Jake Waddington, character artist at Ubifect Bordeaux, discussed his recent Jötnar project and shared his workflow.
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Hey, my name is Jake Waddington, and I’m a Junior Character Artist working at Ubisoft Bordeaux for just over a year now, have worked on Ghost Recon: Breakpoint throughout that time. I’ve been studying at the Game Art at De Montfort University for 3 years, specializing in characters during the final year, later graduating and getting my first job in the industry.
So, for my Jötnar project, the aim here was to show my current skills set, whilst learning new workflows and refining, what I had taken from the university. When starting this project, I wanted to create something cool, powerful and interesting visually. Being inspired by God of war, I had a general theme that I wanted to pursue. Yet, it was only when I found the concept created by B.H.
Then, the idea came to fruition. For me, there has to be a sense of character, a personality in the work or a concept. For this one, I could imagine the weight of the muscle mass and strength showing visually through the physique. Yet, as this was more of a concept, and areas were unclear, I had to make my own design choices, which I did by painting and 3D concept.
Gathering the Reference
For this, I gathered plenty of references, complied with them in Pure Ref and began thinking about how I could translate this from 2D to 3D and also implement my own vision.
As you can see here, by quickly painting I can add smaller details to break up the character and also compliment the shape language and consistency. From there, it was time to begin sculpting.
So, for myself, I prefer to work globally over the character, making sure I block in as much as possible. Mainly at the beginning, I focus on the face and body. Personally, I find that the face can dictate the feel of the entire character. So as shown below, I began with the main proportions of the body, then quick extractions, zeremeshed with 0 adaptive size, until I had clean topology. Quickly testing ideas and placements.
My main piece of advice here would be just to have fun and not to get attached to the idea. Delete it and start again, in a sense if the idea doesn’t click. For me, this was the waist area, having an unclear concept meant I had to revise this. But also think about the shapes of the upper armor and link them clearly. Do keep in mind deformation, and how this will work in real life as well.
From here, it was blocking in until I had the design I wanted. Not accepting anything that displeased me without a reason, trust your instincts. If something feels off, it usually is. As shown here, I completely redid the waist and altered the actual shoulder design. Having received some great feedback regarding the silhouette, everything hugged the character. To fix this, I had to create and refine areas. Even now looking back, this could have been pushed much further.
For the pants, tabard, and gauntlet base, I created all of these within Marvelous Designer. As they were relatively simple designs, they were quick to do. By playing around with the weft and warp, you can also add more information and details to push this further. From there, it was primary details, secondary and finally those micro details.
I also prefer to add stitching in geometry when the model is complete. This can also be done in Substance Painter, but I find the overall effect looks better when baked.
For detailing, it comes down to time and patience. When creating directional details where the skin folds like so, make sure that you use as much reference as possible.
I use the dam standard and standard mainly for clothing. Trim brushes and such for armor and clay buildup for skin/ mass. Overall nothing fancy here.
I also prefer to keep every item separate, so in the end, I can have 200+ Subtools (thankfully, folders are a thing now in ZBrush). It provides more customizability and is cleaner in general.
So for the UV’s, I’ve always aimed to create the cleanest possible. Having everything as straight edges makes packing far easier. By utilizing the Peel mode and in conjunction with the soft select mode, I can make most UV’s relatively straight, then straighten the edges with minimal distortion (3ds Max). It allows for cleaner bakes and easier packing. Looking above, this is what the default peel and relax do with placed seams. And the right is what with the time you can do easily.
When deciding what to split and what to pack, I try to keep the density equal, more for the face, however. Yet, I’m aiming for quality within the end. It really depends if this was for your first job, packing into a small handful of maps or even one is viable. Yet, for me, I do this whilst working at Ubisoft and each piece needs to stand as its own here. So I split it into parts: skin, pants, shoulder armor, tabard, etc.
Taking this into Substance, I prefer to take each map into there separately. As at the time my PC would crash and bluescreen up to sometimes 10 times a day. (This made the project far longer with corruptions etc) However, firstly I would paint I.D maps in Zbrush, having the leather as red, the cloth as blue, stitching as white, etc. Then from here, it was texturing time.
Working in Substance
So, before I start, I set up my character in Marmoset Toolbag, with a simple 3-way light setup, keeping it fairly neutral. Once baked, I apply the normal and AO. From here, it’s all about work in each area. I started with the skin here, layering the tones up. At first, he had a colorful tone, more so human. Yet, when compared to his armor the palette was too similar, and I ended up going for thicker and tougher skin color.
For example, with the armor, I used the Substance Source textures as a base, then built on texture and color gradually. Thinking about how old the armor was, how much damage had it taken, how it would fray and peel with the interaction of other straps. The most important thing you can do is add a story to what you do. Think about the dirt and dust, the wear and scratches, the discoloration, roughness changes, blood, dried, etc. All of this adds character to the object. Make sure you push the work you did in Zbrush in your texturing.
Another key idea is that by creating the smart material of the leather. I can then apply this as a base for the entire character and quickly via I.D maps. Then, I hand-painted specific details after, rapidly decreasing the time. This was how I worked with all the metal and leather details. Using mainly my AO and Curvature, I can create a lot of generators and quick masks from such. Nearly all of this was done by hand.
For the hair, I used X-Gen. Yet, in the future, I will experiment with Fibermesh since the results seem better. I generally follow Adam Skutt's tutorial here.
It really helped me in the university to understand the workflow and start my own pieces. I would advise watching this as he does a fantastic job compared to what I could say.
Lighting is something I find extremely interesting and pleasing to do. It can make or break a project, depending on how well its executed. So please do take your time.
I always start with a 3-point setup. A rim light, key light, and fill. I use standard real-life setups and research focal lengths to make sure I capture the result correctly. Always make sure your character stands out from the background, don’t have them blend, by having a rim light you can make everything pop.
So for example,
For example, here are two different focal lengths, the left is 35mm, and the right is 100mm. These can dramatically change the result, so keep this in mind.
As for my final comment, when working on high-quality characters, you should always choose something you're passionate about. It really shows throughout your work and stages of it. Always aim to achieve something, which is believable but is somewhat unique enough, whether through your sculpt or texturing/ presentation. Always seek critique and never skip the foundations of the character, it's not only about the model, but the story they have, this can take the character to the next level. I hope this helped!
Jake Waddington, Character Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev
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