Baj Singh talked about the pipeline he uses to build awesome 3d characters, giving some feedback on the use of Marmoset Toolbag 3.
Character artist Baj Singh shared some of the steps he made to create this exciting fan art of Terry Bogard from King of Fighters. It’s a agreat talk about the tools and tricks, which help you to build better characters with amazing looks.
Hi! My name is Baj Singh and I’m currently a character artist residing in the UK. I started in the industry back in 2008, working for “Jagex” in Cambridge on a sci-fi project called “Stellar Dawn”. Unfortunately, the project was cancelled a few years later, so I then moved onto their flagship project “Runescape” before leaving the company back in 2013 to start working at The Creative Assembly. I started here as the principal character artist for Total War Battles: Kingdom before moving onto Total War: Warhammer as one of the lead character artists.
Originally, I saw that Street Fighter V allowed the use of custom character creation using PC mods and decided that I would create a Terry Bogard mod for Ken. I decided on Terry as I felt that he represented one of the more interesting and well known SNK characters (especially his 2013 iteration), so I wanted to try and take some of that personality and see how it well it translated into the Street Fighter visual style.
I’m quite fond of the visual style that they use in Street Fighter V, focusing on material contrast and overall silhouette rather than overwhelming the character with micro detail and thought I would attempt to achieve something similar.
As I started experimenting with the proportions and style of the character, I realised that what I wanted to achieve didn’t completely match the Street Fighter V style and instead decided to create a standalone character instead, still intending to stick with a more simplistic visual identity but straying away from the “clay-like” appearance that Capcom implemented in their fighting game.
Even though the character is fairly established, I did end up downloading a ton of reference as well as watching different iterations of the character in motion just so I could get a feel for the characters personality and posture.
I also collected a lot of anatomy and proportion reference, particularly from characters with interesting proportions. Even though at this stage, I was planning to create a character based on SFV “Kens” proportions, I still wanted to explore other interesting ideas and characters (which I feel paid off in the end).
I needed to collect a lot of reference for clothing and accessories. At this stage I still wasn’t sure what materials the jacket would be made of, what the final sneakers would look like, etc. so collecting and filtering reference aided towards the initial R&D stage greatly.
To help organise these images, I used a program called “PureRef” which allows you to lay out images on a local pinboard which can be saved on your desktop. I highly recommend downloading this (or a similar program) as it streamlines the reference collecting stage.
My workflow is fairly straight forward and one I commonly use.
Initially (unless I sketch out some quick ideas in Photoshop/on paper) I use Zbrush to quickly build up a silhouette of the character and their clothing/accessories using dynamesh’d spheres. At this point I’m pretty much concepting in 3D, experimenting with proportions as well as figuring out what type of clothing I want and how I want them to fit around the character. Zbrush allows me to do iterate on this quickly, pushing and pulling geometry around like dynamic clay.
I use polypaint quite frequently, applying solid colours to different elements so I can get a good feel for where I want large areas of contrast to be as well as applying flat lighting to the scene so I can determine how well the silhouette of the character works.
Once I discover the proportions and rough design that I want to work with, I start sculpting the final character. I find an appropriate base mesh to sculpt on (usually recycled from a previous project), blocking out the forms before working on details. I still think it’s important to work top-down, really nail those proportions, silhouette, gesture and anatomy before delving into the small details.
I have a lot of friends who have started using Zbrush and its zModelling/creasing features but I still feel that Max’s “hard edges via smoothing groups” approach is perfect for the way I work. However, a lot of time the meshes that I produce in Max don’t have the sufficient topology to be sculpted on so I will take them into Zbrush at some point, use zRemesher to create a mesh that has a good, even poly density and then “ProjectAll” the details from my max mesh over to my newly created Zbrush mesh.
After the Zbrush stage was complete, it was back into 3D Max for retopology and unwrapping of the low polygon model before heading into Quixel Suite/Photoshop for texturing before presentation in Marmoset Toolbag 3.
The face went through a couple of iterations and thankfully (with the help of some feedback from a few friends), I managed to settle on the proportions that I ended with. As the character has quite a bulky silhouette (as well as the hat/hair covering his forehead), I wanted to embed his face with as much personality as possible so that it would stand out. I focused primarily on the strong, angular shape/size of his jaw as well as his facial expression via his eyebrows and subtle smile.
I wanted to avoid putting too much micro detail in his face so I kept skin pores quite subtle. I had planned to create his stubble via tiny alpha cards but ended up baking it into the main skin texture instead just because it wouldn’t have really popped unless I had used longer strands. I did use floating geometry and hair cards for the eyebrows though.
For the eyes I used two spheres, one with a concave surface for the iris and another with a convex surface for the cornea. When baked down, I use the “Add” transparency method with a high glossy surface and some noise in the normal map for the cornea. This gives me a nice, glossy highlight in the final result.
