Breakdown: Creation of A Ghost Soldier Showcasing Exquisite Fabrics

3D Character Artist Max Viekovshynin guided us through the Black Walker Project, inspired by a cosplay figure photo. He explained how the complex clothing, including vests, bags, and fabrics, was created with lifelike authenticity.

Introduction

My name is Max Viekovshynin. I work as a Lead Character Artist at Pingle Game Studio. I began making characters in the 2000s, and since then, I have had the opportunity to work on many projects, including some of the most well-known ones, such as Halo Infinite, Warface, and WWZ.

Our Character Department at Pingle has been receiving more projects related to photorealistic characters, and I wanted to make a showcase photorealistic character. Also, it was a good excuse to practice and explore texturing realistic materials.

I got inspired by photos of a British special forces Black Walker cosplay, because it had an abundance of tasty elements that I wanted to work on.

References

The first stage — collecting references — is an important process. It’s better to have references for each element to clearly understand the scope of work and correctly estimate its stages. I collected many references, views from all sides, and every element of the outfit to accurately convey all the details.

The pipeline for this character included high poly, low poly creation, and texturing.

High Poly

First, I prepared the base body that I then used to create the clothes and all the body kit. For this purpose, I used 3D scan models as references. I created prototypes of a vest, boots, and hands attached in 3ds Max to define general shapes, and then I switched to Marvelous Designer to create clothes. 

At this stage, I wanted to get only beautiful shapes and folds of the fabric to refine, and polish them in ZBrush later. To get the effect of tightening the fabric with straps, I created simple strips of fabric so that later, I could make straps with fasteners instead of them. I used pins to fix the particular shape of folds if needed.

I generated some objects separately so as not to overload the system and work comfortably.

All the hard surface details, helmet base, and gear were modeled in 3ds Max. For the vest, bags, and shoulder pads,  I made a prototype model in 3ds Max. Then I adjusted the size, forms, and sculpt details in ZBrush. In some cases, sculpting by hand is faster and makes better visual results than Marvelous. Moreover, I like to sculpt folds by hand. It’s a lot of fun.

 Finished high poly:

Low Poly and UV

After finishing high poly, I do retopology and unwrapping in 3ds Max using internal tools. Black Walker has more than 200k triangles since there were no strict technical restrictions. Some hard surface parts were meshes on their first-second subdivision level, and others were retopologized manually. 

I usually unwrap meshes while creating a low poly, so it’s easier for me to think about where to make the seams. It is important to unwrap all the belts and straps in straight lines so that the texture checker with lines goes straight along them. This will greatly simplify texturing later.

It’s also relevant for cloth patches; proper unwrapping could make the proper flow of cloth facture and make the result more realistic.

Baking

Baking was done in Marmoset. The character has 12 texture sets for 2k to 4k textures. It has many parts, so using the right pipeline to bake everything is very important. For this purpose, I wrote a script that automatically triangulates and exports objects from the current layer to the file with the right naming.

It was very helpful because, during baking maps, I needed to make changes to low poly meshes to achieve the best result. So the possibility of exporting low poly meshes by pressing a single button saved me a lot of time and energy.

Texturing

Texturing is the most important step in achieving a photorealistic look. The most challenging thing for me in texturing this character was creating interesting-looking material and keeping it relatively clean. We usually don’t see a lot of dirt on this type of character’s clothing, unless we’re making a character who has spent much time fighting in bad conditions. Rather, it will be clothing mainly with traces of use and wear.

First, I assigned colors, basic roughness, and metalness to determine the character’s overall appearance. I added signs and a basic camo pattern. Later, all these colors and the relations between them were changed a bit as I adjusted the materials.

I used procedural fractures to create the fabric material, giving me more control over the material. I separately created warp and weft weaving.

Here is an example of fabric creation:

For the velcro elements, I created tileable velcro geometry in ZBrush, and baked it onto a texture, which I then used for creating velcro material.

Material looks with light change:

Rendering and Compositing

The rendering was done in UE 5. I used a simple setup of several light sources: a couple of main, two warm sources, and a couple of cold rim lights.

During testing, I noticed that path tracing provides a more accurate rendering of surfaces with Subsurface Scattering (SSS) compared to Lumen, but it also produces hard shadows on low poly geometry.
On the other hand, Lumen makes good shadows. So, I combined both render results in Photoshop. Here, for example, a render of chemical lights with lumen without SSS (picture above) and a path tracer render with SSS enabled (picture below) are shown.

Compositing in Photoshop was relatively simple. I made renders of the character with and without a floor, and then added a hazy glow behind his back to tie the character into the background and add more drama.

For these renders, I used Photoshop to compose the background image.

All the work was spread out over time, but it took more than 3 months in its pure form. The main difficulty was the large number of details on the character, the development of which took a lot of time. The texturing stage required detailed work to achieve a photorealistic result, so this was my main challenge.

Advice to Beginning Character Artists

For beginner character artists, I would recommend drawing people, if you are not already doing this. It helps to train the eye and learn about plastic anatomy. I suggest making quick 3D sculptures and long, complex works. This will help train both the speed and quality of work. 

A character artist in the game development industry should be familiar with the entire character creation pipeline. It's crucial to master not only the skill of crafting impressive sculptures and creating beautiful textures, but also building a correct, accurate low-poly mesh and UV. So I highly recommend you to hone the entire range of skills.

Max Viekovshynin, 3D Character Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Holoborodko Vladyslav

    Cool

    2

    Holoborodko Vladyslav

    ·13 days ago·

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