Blair Armitage talked about the production of her amazing Persona 3 fan-art. She talks about materials and gives 3d character building tips.
3d artist Blair Armitage is a big Persona 3 fan and a couple of weeks ago she shared her awesome 3d fan-art, devoted to this game. In this article she goes over the creation of this amazing character, the texturing process and gives some tips, which will hopefully save some of your time during production. Blair is a very experienced artist (she did work for Forza Horizon 2, for example), so we highly advise to listen to what she has to say.
I’m a freelance character artist currently based in the UK. Previously I’ve worked for Frontier Developments and Playground Games where I’ve been able to contribute to a variety of console and mobile titles, as well as work with some awesome people. The last project I worked on was Forza Horizon 2. In my spare time I like to make stylised characters.
I’m a big fan of JRPGs and I’ve always loved Shigenori Soejima‘s unique artstyle seen in the Persona series. Aigis was one of my favourites from Persona 3 and his illustrations of her really stuck out in my memory. The idea of making a 3d version was in my backlog for a while as I felt like I needed to level up my art skills before trying to attempt a character that involved the full spectrum of things like cloth, hard surface, skin and hair, as well as trying to create something that still had a sense of anime aesthetic while avoiding an awkward in-between look. I really like characters who combine cuteness with an unsettling/inhuman factor, the clash of these two themes is really interesting to me.
For the hard surface elements, I modelled everything using traditional box modelling techniques then bending and extruding the different pieces. When I was happy with the shapes, I imported all of them into zbrush and used the zremeshing and projection tools to get rid of any pinching or distortion caused by the mesh flow. The design of her mechanical elements looked really intimidating at first, but I tried to break it down into individual parts and use a lot of symmetry and duplication to give the impression of complexity. For the cloth, I used a combination of cloth simulation and sculpting to mimic the appearance of tight fitting rubber.
For hair, I used an IMM brush that allowed me to draw hair cards using a spline on top of a blockout I’d made of the basic hair shape. These cards were then duplicated and moved around manually using the move brushes, as I tried to build the hair up in layers to avoid getting overwhelmed with the amount of hair cards she needed for a spikey style. This process involced a lot of back and forth between moving the cards and checking the final look in Marmoset.
Building the Machine
With the materials I tried to be accurate to real life, using Quixel’s scanned materials for the body and good quality photographs for the face. I tried to let the stylisation come through in the model itself and let the lighting and shaders do a lot of the work, and spent a lot of time tweaking those to get the right look, rather than hand painting or using a lot of baked AO. As for getting a human look, I find posing the eyes and head to look in a specific direction helps loose the T-pose feel and is an easy way of adding personality, as I’m not an animator and posing characters dynamically is something I’m trying to work on.
For wear and tear, I waited until I had all my clean materials applied before thinking about it. Then I had to restrain myself a bit to make sure I didn’t go overboard, as I didn’t want her to look too damaged, and wanted to capture the feel of a designed product. Trying to find a balance between subtle scratches in the metals without them getting lost when you pull the camera back was a big challenge.
Getting enough balance and contrast in levels of detail was difficult, as if the metal normals had too much noise it could get very confusing to look at. I used the local reflections rendering option in Marmoset that adds a lot of realism to the metals, and made sure my lights weren’t too intense so that the metals would blow out to white. It took a while to find the right shade of gold, so I had to spend time balancing the diffuse and specular to avoid it looking overly saturated or too dark.
I’m really inspired by the work of the artists at Square Enix and how they manage to recreate Nomura’s style in 3D, so I looked at a lot of reference for those characers and how they’ve managed to inject more realism into both the skin textures and sculpted forms of the face in what we’ve seen from the latest FFXV footage.
With female characters, I find it difficult to get a balance between a smooth face while keeping really subtle forms that can very easily look masculine or aging. I also looked at a lot of reference of asian ball-jointed dolls, as I thought it was appropriate for Aigis. However, if I went completely in that direction and made the face completely smooth, I think it would have been at odds with the rest of her body and using things like realistic skin textures might look strange. I wanted her face to have a cute and innocent look to contrast with the robotic body, so looking at Eastern artwork was really essential reference material, as in my opinion Western female characters usually have more of a sultry look which I wanted to avoid for this character in particular.
The face also went through a lot of reworks and alterations. At first she was even more stylised with bigger eyes, but eventually I went back and pulled it back to more human-like proportions, as adding things like the skin texture and eyelashes completely refreshes your view of the head model when you’re seeing it in a different context than zbrush.
The skin diffuse itself was a mixture of photo collage, photo retouching and hand painting. For the most part I could retouch the skin to remove any blemishes and pimples, then I’d add in my own layers for makeup.
As for the eyes, I used two meshes, one for the lens that sits on top with its own additive alpha that gives most of the reflection. I also use a piece of mesh that acts as an additional fake AO that adds occlusion from the eyelids and smooths the intersection between the eyeball and tear duct. I think authoring your own AO for the eyes is really important in giving you control over their appearence instead of relying on SSAO. The eyeball itself uses parallax to give the appearence of an inset pupil, and also has an emissive texture for a bit of glow.
Creating the Character
Compared to inanimate objects, I had to be mindful of which parts were going to animate, for instance the tie, and remember to bake the AO and normals seperately. I also made sure my UVs were relaxed, as I didn’t want any distortion during posing. When working from such a strong concept, a lot of those design decisions were already made for me, so I had to do my best to be accurate and do a decent interpretation. One of the difficulties about translating anime into 3d is material definition, as sometimes its not clear what all the elements are supposed to be, and you have to make your best judgement on it and try and guess what the 2D artist had in mind. My attitude towards this kind of ‘reimagning’ fanart is to be as accurate as possible, but also to be aware of what does and doesn’t work in 3D, and in some cases designs might have to be altered.
I started the sculpt about a year ago, finished the high poly in a few weeks then left it for nearly a year. When I had more free time, I came back to it and made the game res version, which was about 2 and a half months worth of evenings, as I did another pass on the body and face, and retopologised everything by hand, as I wanted a clean mesh. When it came to texturing, Quixel allowed me to finish the entire body texture in about two days. Smart materials allow me to focus on large scale decisions rather than worry about tweaking values or hand painting scratches for days, which speeds up the texturing process immensley. Quixel has lots of metal and rubber materials which was a perfect fit for this project.