mimicking how you would go about creating a piece of garment in the real world. The speed of the cloth simulation in Marvelous Designer is really impressive and therefore it’s easy to change stuff around on the fly.
Presenting a Character
A couple of years ago I found Blender and was blown away by it’s render engine “Cycles”. Nowadays I basically only render in Blender/Cycles for my private projects, since it’s just faster and easier to iterate lighting and lookdev. Blender also comes with a fully integrated compositor, which means that I can simultaneously work on my compositing and grading while I’m working on lookdev and lighting. Once I hit the render button it automatically runs the render result through comp as well, which is really nice.
Viewport render works great in Blender. I can move and adjust the lights and rig on the right side of the screen and simultaneously see the updates on the left side.
Lighting setup from top view
Rendered with only lights