Building a Realistic Character for Games
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Latest comments
by jenny
3 hours ago

That is really a great thing for us all.

by Jeff
5 hours ago

I just based my landscape material on this. I just wish I could exactly figure out what is going on with normals, ao and displacement here.

by Christopher Buller
7 hours ago

That was extremely helpful! Thank you!

Building a Realistic Character for Games
9 March, 2018
Character Art

Nicolas Niño did a breakdown of his amazing real-time character. Lovely design, beautiful skin shader, lovely details.


My name is Nicolas Niño, I am a character artist from Colombia and I’ve been fascinated by video games my whole life, I started messing around in 3ds Max when I was in high school and since then I’ve wanted to work in games

I’m am currently a student at Think Tank Training Center, so this character was mostly a study to learn industry standard workflows and techniques, also to challenge myself and attempt to get a realistic looking character.


For the block out of the character I started in Maya, building very basic shapes in order to quickly get the proportions of every object in the concept, also at this stage, it’s good to look at the character flat shaded, to make sure the silhouette is not boring.

For the sculpt of the face I started with a base mesh from Make Human, then I smoothed it and started by placing the main landmarks, after that it was just having references on hand, also the “Anatomy for Sculptors” book was pretty useful throughout the process.

For the main features of the face, I keep the subdivision level low and mainly used clay build up, move and dam standard.

For the smaller “secondary” features I found it pretty useful to exaggerate, making angles sharp and fat deposits bigger than they should be, and then I toned them back down so they fit with each other nicely.

For the “tertiary” high-frequency detail I projected an XYZ displacement map in Mari, I talk a bit about that process here

The eyes were a lot of fun, here is how I worked in them:



Here is my hair breakdown

Placing the hair cards one by one was the best approach for this, placing first the “fill” cards, with a denser texture to define the bigger shapes, then some medium density cards to style it a bit and lastly the thinner ones to give it some breakup.

Skin shader

For the skin shader, I mainly played with the sliders until I liked the result.

I used a darker than usual subsurface color and a lower than usual scatter depth

I plugged my cavity mask into the cavity slot under oclusión.

For the translucency map, I made a custom channel on my painter scene called Thickness, I placed the thickness map I baked as a base layer and then refined it a little bit, I did this so it was easier to work on and so I could export it together with all my other textures.

I am also using detail normals for even more breakup on the specular and a custom fuzz map I made in substance designer, here is a close up of that map

I also was using the RGBA detail normal map shader for most of my objects to get a little bit of extra break up on extreme close-ups.

This is what the mask texture looks like for one of the tiles.

What this is is 4 different grayscale masks packed into the RGBA channels of one texture map.

The way I worked on this is by making separate RGBA channels on my painter scene where I could easily control the placement and intensity of the mask.

Then I made a custom export preset where I packed the mask in the slot of the same name.


The skin texture was hand painted, I mainly followed this video where Magdalena Dadela shows her workflow at GDC.

A very simplified way to look at it would be using fill layers with a solid color and painting masks for them, instead of painting with multiple colors in an empty layer.

In these GIFs you can see how I built the texture layer by layer with the corresponding mask


For the clothes I mainly worked in ZBrush, trying to keep a consistent thickness for the folds of the same material and focusing on the way one fold flows into the next one

The reason I choose Zbrush instead of Marvelous is that sculpting cloth is an important skill I wanted to learn.


The biggest challenge was the hair, I also tried a bunch of different things on the scatter map without any luck, so for the final render there is a solid color on the scatter

Is also important to keep your character to scale in Marmoset, since lights and shaders, like the SSS, are dependent on this.

Another thing I did was set the fall off of the lights start slightly before they reach the character, so the lights have a very soft gradient in intensity which I found looks more pleasing.

Overall this was a really fun project that obviously has its flaws but it was a great learning experience.

Nicolas Niño, Character Artist.

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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