Marvelous Designer is one of programs that a lot of people seem to have a love/hate relationship with. It’s slowly starting to become an indispensable tool for 3D artists, especially at bigger companies that focus on achieving ultra-realism in their fabric, however, I know a lot of artists find a ton of joy in purely sculpting their cloth rather than relying on a tool to do a large portion of the work for them. Personally, I think it’s a circumstantial program. If you want to nail realistic fabric folds and weight within a certain timeframe then MD is the way to go. However, the more you stylize your folds then the more you have to rely on traditional sculpting techniques to really nail the look you’re after.
However, just as you would with most programs that focus on automation such as the new batch of texturing programs like Quixel Suite and Substance Painter, you need some manual finesse in there otherwise you end up with results that just look pre-generated rather than unique to that character or games art style. Essentially, you want to keep people guessing as to how you made that content rather than them immediately guessing your entire workflow in 10 seconds or less .
I’ll be honest, it took a while for me to get my head around the process of MD, mainly the pattern and layering system, I’m still adapting to it and will probably use it on and off over different projects to get the best of both worlds.
In this case, I used MD on the jacket, tanktop and jeans to give me a good base set of folds before taking the meshes into zbrush for further sculpting.
To get the puffy look of the jacket, I ended up using the “Layer Cloning” to create two layers of the same clothing. Once I did this, I would use the pressure and shrinkage settings to “inflate” the second layer so that it looked as though it was a stuffed material. I didn’t want to go overboard with the pressure settings as the material stretching would have made the folds look too intense (as well as pulling the jacket off of the character). To ensure that the jacket remained tight across the chest and shoulders, I used a proxy zip created via another clothing pattern (a very exaggerated proxy zip as in reality he would never be able to zip up his jacket due to his enormous chest).
Transferring the clothes into Zbrush is a fairly straight forward, however I will do some work in there to make sure I have a mesh that is fairly easy to sculpt on (zRemesh -> ProjectAll for a good, sculpt able mesh.
I initially attempted to use Substance Painter for the materials (which I really like as a program). Unfortunately, my graphics card seems to be showing its age and Substance seems to be heavily reliant on a good amount of GPU RAM so I ended up using Quixel Suite and Photoshop combination (which is also a great toolset, it’s what we use on our team at work and I love and am familiar with both programs).
My goal was to try and keep the microdetails subtle, focusing less on overly grunging up the character and instead adding elements such as subtle dust and dirt patches.
I usually start in Quixel by creating a base for all my individual materials (I don’t use ID maps at this point, I tend to texture the entire character in passes so that I can clearly see the effect of each layer on the entirety of the character). Once I have a good collection of materials, I take them into Photoshop and organise and clean up my groups. I have a pet peeve (which my colleagues can confirm) about messy Photoshop files and naming conventions so I try and keep my Photoshop files as organised as possible. I then perform any additional tweaks here (increasing the intensity of cavity masks, adding more texture overlays, etc).
Usually for anything organic, I do a polypaint in zbrush first to give me an initial set of values for the skin. Once I have something I’m happy with, I bake the polypaint into a texture file and then use it as a base for my skin which I’ll refine in Photoshop. I find this method also reduces the likelihood of texture seams appearing in my final mesh.
Working with Marmoset Toolbag 3
Marmoset Toolbag 3 is still in closed alpha at the moment so unfortunately I’m not how much information I can disclose. What I will say is that artists have a lot to look forward when this program is released, it’s definitely a step up from Marmoset Toolbag 2 and there are a few artists who continually provide feedback to the team to ensure that Toolbag will be an continue to be an amazing real time rendering solution for the foreseeable future.
As for my final scene, I kept the lighting fairly simple; using a sky light as the main fill light with a main light to provide a good contrast and then a subtle rim light to really make that silhouette pop against the dark background (Pretty much the three point lighting solution only I reverse the mood and main lights to give the image a moodier feel.
I really like using Marmoset Toolbag as a rendering solution, it provides an easy to set up real time solution that I feel is still the best way to showcase personal, game ready assets,
Regarding the final beauty shot, I spend a lot of time adjusting the overall colour balance and visual effects in Photoshop via compositing and custom brushes.
First I sculpted a solid mass for the hair (which is basically acts as an underlying piece of geometry for the alpha cards). I could have created the mass using a lot of alpha cards but that would have required a ton of time and geometry The hair cards are fairly straight forward, I didn’t want to use too many of these, with the intention being that they would be used for adding additional depth to the main mass of hair as well as giving additional form to the silhouette.
When baking down the textures, I ensure that my hair cards flow in the same direction on the UV coordinates. This is so I don’t need to create a flow map when dealing with anisotropic reflection in Marmoset and can focus on just using the slider values.
Baj Singh, 3d character artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.