Andy Chin: Beginner's Guide to Character Design
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Andy Chin

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andychin.395@gmail.com

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Andy Chin: Beginner's Guide to Character Design
16 August, 2016
Interview

Andy Chin, a self-taught 3D artist, talked about the things to keep in mind when starting a character design career and gave a breakdown of the production stages behind modeling characters and creatures.

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Introduction

I am a self-taught 3D artist, and I also try and work on my 2D skills from time to time. As of August 2016, I have been working in Zbrush for just under 2 years, and I really enjoy sculpting creatures, as well as characters. For now, I’ve only been able to take on just a couple of freelance jobs, and I hope one day I’ll be able to work on big games and big movies!

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Character Design

Personally, I think it’s difficult to say exactly which would be the most important part of character design, only because so many factors contribute to the overall design. However, one thing I try to focus and improve on would be using dynamic, interesting shapes and gesture. I try to keep shapes consistent with the character or creature itself, and try to keep everything “flowing” together, if that makes sense.

An example of this would be my STELLA character, where the armor pieces share similar shapes and characteristics, and they look like they belong in a “set”. I also believe that the colors used are also very important as well, because the colors can completely change the whole “look and feel” of the character itself. My characters really don’t have much of an expression on them, so I think I will need to work on that more in the future. However, when it comes to doing a character’s face, there is a lot of focus on the shape of the eye, as well as the corners of the mouth. Depending on these two, (as well as other factors, such as emphasis on the brow, cheekbones, size of nose, etc.) you can really establish the overall “vibe” and personality of the character itself.

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An example of this would be my WAR ORC piece; his eyes are about half-open, there is emphasis on his brow, cheekbones, nasolabial fold, wrinkled nose, and the corners of his mouth are turned downward. This, coupled with the face paint, big teeth and horns, help to illustrate the orc’s “character” and personality, and helps the viewer determine whether or not hes a good or bad guy. Also, the pose of a character is another factor in illustrating their personality, such as the way they stand, or the way a creature has its mouth open, etc. A pose, like the way a face is sculpted, helps build the character by letting you know things like: are they sneaky, confident, evil, etc., and, for creatures: whether or not they are tamed, hungry, curious, friendly, ferocious, and so on.

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I think, to make a character really stand out (and to hopefully make more characters that stand out), a lot of experimentation and even trial and error would be required, in my opinion. Experiment with cool shapes and forms, experiment with different colors and textures, and see if you can push your design. The occasional “happy accident” as a result of experimentation can sometimes work wonders for your design. A decent presentation of your character would be the cherry on top.

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Sculpting

For sculpting, I only use Zbrush. I pretty much start off with Dynamesh, and I start with big shapes first, and one thing I like to do is, once I have established a usable base shape, use the Dam_Standard brush to “sketch” in the features and where I would add details, such as where to put the eyes, or where I’d like to add wrinkles later on; It is basically just marking the sculpt so later on I would know how to handle that area, and it is usually temporary. At the moment, I am only familiar with Zbrush, and I am slowly working on learning other 3D software, such as Maya

Face

For the faces of my characters, I always use Dynamesh to block in the features of the character I want. An example would be for an orc or monster, I would block in very different shapes than if I were to make a cute animal or a female character. For the face of the WAR ORC, I put a lot of emphasis on the forms, wrinkles, etc., where as for STELLA, since she is a female character, I put more emphasis on the feminine features, such as her lips, and much, much less emphasis on wrinkles and muscles. For her face I was careful not to add any emphasis or “masculine” facial features (such as prominent cheekbones or big jaw) and keeping the face smooth. 
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As for creatures, it is good to use animal references when designing their faces, and getting familiar with the specific animal’s skeletal and muscular structure are extremely beneficial to your design, as well. Rather than coming up with something completely weird and different from imagination, it’s always helpful to ground your design in reality. Another thing that will help with building character are the colors of the eyes themselves. For my WAR ORC and ARIUS piece, I gave them both glowing eyes because I just thought it was really cool, and it really helped to further establish and highlight their character.

