Agelos Apostolopoulos talked about the sculpting, texturing, and presentation stages of his new character Demon based on a 2D concept by Baldi Konijn.
I’m always working on some personal project either actively or on the back burner depending on my freelance workload. Most notably, I recently did work for Double Damage, for their upcoming game Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. This has been a great experience both due to the quality of the game and the partnership with the studio team. If you like space combat go ahead and check it out, it’s a treat!
Whenever I start working on anything personal, I browse through concepts to try and get a feel of what would excite me and make me try new things. I have a collection on ArtStation named Characters that I usually go back to. The concept for Demon belongs to Baldi Konijn, he’s an amazing stylized concept artist, and I’ve actually done another character of his in the past. You can find it here. He uses a very strong shape language and silhouettes, so I’m always inspired by his designs. I’ve had this demon character in my mind for some time but didn’t feel very comfortable tackling it earlier. I was right as this proved to be pretty hard to get to an acceptable level.
Concept art by Baldi Konijn
What I wanted to get out of this character:
- A good translation of the silhouette and the stylized dynamic shapes from 2D to 3D
- More hand-painted textures (compared to my recent work) which would give me some good practice
- Sculpting all the chunky armor and props. I find it super-fun as well, so I was looking forward to that!
Sculpting the Character
This was perhaps the toughest part to get to work right. Working with no ortho views and no real-world reference can be tricky, so it comes down to the 3D artist’s interpretation, which is (to a level) subjective. I started out by keeping a lot of parts separate such as shoulder, biceps, forearms, horns, hands. This made it easier to move things around without muddying the sculpt too much (so I can still see what I’m making).
I often make use of basemeshes for humanoids, but in this case, there wasn’t much point to it other than for the hands. I placed spheres and cylinders to block things in. You can also make a quick IMM if something is repeated in a character, like the horns in this one.
This stage required a lot of work to ensure that the character worked from all angles and was as much true to the concept as possible. One of the things I had to redo a couple of times was his forearms due to the fact that they are extremely stylized in the concept. I ended up leaving out some of that style to make them more functional in 3D and also to manage to have the same arm mirrored. You can’t have just a flexed muscle that corresponds to a specific pose/rotation.
One of the more fun things I had to sculpt was the book. Here is the very start with only the “spike” IMM brush I made and some basic meshes:
For topology (and half the unwrapping) I use 3ds Max as I can work quickly in it. There aren’t many shortcuts to it, especially with a character that has unique shapes like this, but a good tip is to always keep the sides of your cylindrical forms to a power of 2, like 8, 12, 16, etc. That way you can easily decrease your polycount if needed or produce LODs.
The concept had a lot of subtle hue variations and details and I tried to put most of them in. During the process, you realize that some things don’t work quite as good in 3D, so it’s another muscle that gets trained when translating multiple concepts. As long as you keep the spirit of the concept there, skipping or swapping a detail for something else can be beneficial.
Because the concept had rough brush strokes which gave more of a raw painterly feeling, I wanted to substitute that in a way, hence the little scratches. These are done straight in Substance Painter which is great for doing small details like this as it saves you from having to work with heavier meshes in ZBrush for a model that otherwise wouldn’t require it.
Another cool little detail of the way Baldi designed the skin is that despite it being blue (and orange) it has pink highlights towards the more exposed parts. Here you can see the layer setup with the added effects:
For the rest of the materials, I usually start off with a smart material from Substance and work my way towards the look I want. For the leg-guards I started off with “Steel Medieval Stylized”, editing the base color and roughness, toning down the wear by adjusting sliders and also adding a “Paint” effect on top to manually edit some areas. I also added a light brown dirt layer and some scratches and indents with another “wear” layer which was 100% hand-painted.
For transparent parts, I either work on a mesh with actual holes or just sculpt an indent and clean it out when texturing. As you can see I used both ways here, it’s usually a matter of how I produce the basemesh. The wings were easier to make with holes/tears from the start while the skirt proved easier to have as a solid piece.
The texture here is another deviation from the concept since the two sides had different colors on it. Since their surface area is pretty huge I didn’t want to give all that UV space to just have the outside mostly blue, so I did an in-between version and made it two-sided.
I actually was having a hard time with the presentation and fitting the character into an environment that seemed part of his world. Here are a few early tries:
The flying pages were added to give some dynamics to the scene.
I didn’t want to model the smoke coming from his mouth as I was planning to have a friend do a little animation on him (you can see it in the Sketchfab version) and it would contrast badly with a static smoke model. As a result, it got substituted by the smoke for the pipe which is albeit simpler.
As far as the lighting goes, I only used 2 directional lights and an HDRI. Because of the complementary colors on his skin and the many shapes throughout the design, I wanted to keep lighting rather simple and easily readable.