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For sculpting, the main brush I use is the ClayBuildup brush, with no Alpha and a focal shift of 0. Personally, I find the default square alpha to be too messy for my liking. I use this modified ClayBuildup brush in tandem with the Move tool to help with building form and making adjustments to shapes. For detailing, I really like to use the default Standard brush, as well as the Dam_Standard brush.. These 4 brushes are the brushes that I use the most often.

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Additional Elements

Admittedly, because I am still in the process of learning other 3D software, I am forced to do pretty everything in Zbrush, and that includes hard surface objects and clothing as well. For now, clothing is still hand sculpted. I try my best to make use with what is available in Zbrush. For hard surface, I really like to use the Polish brushes as well as the Trim and Clip brushes. For sculpting clothing, I use the same brushes as I would when sculpting organic things.  
 
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Materials

For materials, in BPR rendering out of Zbrush, I like to render out different materials and Matcaps and then experiment with them in Photoshop, and that is how I achieve the “look” for my more stylized ones. For the slightly more realistic ones in Marmoset Toolbag 2, I experiment with materials by creating different maps, such as gloss. spec, emissive, translucency, etc. To texture my characters, I use Zbrush’s polypaint as a base, and then I will slightly touch it up in Substance Painter and work on it just a little more in Photoshop. 

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Advice 

Sometimes, I will see beginners who have barely used Zbrush already doing speedsculpting, and quite frankly, the results are usually not so great. I would suggest that if you are just starting out, spend more time learning the software and practicing to get better at sculpting first before you worry about speedsculpting. For me, quality always comes before quantity. I would rather have 1 really, really amazing sculpt than 10 not-so-amazing sculpts. Save the speedsculpting for later on when you get better at sculpting. Even for me, I only occasionally do speedsculpts here and there, just for fun.

Another one would be to at least get familiar with anatomy. Even for me, too, my anatomy is definitely far from perfect, as I am always learning it and trying to perfect it. Displaying great anatomy skills within your projects will really help take it to the next level. A trained (or even the average, untrained) eye will usually be able to immediately spot when the anatomy is off, or when something doesn’t look quite right. Having very poor anatomy skills wouldn’t look very good in a portfolio. Anatomy can seem like a very tedious subject to learn, so that’s why I recommend that you break it up into chunks, such as head, then arms, then torso, then legs, etc. and so on, rather than trying to learn everything all at the same time. 

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 Also, another thing I see quite commonly with beginners is the over-use of alphas. Sometimes, people will bash alpha after alpha over a model so much that the model becomes too noisy and difficult to read. For me, that is an instant giveaway that someone is still a beginner. This goes back to what I have stated above. Take your time with your sculpts. Make sure you get your sculpt to a decent level before you start to use alphas. Don’t depend on alphas to make your sculpt. Alphas should just be added little bonus towards the end to give your project a bit more polish.

Another thing I sometimes see is too much detail! Sometimes, I will fall into this trap as well. Detailing can be very fun, but you also must control where you place the detail. For instance, you may have some of the more important areas of the sculpt be detailed, but then at the same time leave some areas with less detail so viewers’ eyes may rest. Also, if you really want to get good at something, you must, must, must keep on practicing. And by practice, I mean PRACTICE. I used to, and still do, practice for hours upon hours a day, and staying up late into the night, trying to hone my skills. Also, if you have a strong or decent 2D background, some of the skills you have may transfer over to 3D, and vice versa.

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When sculpting, vary your brushes as well as brush size and intensity to create interesting variations within your sculpt. This is especially important when sculpting organic things. Another thing is sometimes try and switch things up a little! Instead of always sculpting the same thing over and over (once again, this is also a trap that I fall into at times), try going out of your comfort zone or try sculpting a character or creature you have never sculpted before. Another tip would be to check your silhouette from time to time! Switch to a a flat material or darken your sculpt to black and see if your shapes still read well. Over time as you get better at sculpting, hopefully your shapes, forms, gesture and sense of design will improve as well! Happy sculpting!

Andy Chin, 3D Creature/Character Artist

Interview conducted by Artyom Sergeev

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